I say where I’m from the same way I say sorry, which is embarrassed, which is like I have something to make up for. There are chapters in my life where the footnotes outnumber the paragraphs. In tiny text, I couch the things too unseemly for a middle class upbringing. Kitchen table talk and exchanges of pleasantries lack the nuance needed to describe the discombobulated coordinates of me. It’s more than Youngstown or Quantico or Indiana (where I never lived by stayed it as my permanent address). It’s the things that are hard to talk about, and they’re even harder to write about.
I want to write about refugees, about Brexit, about climate change and theory and so many other other this. This is the last thing I want to write about, which is how I know I need to do it. Avoidance is a procrastination of healing. This is the last frontier, of my writing. I will not say this a lot throughout this piece because I love them. I will not call my parents out by name because they gave me life, and because they are the only two parents I will ever have. This is not their crucifixion. This is my attempt to heal so I don’t bleed onto everyone else. Love is holding each other accountable, and I hope I make enough space in this essay to love them, to respect them, and to acknowledge some of my own denial.
Words abandon my train of thought like vagabonds when I try to write about people who can’t show up for me because I’m afraid of making you (reader) feel uncomfortable. Nothing about abandonment is comfortable. In that moment, I am the last puppy at the pound, the one who doesn’t get a home, the one alone in the dark after everyone else has an address. The sour taste of those moments never parts from my tongue. I become fluent in other people’s excuses. There is a script for the bruise on me. There is a script for how proud of me they are when they didn’t show up. There is always an absolution awaiting them. My nervous system gets confused because I smile when it hurts now. You’re not supposed to smile when things hurt. You’re supposed to cry when it hurts. I learn other people’s comfort is more important that my disappointment. And I’m disappointed a lot.
The disappointment is more than a downer that someone couldn’t make it. Profound grief wafts through all these memories where I felt like a woman, but I was a little girl. By six, I was all gumption and moxie, all confidence and bravado. But six is six. Six is a child. I needed to be protected. I needed to be encouraged. I needed to be shown up for, and I wasn’t. I peruse pictures of myself from those days, and I see a kid. I see someone who was deprived and neglected. The closer I neared other people’s lives, the louder the hurt cried. I still wince in discomfort at the gushing encouragement of my friends’ parents because presence feels like indulgence to me. To be cared for, I learned, was an act I would need to reciprocate later.
I hid that disappointment in wins and achieving and overcompensating. Love became a winnable feat, and I lost myself in the chase so much that I become suspicious of love when it meets me where I am. Love should meet us where we are. Anything else is a fallacy, a mirage, not love. I also told myself that love just needed me to be thinner, quieter, more educated, less me. Effectively, I taught myself that if I weren’t me, I would be lovable. Reader, you are lovable as yourself. I am lovable as myself.
I’m embarrassed that my background is more barbed wired than white picket fence. Home has always been a noun to leave. Something I run away from. I’m ashamed. I love my parents. We are a gene pool of repetitive traumas, of too many kids and never enough time, of vice-hopping from generation to generation. When wounds go unhealed, we replay them perpetually. My parents replay their wounds onto me. Their behavior is not rooted in malice, but in scarcity, in “if it was good enough for me, it’ll be good enough for my kid” but survival is not a sign of adequacy. It merely means we outlasted what could’ve killed us.
I want to tell myself “it wasn’t THAT bad”. It was bad. I know that because I don’t want to cite any examples. I don’t want this essay to boil into ammunition. Bad is bad. Bad does not mean unloved. Bad does not mean that they did not try. My parents absolutely tried. It means that their effort never escaped the ghost stories of their own traumas– that we were always reenacting something that outdated me.
I talk and write like a sharp shooter– direct, precise, fearless. When it comes to my parents, it’s a messy patchwork of deflection, sloppy jokes, and weak metaphors. I like the lies I tell better than the truth. The truth is a boorish thing I wrangle with two hands. It holds its ground: I am profoundly loved by two people who could never show it, who lit it aglow in gaslighting, and still do, but I love them. I love them with all my heart.
I am the author, not the victim of this essay. I am almost twenty-six years old, and the life I have is largely incredible. What I was not given, I built: my support system, my career, my joy, my healing, my growth.
It’s my job to spin gold out of straw here. I am not a rich woman. I am not a genius, a celebrated beauty, nor anyone of great note. And yet, I feel fabulously lucky and grateful.
There reaches a time when, even if it is my parent’s fault, this is my burden to undo. I am responsible for my own behavior. Because I am bleeding onto other people. I am actively doing that right now. Our hurt weaponizes when we don’t address it. Moreover, forgiveness isn’t possible if I refuse to acknowledge that wrong has been done. Sometimes, it is passive. I don’t respond to kind words, not because I disregard them but because I struggle to receive affection. At other times, it is vicious. I want to leave people before they leave me, and when I feel abandonment, I grow fangs and talons. My whole being is armor, and my partner becomes the opposing sword. I can’t blame that on mom and dad. That is me.
My parents fed me and clothed me and gave me my four amazing siblings. We are that Rustbelt team from the wrong side of the tracks. It has been us against the world before, and perhaps, that is partially why I adhere such loyalty to them. And I get that loyalty isn’t reciprocated. I know you might be angry on my behalf because I deserved better. I don’t have a rebuttal to that. I am not the only person to love people who couldn’t help but hurt her. I still want to be on their team. We seven are the Bad News Bears. We are in this together.
I’m not just in this with my parents anymore. I’m in this life with my mentors and friends and colleagues. And no matter how other people or I feel about my parents, I’m forever their daughter. I bear my father’s oval face and my mother’s smile. I command his ruthless competitiveness and her compulsory friendliness. It is impossible to hate my parents when they are so much of me. Perhaps each of my siblings and I are their love letter to the world. Even if we aren’t, if we are just the Darwinian examples that their genes are propelling forward, I only have one mom and one dad. I’m ashamed of where I come from. But I’m not ashamed of them.