When I was a little girl, I had an irrational fear that someone would shoot me through my bedroom window. I have no idea what precipitated this fear, some combination of movies and neighborhood violence and my always overactive imagination. But in my mind, this was something I needed to be deeply concerned with. And concerned I was. There was no amount of reassurance, no house alarm or locked door or drawn curtain that could convince me I was safe.
And so, every night once my mama turned my light off, I’d create a wall of stuffed animals between me and the window to all my worries, pulling myself as closely as I possibly could to the wall, stacking rows and rows of stuffed animals between me and whatever evil might befall me. As I grew, it distressed me that I no longer had enough stuffed animals to properly insulate my lengthening body, and so I hoarded new ones whenever I could. And when that didn’t work, I took to just protecting what I figured were my most important places- my head, my heart- because I figured if I was hurt anywhere else it wouldn’t be pleasant, but I could survive that.
Figuring out how I was going to survive on my own was an early fixation of mine.
There is a very peculiar thing that happens to you when you grow up without a safety net. When your life, and your place in it is precarious and unstable. When every few years is a new house and a new school and a new life. You become used to leaving you behind and forming a new you however you need to be to survive your new life. It’s a type of impermanence that I’ve never quite grown out of.
Now- older, wiser, but still a bit fucked up- I find myself resenting what I didn’t have. And while I tell myself that the resentment is pointless, and I try to channel that energy into being better, more whole, I find that the resentment is there. High up on a shelf, and collecting dust in my emotional storage closet, but there nonetheless.
I find myself wondering what I might be, where I might be, who I might be, had I not grown up feeling so alone. I wonder if I’d be better at depending on people, at asking for help. I wonder if I’d take more chances, if I’d have a less stable career, if I’d be more creative and less anxious were I someone who were able to move through the world completely, wholly, illogically certain that I would be okay.
But the truth is, I have never had a safety net.
i tightrope walk because life necessitates it and there is nothing underneath me. If I fall, it’s over. And even worse, there are no well meaning medical professionals rushing to my aid when I sail face first to the ground below. No, instead I can lay there as long as I need to, but I am still the one picking me up. I am still dusting me off and tending to my own wounds. I am still climbing back up the ladder, broken and bruised and bloody, and I am still hoping to make it across without plummeting.
As I’ve lived and tried to be a better me than I have previously been, I get to build a bit of a net. I have been blessed with people that love me- truly, madly, deeply- who cheer for me from the stands, and try to catch me when I fall, even if I might hurt us both. But when you fail to learn what it means to form these bonds, what it means to trust people, to have faith, you never really know how to nurture them. You never really learn how to have them. They are always- well intentioned as you all are- a bit awkward, a bit misshapen, a bit sour and unseemly in your mouth.
I have never really had, and now don’t know how to cultivate, having that necessary safe space to go when I need to fall apart.
And so instead I swallow and swallow and swallow. I don’t fall apart. And when I do- when I absolutely cannot hold myself together another instant- I do it alone, as controlled and restrained as I can muster, as though it were an accomplishment. And I pull on the mask of togetherness again before I face the world. I pick myself up and I tend to my wounds and I charge back in head first. Because what I have learned is how to protect me. What I have been given is to know what it truly means to not give up.
But what I wish I had instead (or maybe in addition to) is the ability to easily and permanently form intimate relationships. That I were capable of expressing what the people who’ve bridged the gaps mean to me, rather than doing things for them, and hoping they can read between the lines.
I wish more than anything, I had a safe place.
But instead there are parts that still feel like me as a little girl, cowering behind the only shelter she knows how to build. I am tiny and afraid in the darkness, constantly afraid that I am in danger. But I am doing the best I can.