TW: Abuse, self-harm, suicide
My childhood makes me cry.
In my 20s I didn’t look back at my childhood because it wasn’t that far away. New to adulthood, I spent my time exploring the new boundaries that I could set for myself and learning that they could apply to everyone. Could, but often didn’t as people tried to convince me that my boundaries didn’t matter and used every manipulative technique they could imagine to do so. In school, at work, in my friendships and romantic relationship, people used humor, ridicule, guilt, shame, rage, threats, and infinite combinations of any tool available to minimize my need for boundaries. When they failed, I was depicted as the angry, bitter selfish person who deserved every harm inflicted upon her for refusing to comply. I spent my 20s clinically depressed and enduring suicidal ideation until anti-depressants helped buffer my response.
In my 30s, I realized that I rarely looked back because it made me sad. Too sad. Years of therapy only kept me flirting with the pain that was my childhood — a childhood consisting of never-ending violence, a time where I rarely felt safe and often found myself hiding from the harm that never seemed to end. It came from relatives, peers, parents, neighbors — all the people who helped shaped my environment and told me who they expected me to be. Much of it wasn’t ill-intended, which makes it challenging to reconcile, but all of it was a flex of power over someone with considerably less power and that power flex became verbally, emotionally, and physically violent when any resistance was met.
Now I’m in my mid-40s and when I look back, I do not see a happy childhood. I do not see a time where my curiosity and desire to learn was openly encouraged. I see a time where I hit wall after wall of other people’s negative expectations of me and the constant war to prove I belonged in those spaces. I feel the pain of a child forced to navigate a poisonous landscape with little support. My parents did their best but I was the youngest of five kids, three of which with more visible needs than mine so my needs were lost in the chaos until, eventually, I learned to ignore them, too. Help was only available in the direst of situations, making safety and comfort a luxury. My home, with all its spoken and unspoken expectations, was not safe. School, with all its rampant intersections of oppression being heaped on me by adults who were supposed to encourage my development, was not safe. My peers, whose various stressful environments kept them in survival mode, were not safe. Media, with its ever-present 100% anti-Black, white supremacist patriarchal capitalist propaganda, was not safe. White people, who were a vicious norm in my day to day life, were never safe. Despite all these constant threats, I was expected to excel.
Over time, I learned to seek safety in silence and solitude. I sought places where I didn’t have to explain what I thought and felt to others who felt entitled to know everything about me. Or those who felt they could control me. I stopped letting people in because to let them in invited harm. I had tiers for intimacy, everyone was held at a distance. Very few ever got to see me vulnerable because I’d learned that to be vulnerable was to be prey and I was tired of being circled by sharks. I twisted myself into a labyrinth of a person, giving just enough to make me feel real but hiding everything that made me soft. I told myself not to need anyone for anything, only reaching out when there is no other choice, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of being disappointed because when you wait until shit is desperate to ask for help, that “no” is like a kick to the chest. To avoid that disappointment, self-sufficiency was and continues to be the only altar at which I worship.
I know there is no such thing as 100% self-sufficiency. I know I would not survive without the various communities in my life — my online communities, my family, my real-life community, and my casual acquaintances. I try to keep my community small because I know from experience how easy it is for one person to decimate a community from the inside — as easy as it is for one person to decimate me from the inside by planting seeds of doubt and undermining facets of my humanity. I remember what it felt like to experiment and feel free only to have the people who claimed to care about me criticize and censor me with their love and care. That scarred child is still a part of me. In my 20s, I neglected her. In my 30s I mourned her. In my early 40s, I forgave her and today, I finally understand that she does not need to be ignored, mourned, or forgiven. She needs to be accepted and loved in all the ways that were denied for more than four decades of my life. I am choosing to love and nurture who I was and who I am because if I don’t, I am destroying myself from the inside.
I have endured a violent life and more than once, I wanted to give up. I still struggle with the desire to give up. My cousin, who was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most generous people I’d ever known, gave up six years ago because the violence and ensuing struggle never ends. Her kindness and generosity were repeatedly exploited by societal predators — by family, lovers, and peers. We are Black women and our strength is used to justify the constant abuse we experience in this world. It’s the excuse people love to tote out when we ask why no one helps us. “You’re strong. You can take it. There are people who need help more than you.” It is disheartening to hear how we don’t deserve care because our humanity is consistently rewritten to center and protect our abusers. We are violently forced to rewrite ourselves to survive this brutal gauntlet called life.
Black girls rarely get to figure out who we are. We can’t be shy because it makes us invisible. We can’t be loud because it makes us a better target. Any visibility is met with manipulation and criticism, violent methods of control. Your body and every method of expression weaponized against you. Hair, clothes, skin, glasses, smile, laugh, even the sound of my voice was picked apart and found wanting. Nothing is off limits when it came to what people said was wrong with me and it took ejecting most people from my life to silence that continual harm. We are told who we are allowed to be, and it is only with experience that we realize we aren’t actually allowed to be anything other than labor, incubator, punching bag, and scapegoat for everyone else’s benefit and then ridiculed and ostracized for stating the truth of it.
This is not a good life. It is the only one I have, but it has not been a good life and I’m not going to pretend it has been. There is room in my world for this truth and sitting with it helps me see what I want next for myself. I am still figuring that out, but I no longer lie to myself about how I feel about this trash ass environment. I am tired of repeating the same shit with the hope of a different outcome — I have been and will continue to be met with misogynoir in my life and it will continue to be violent. Maybe now I will better recognize pathways that can move me away from harm instead of convincing myself that I need to endure it. Perhaps now, I can better build those pathways for myself and others. Because this thing where I tell myself that I cannot avoid this deliberate harm is no longer tolerable for me. I don’t want to see death as my only avenue of escape.
I love the child I was and will learn how to celebrate her. I love the person I am, and I continue to learn how to celebrate me. I deserve to love and be loved. I deserve to be seen and heard and I will continue to explore what that means for me. I will also make a space where the fullness of me is not met with violence because I am not the problem — this world and the predators who revel in this violence are.
If you appreciate or learned from this essay, please feel free to compensate me by contributing to my Paypal or CashApp. You can contribute any amount you want at any time:
Cash App: $TalynnKel
$1 gets you in.
$3 gets you access to my casual podcast “TaLynn Talks”.
$5 gets you access to my monthly pre-recorded “live” readings of older essays as I revisit them.
Originally published at https://talynnkel.com on June 29, 2021.