I learned love as a transaction. My lovability directly correlated to my use for someone else. Reciprocity was always out of reach, always too much, too selfish. It was such an audacious act to even ask another person to be kind to me. Still, at 25, I struggle to unlearn these things.
My being screams loudly. I am all feminine, absurd, boisterous, bubbly, radically candid. These traits aren’t read as caretaker. People don’t know that I only know how to exist when both of my hands are tending to another person. People don’t see how much of my own interiority is the collateral damage in caring for others.
I don’t think most people love me. They love the way I make them feel. My greeting is an abundant grin and “how are you?” They love how vulnerable they can be with me knowing I will never weaponize their softness. There’s an honor in that trust, I know. Yet, the toll outweighs the honor. It is exhausting to exist as a host of light. I feel compelled to be “on” all the time. I do not dare to ask others to be “on” for me, to show up for me. So connections sour to well-intended cannibalism quickly. My unguarded light attracts parasites, and after a quarter of a century, they’ve hit the bone.
My “helps” have only heard silence. I am only wanted when I’m pretty. I’m wanted when I’m fun. I’m wanted as the safe haven for all your demons to be released so they can haunt me instead of you. The theater of my selfhood is curated for likability. That is to say that I wear make up and am bubbly and post positively because I deeply fear that if I did none of those things, everyone would disappear. To be wanted for nothing but myself? I only need one hand, not even all of my fingers, to count that. That is not what hurts. I praise the existence of those who love me bravely. What aches and gnaws is how many times people arrive with big promises and gilded sincerity. In unprompted soliloquies, they regale me with all the things I never imagined hearing. They pursue me like Helen of Troy only to abandon me with the Greek myth of their existence– one that echoes, never fully departing but never drawing closer.
It hurts, Reader. I fail to hold my hurters accountable. My head more confessional than courtroom– always absolving users because they are hurting. But a lack of malicious intent doesn’t minimize the wound. It bleeds regardless. And they never own up to hurting me, Reader. Nor do they leave altogether. These people are magicians who disappear and reconfigure when it’s convenient for them. This is how I know they don’t love me– there is no regard for such inconsistency. There is no tally for the emotional carnage they inflict on me. I allow it. In that way, I am guilty. My self-respect is the collateral damage in my starvation for affection.
I cringe typing this. Such raw admissions are the surrender of my “strong, independent woman” card. The card is heavy, and the only things with more weight are these words. They’ve stewed in my belly for 25 years. With hands blistered from coddling others and feet sore from running miles for those who struggle to take a step in my direction, there is an exhaustion to this existence. I don’t want to hurt anymore.
The only way I received love growing up was through my usefulness. My worth hinged on what I could do for people. Now, I do the most. Mine is the love that traverses cities and crosses oceans and greatly inconveniences me all for the maybe of a “hey”. I work too hard for love and connection and friendship because I still cling to this hope that I can earn it– that I am in control of it. This isn’t just romantic. This is family and friends, too. I am claimed by so many but belong to no one. My heart is a vagabond with countless parties but no home at the end of the night. I know the answer, reader. That I must actively eject these people from my life– through blocking their numbers and social media profiles. I must surrender the dopamine blue moon of their interactions for my own sanity. I must choose my peace knowing that emptiness may be its price. Empty is the clearing of my path home.
The emotional labor of wondering where you stand with another person is more than we realize. It is quicksand in my already-anvil soul. I am sinking. I tried to meditate the other day. No peace arrived, only tears. In the stillness, I understood that my body is never at rest. It never releases– only knows how to accumulate other people’s ghosts inside. It never feels safe or loved or like it doesn’t have to be ready to run at any moment. When alone, I ask the atlas of my body what hurts most– it cannot answer. It, too, is afraid of saying something to make everything leave.