There are these moments, Reader, ones so far from what happened that I almost forget my own history. And then BAM! A word, an action, some split-second returns me, reeling, into rage and insecurity. We cannot immigrate from our own experiences. They are in our DNA.
The compilation of these things is a thousand tiny papercuts: a slit for all the times my friend’s creepy dad listened to my phone calls in grade school. Another when the substitute teacher stared at my chest while he spoke to me, and I giggled until he left because giggling was safer than screaming. A papercut appeared when a college profession whispered, “I thought about you last night” as I was walking into his classroom. I entered so many work Christmas parties clean only to leave entirely punctuated in papercuts– a series of entitled hands who grasped at restricted areas in plain sight. People saw. No one said anything. There’s a papercut of all the men who saw and asked me out afterward as if my time is as up for grabs as my body is. There’s a papercut for people who treat my queerness like a party favor– like my affection is a novelty. Learning body autonomy later than most people strengthens everything in retrospect– things I laughed off in the moment feel less funny now.
And then there are all the times I couldn’t say no. Or, I did, but not enough. I said no to one uber, and asked him to call 2. I said no at the base of my stairwell, and up each step. By the time we got to my bedroom, I hoped we’d just sleep, but that didn’t happen and I stopped saying no anymore. It was less effort to endure. I don’t call that rape, but it wasn’t consent either. And after, I still hoped that he liked me. After he coerced me, I still ached for his approval even if the sight of him made me mildly sick. There’s more than one night with that story– more than one person who makes a colony of my home– to arrive and treat it as their own, leaving a host of confusion in their wake. Prior to the age of 24, I only had 2 sexual experiences that weren’t abuse, assault, or coercion.
There is a word for these things, I know: microaggressions, but my brain doesn’t compute at the moment, doesn’t discern that not all violence involves bloodshed. My skin bubbles, hairs on end, my central nervous system flares, and my head rattles, “this is not ok”. I don’t know what to do with such a surplus of gray matter, but I also know I am not the only one. We now wrestle with all the bruises that never left a visible mark. I think the answer is communication. I think the answer is boundaries. I don’t think our future generations need to inherit this confusion.
I wanna scream so loudly because I don’t know what to do with all these little things– each unremarkable, but together, they are the musical score of my life– conducting the decrescendos of staying in line, the key of self-loathing, the coda because living it once wasn’t enough. There is a carnage in coping with the weight of all these nameless things.
Recovery is a clumsy process. It is not linear. I pressure myself to build on better, but the truth is, each day is a 24-hour block devoid of history. The sharp objects are less dangerous than my thoughts. Heading into an overwhelming meeting, I pulled out a blade and slit an inch on my ribcage. The whole meeting, we jabbered. The whole time, no one knew I was bleeding. “This isn’t normal,” I whisper to myself. Writing about my mental health is exposing, humbling, and even painful at times. I do not enjoy excavating everything that hurts. I preach self-love. I mean it. I mean it sincerely, emphatically, deeply. My beliefs cannot undo the neurological trauma and pathways that existed before I edified these beliefs. My homeostasis is trauma, is chaos, is uncertainty and good is nothing but suspicious. If my brain were a musical scale, worthlessness is my “do”. There are seven scales stacked above it. I make ladders of octaves, but like a skilled sightreader, my brain always heads back to do.
And yet, I am here. I am safe. I am breathing. I am loved. My heart beats despite all the days my brain begged it not to, and the older I get, the more my heartbeat sounds like everyone who’s ever loved me. For every papercut, there’s a band-aid. There’s a “hang on” in the breeze, in my DMs, in an embrace.
Since August, my friend Michelle has sent me an adorable video of a puppy almost every day. My friend Monica texts me almost weekly to make sure I’m ok. Shivang facetimes me and offers his limitless support. I have my people– Zach, Elisabeth, Laura, Cierra, my OTF family. I have former roommates and college mentors and sorority sisters and people I barely spoke to offering both hands in my direction. You must understand, Reader, that I never thought I would have this. I didn’t have friends in middle school. I had garbage thrown at my face in high school. There were years when my family was a volcano dangerously close to erupting. Now, my parents are attentive. My siblings are supportive. We are a united front after years adrift. Somewhere between the papercuts, the light got in. I didn’t let my scars get thick. I stayed soft.
I don’t know what to do with a memory of a night in the summer of 2015, when a venting session to my friend, Laura, spiraled into suicidal ideations. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t fathom surviving another hour. I ran into my apartment only to receive a call from Laura and Cierra. “You have 5 minutes to get in this car. We aren’t leaving you alone,” Cierra commanded. “I’m naked,” I said, “I can’t leave”. “Ok, 10 minutes,” she countered. We went to the McDonalds on High Street where they sat with me until the bad thoughts couldn’t get me anymore until my lungs thawed and my cheeks cooled. I don’t know what to do with a love that big and sacrificial, what to do when I let go and people catch me.
There’s this bounty of goodness in my life I struggle to accept because it feels like believing mermaids are real. Unconditional love has been a fantasy to my conscious– acceptance was a mythical beast. To have these things is to possess a unicorn. These thousand tiny “hang ons” are my life jackets. I have to remind myself that just because I know how to swim, it doesn’t mean I have to when everyone in my life arrives with a lifeboat. I’m allowed to climb aboard.
Isolation is not a healing agent. The papercuts will never stop coming, but the light always finds its way in. I cannot make sense of it all. I want to. My mind is an ambitious astronomer contorting constellations out of rogue stars, but this is a reasonless cosmos. The band-aids can’t cover every papercut, but they hold us over.
I don’t want to wrap microaggressions up in a bow. I do not aim to polish something raw and unpleasant because that’s what I’ve been programmed to do as a woman. But also, because I am a woman, I’ve been rewarded for my handling of difficulty but guilted for my joys. My brain goes idle at good things— fearful of when they will grow fangs and bite me too. I don’t know what to do with all the love in my life, and sometimes, that makes me feel worse. Like people are wasting affection on me. I fight this thought. I fight it with both fists. To unlearn abuse as a love language is a heavy thing. With trembling open arms and staccato breath, I accept the love I deserve. My footsteps grow more comfortable with the choreography of walking away from people who don’t deserve me. I am not your unpaid therapist. I am not There’s something to how we remain whole regardless of the good or the bad. There’s a mattering in that we matter. Because we are matter—a series of surprisingly durable atoms—no matter the element or injury. We remain.