About A Girl
Let me tell you about a girl. A beautiful tiny little Islander girl with the sweetest smile, and soft chubby cheeks- A beautiful sad little girl. Let me tell you what she learned, and how her heartbreaks. Let me tell you…
This little girl with her thick Filipino accent and dark brown hair belonged to a him and to a her. Belonged?
She was a beautiful caramel-skinned woman. Young, vibrant, she was a singer, a dancer… and at twenty years old now a Mother. She had always hoped her life would be more, to chase her dreams and become famous one day. She could have been happy. She could have been free. If it wasn’t for…
She came from the poor streets of Bacolod City, where street smarts outweighed book smarts, and education was only for the rich. She was the second oldest of nine, and the bread earner of her entire family. A woman of the broken, who found herself a young Mother with little options and little choice.
He was a man of the streets of New York. Once a nomad, a hoodlum, turned entrepreneur. A man whose street smarts did not diminish his book smarts. A man whose upbringing screamed, “you’re on your own, fight, don’t be a pussy.” to become thick-skinned. To become a man- this man, a hard man.
An artist, a wanderer, a force to be reckoned with, he traveled and fought. Making a name for himself, and letting no one get in the way, he married and divorced, and married and divorced, until he found her. In one night, she would become his, and her little girl who was not would have to become his too.
What becomes of a little girl whose heart is not cradled and body damaged by angry fists? Whose little ears yearned for praise and kindness, but instead were met with disappointment and shame? What becomes of a little girl that learns to lie, to save face, to crave for the wrong instead of the right? She is beautiful, but she is sad, she is alone, and she hurts.
She will learn to love the wrong way, to make lists that keep her small, to vault away the hurt not realizing that the hurt is still there. She will learn to measure her worth in little light and all the darkness, creating boundaries made of chalk easily erasable. To not ask for what she deserves, to be quiet and still and invisible. Most importantly she will give it all away too fast, leaving very little, or nothing for herself.
The first memory, because the others no longer exist…
Shame, shame is what you feel when your teacher and principal have you in a room half naked taking photos of your bruised body. Somewhere behind the closed door of the room you are in you can hear your sister sobbing, “where is she?”, you ask. But no one is answering, they’re too busy clicking away with their camera in hand, flash after flash, direction after direction, no one will answer you.
“Move to the left, a little more… okay now turn around” and as they take photo after photo of you, they ask you questions about your body “does it hurt here, what about here? How about here…?” don’t say anything you tell yourself. Just don’t. And as the tears fall, and your mouth stay silent, they ask you again and again, how badly do you hurt, do you hurt? But they already know the answer, they know because your little sister has told them everything, after all, she was standing there when it happened. They know because you won’t let them touch you because everything hurts. They know because you haven’t stopped crying because again, everything hurts.
She’s a year younger than you, your sister. She held your hand as you cried and tried not to wince at every movement, at every step you took as the two of you walked to school that morning. And you almost make it to school, you were so close, you only had one more block to go. But the turn was too fast, or the air too thin, and the aches on your body too strong, and you trip. You trip and it goes dark, and by the time you come to you are here in this office, your clothes being pulled off as your teacher tries to explain why and your principal telling you “it’s okay, you’re okay”. Your body is aching, and your head is pounding, and you don’t resist. You can’t. You just remember her, your little sister, holding your hand, waking up to her gone. She saved you that day. She saved you and all you want is to have her by your side.
The morning of the beating, the first beating…
It smelled of fresh rain and laundry detergent that morning, and all three girls were up, laughing as they ate their bowls of cereal. The routine was the same as it always was, mom in her shower, the girls at the table, they would make their bowls, eat and then walk to school. It was a good morning, but he was angry and it was the little girl's fault, that he was angry. So it would become the worse morning, and one of the only mornings she will remember of her childhood.
She didn’t know what was coming, but she knew that when the screaming started that it would be because of her, so her body tensed, and she waited- waited for the blaming to stop. But it didn’t, and this time it wouldn’t. Not until…and then she felt it.
It started with a slap to her face, she felt her cheek go hot and then numb, and then a punch to her chest, she felt her breath escape as she struggled to let it back in. She tried to hold on to the table, but lost grip, and as she fell hard onto the tiles of the kitchen floor he kicked the girl, he kicked her over and over again. She tried to cover herself, but his boots were thick. She dared not to look at him, but most of all she dared not to look at her sisters, she just closed her eyes and hoped they had closed their eyes too. She didn’t want them to see, she didn’t want them to be afraid, she didn’t want them to hurt. She tried hard to keep from yelping, holding in as much of her tears as she could. She didn’t scream for him to stop, she didn’t ask him why. She just waited, just like before, waited for it to be done.
When he was finally done he stood silent for a bit before telling the girl to get up. And so she did. And as she continued to struggle to breathe she pulled her arms from her chest and pushed herself up onto her feet. She then picked up her backpack, placed her shoes on her feet, told her sisters to get ready, and walked out of the front door. She was Seven.
At seven she learned to fear, it was the first thing she learned from him. Her fear turned to anger, which allowed for shame to stay. Her second lesson she learned- Shame.
In the many years to come, when hitting was not an option, she knew she could rely on his words to keep her down. He let her know how fat she was, so she would eat tiny bites of food, and never look up at the table. He let her know how unimportant she was, by never addressing her by her real name “Rachel, come here… Rachel, do this… Rachel”, so she stood there head down holding in tears and feeling stupid for wanting to be called his. She always felt stupid. She always felt invisible. She was his punching bag, someone he could put his own hurt on to, someone he could control with his every movement. How she would tiptoe around him, staying quiet, staying still, just staying- stuck.
His third lesson to her: Invisibility.
A LETTER TO WHOM I CALL FATHER:
I will never be a choice that you will want to choose because you never asked for me. I came with the Woman who bore a child that did not belong to you and was forced to have me in your life. My face reminded you of another man, and another time that was not yours, and I know that hurt your pride. So you took me in because she would not allow you to leave me behind.
As a child, all I can remember is how scared I was of you. How you tore me down with awful words and jokingly talked about my flaws in public. How you would hit me, and yell at me, and make me feel less. But in all of it, somehow, I just wanted more of you. For you to love me, to tell me that I was doing good, to see me, to call me your daughter with pride. How could all of the less you gave me, make me want so much more from you? Why did I crave it so deeply that in return I let myself be so small?
You taught me to blame myself for not being enough, to create lists that I believed were the things that made me wrong. I coward at your sight, and in return, I never asked for anything. Maybe in all of this, you felt there was nothing to give.
I am wounded by your words and wounded by your hands, and it is in my heart that I feel those wounds. I could not love myself, I did not know-how. I wish that you had taught me to love myself.
Instead, I learned how to be the wrong kind of strong. The strong that numbs the pain when I should let it out, the strong that pretends the hurt doesn’t exist until there is nothing but silence and I am alone. The kind of strong that turns the fear into hate allowing for shame to stay present, and the strong that only looks well put together but is falling apart on the inside. I have learned to disguise myself, tricking others, tricking me, into believing I am complete. But I am not.
I am not complete. No… I was not complete.
***** FROM WHICH I CAME, BROKEN UNTO BROKEN *****
Moments, there are so many moments…
“Chelle, don’t tell your Father what we’re doing…” we are in another mans car driving off, running away yet again. I’m in the back seat, blanket over my body, coloring pencils, a bag full of clothes, and a drawing pad next to me. I don’t know where we’re going, but I know it’s not home.
What I do know:
We’re running away because there’s no love to give and no love to have at home. She teaches me this as I watch her stroking the hair of another man. Looking at him differently than she does Pop. Laughing differently, smiling differently, holding differently. And he is gentle with her. Listens to her. It looks sweet, but it feels bad. The kind of bad that sits in your gut and makes you nervous- The kind of bad that makes it hard to breathe.
At some point, she will get caught. I will get caught. We will get caught. And we do. I will learn love is broken. I will learn lying is a necessity. I will learn to keep secrets.
Moments, there are so many moments…
I’m in a shower with my sisters, there’s sand everywhere… I’m laughing, my sisters are laughing with me. Then we hear her, she’s mad again, and our laughter goes away- we made a mess of the sand in the house after she told us not to. But I know it will be my fault that there’s sand everywhere. I’m the oldest. I should be better, do better, teach my sisters to be better. Before I can tell her I’m sorry I feel it.- Her anger. In the shape of a green bucket she is hitting me on my head, I think there’s a little opening now, the water feels hotter where the opening is, there is blood on the ground… All I have is “Sorry”. All she has is “Don’t do it again”. Then it’s over, and we never talk about the shower, the sand, or the anger. I learn to be better… I think.
Moments, so many of them…
It’s late, I’m tired, but I am walking around the block with her. Kelly told me I need to tell her. Kelly said if I didn’t, she would. I’m so scared. Why am I so scared? I feel wrong, I feel shame, I feel fear. “Mom, you know the man who babysits us? Clive? … He touched me, he touched me here, and also here… And I felt it, when he hugged me, you know, down there. We were playing hide and seek. We were in his closet. I didn’t want him to. But he did. He asked me to sleep in his bed. But I said no. I didn’t sleep in his bed, but he kept asking me to“ She is silent for a while. And then she tells me “Don’t tell your father. You know how he is. He will kill him if you do. This kind of thing happens… It happened to me you know. It’s okay. Just don’t be around him anymore. Just remember, we can’t tell your father”. I will not tell my father. I will not be around him anymore. I will not feel safe. I will wonder why it has happened. But I will not talk about it. I do not talk about it. I learn to accept the bad.
Moments, lingering… There are so many of them…
I am sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, crying. I was just caught with a boy in my room. The cops were called but they can’t do anything- the boy was invited. She is angry with me, she is screaming “How could you do this…?” I am thinking, I only did what you did… remember the car? The man you were different with? I do… But I am silent. Crying. She hovers above me, and then she turns around… She is grabbing the mirror hanging on my wall, I know what’s next. I don’t move. I don’t say anything. I close my eyes. I deserve this. I wait for the mirror to hit my head, but it never does. I open my eyes, she only stopped because she no longer has the mirror in her hand. Benji has grabbed it from her and is holding her back. I look at her. She tells me I’m an animal, a disrespectful little bitch, I am not her daughter, she should have had an abortion instead of giving birth to me. And then she leaves me, they both leave me. I am in my room… still crying. I learn I am wrong, I learn I am not worth anything. I learn I can belong to no one.
The little girl thought the moments could not hurt her if she just pretended they didn’t exist. She tried to forget the feelings, the disgust- The pain. But they lingered inside her, and she let the moments control her self-worth, as she tried desperately to be better, do better. The moments never went away, even when she thought they did. Instead, it controlled every part of her body when she was angry when there was a loss of control when the anxiety set in when sleep was not an option. She hurt herself, she hurt others, she couldn’t cry, and she couldn’t speak. And in those moments, left with just herself, she pushed away warmth, love, and happiness. She had learned to rely on the chaos, and that happiness always came with a price. She could not be happy. She could not embrace herself. She just couldn’t.
A LETTER TO WHOM SHE CALLS MOTHER
I know why you hurt me. I know where you come from, and how much pain you hold. I know that I reminded you of time loss, opportunity lost, dreams lost. I know what has happened to your own inner child, how it was not held with love, how you did not feel safe, how you too come from broken.
But why was it my fault? Why was it so easy to hurt me too? Why couldn’t you be better, instead of telling me that I had to?
I want to be angry with you. To tell you that I needed you and you failed me. To tell you that I wanted you, and you left me. To tell you that I loved you, even when you would not look at me, speak to me- be with me.
I watched you follow the whims of the men in your life. No voice, no strength, no power. I watched as the men beat you, with words, with fists, with intimacy. I watched you hoping you would see me, and somehow I would give you strength. But I never did, and I felt lost, afraid- a failure.
You taught me to need a man, to give too much of myself, to believe that the only truth is this. One day you will be left behind, it is what happens to women like us. But it is only normal, and we must take what we can get. We have to submit, and let our hearts be broken. We have to forget ourselves and what we are capable of. And to get what we want we should lie, use our bodies, and be selfish.
But I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to use my body. I don’t want to submit.
I am broken from your broken, realizing now that our moments burden my fragile tiny body. Realizing now, that I have a cycle much like yours, realizing now that I no longer want it. I feel lost in the loss you have given me, carrying with me shame, and the heaviness of having not been enough. I am not enough. Not to myself, and not to others. I am not complete. I want to be complete.
Wait… I was not complete.
The little girl beckons for me to hear her, and so now we cry together. Hurt together. Feel together. I am sorry that I did not believe in you, I am sorry that I was not strong for you, I am sorry that I did not hear you. As I sit in the stillness of it all, I don’t want you to be forgotten, to stay lost, to stay broken. So together we will learn to be the right kind of strong, and together we will learn to heal. I will be your voice. I will make sure that we choose us. I will try to be better because we deserve the better. I will not lose you, abandon you, or ignore you. I will instead, cradle you close, hold you as you fall, and give you my heart. I will not compromise the love that we have in order to feel something greater with someone else. You are important. You are beautiful, you are worth it. I will be your guide, and I will find us the peace that we deserve. We will grow, we will be happy, we will survive.