There was a time in my life, which dwells far into my history, even as it feels as though it were only yesterday. I was fresh out of high school and just out of a horribly turbulent and abusive relationship. But despite my escape, it still ate away at everything positive I saw inside myself. It eroded my self-esteem and stymied my dreams, dropping the last shreds of hope I had into a chaotic abyss that I subsequently lost myself in. During that bleak time in my life, while I drowned in a sea of overwhelming emotions and confusion, I rediscovered something I had lost. It came in the guise of a child, shining like a beacon in the darkness. That sliver of gently illuminated hope offered me a reason to go on living and a reason to push forward in my life, instead of just lying in the muck as I was so used to doing.
Being 18 is a hard age for anyone fresh out of high school. Tack on bouts of depression, the changes one’s life takes on after graduation, and the need to rebel against those we call family, and you have a simmering pot chocked full of potential possibilities, both negative and positive. That’s about where my life was at that point, except mine had derailed and stagnated after having survived an abusive relationship. The doctors eventually called it PTSD. I called it Hell.
I can remember one day, after coming back home, while sitting in my parent’s warm inviting den, with its wooden parquet floors, oversized couches, and an old style wood encased television, that was more furniture than anything else. I just sat there, lost in contemplation, while my parents and my brother were at work, remembering in photo flashes, what happened to me, as tears streamed down my face without my realizing it.
I saw myself starving for days on end, sometimes for three to four at a time. I felt, once more, the gnawing hunger that clawed at my belly, as a constant reminder and companion. And I remembered the thirst that went hand in hand with the loss of eating on a regular basis. Then I relived the horror of desperation that cried out inside me, which prompted me to walk toward our air conditioning unit and open it up.
It was often frozen over, because of how cold my boyfriend, Paul, liked to keep the temperature in the house. So, many times, it would be covered in a layer of ice. And it was there, in that place, that I found my means of survival. Can you imagine it, quenching your constant thirst by licking a sheet of dirt encrusted ice from your frozen air conditioning unit just to keep living one more day? And at the same time, you silently suffer the pangs of ongoing hunger’s malnutrition without shedding a tear or whispering a word to anyone.
By the time death had started to settle in, my pride had been stripped away from me, amongst a plethora of other things one needs to survive in this world. Paul had left me demoralized to the point of being something almost not human. I was consumed with abject terror and screeching pain; and the only thing I knew to do was await my inevitable end, which couldn’t come swiftly enough. Ironically, this was a preferable choice than going to my parents and admitting what had been happening to me.
Admitting I had been abused physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically would have made it real. It would have meant that I had failed; failed in my relationship and failed as an intelligent, independent woman. It would have meant that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was or as strong, as I used to watch all those LMN movies about abused women and compared myself to them. I can remember chuckling and thinking to myself, “I’ll never let that happen to me. I’ll never be like them. I’ll fight back or leave before I ever let anything like that happen to me.” Admitting it ultimately meant, at least in my skewed perception, that the glaring truth, which scared me more than anything else on the planet, would have emerged. It would mean that I really was a total and complete failure in this life. And that no one would ever love me or find any worth in me again, just like Paul would croon to me, in deeply affectionate tones, over and over again, as we laid in bed at night.
From romance, with a man who wore gaudy outdated 80’s clothing and imagined himself to be one of the greatest martial artists in the world, to abuse of all kinds at his hands, to escape from that death sentence wrapped up in the promise of a romantic forever, to survival, even if only in its most basic form at first; that is the journey I walked in less than nine months of my life. After escaping, though, I barely survived, even as I was nurtured at home amongst those who loved me. This was because I was still a victim in my own mind. So, despite finding a way out of my physical bonds, I could find no escape from the cage of my own making.
Life stretched out endlessly for me, with seemingly no hope and no reprieve. Until one day, I took a pregnancy test and it came up positive. For many people this would have seemed like a death sentence or something equally negative, but for me it was something quite the opposite. This child was a gift and a blessing because, despite my own suffering, my lack of self-esteem and my heart wrenching depression, she gave me a reason to rise in the morning and a reason to keep pushing through my day. She became a tiny sliver of hope, which grew exponentially day by day.
I sat there that day, lost in a haze of remembrance, in the brightly lit den of my parent’s genial and inviting home. I recall feeling my body wracked with chills, which flowed over me like waves of icy water. Then as I felt myself being pulled back to reality, I can remember feeling such a gentle warmth enshroud me, that I was filled with an overwhelming and resplendent love. And it was then I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was not alone anymore.
If you take away nothing else from this essay, remember how it made you feel. Remember, so that you know the signs when you come face to face with them. Remember, so that you are able to reach out a hand to someone else and remind them when they are in need. Remember, so that if one day the person who needs reminding is you, you will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are not alone and that there is hope.