At 28, it feels sad to recognize that I will always be a project partial in its completion – as if I were a child’s unfinished craft left on the classroom’s shelf, or a bridge almost built and then suddenly abandoned. This is the most charitable view I’ve turned towards the problems I’ve struggled with throughout my adulthood: to see myself as incomplete, rather than ruined, is progress.
For a long time, I felt that the world did not change. The people that entered and left me were fragments of my parents, reflecting a reality created in abuse and neglect. As I fell into familiar patterns, I began to think that I wasn’t just broken. No, broken things can be repaired. I was instead a walking gash for toxic men to fill and cleave, a well with walls of flesh made to store their poison.
“Daddy, I sleep to forget you.” I ended a poem I wrote in high school with this line. The teacher didn’t ask me what it meant. When I wore pants that were four sizes too large during my senior presentation, or cried in the parking lot before entering the cafeteria, the non-response of the people around me made me feel like I was invisible.
On the occasions I open up, I’m told I’m strong – but quite frankly, I’m not. The ways in which I cope provide short term relief while destroying the overall quality of my life. And as much as I yearn to not feel like I’m walking through a hell I made, I compulsively throw myself into the role of its architect.
Am I supposed to be grateful that I survived? To be perfectly honest, I’m not. Being a survivor means making peace with the knowledge that you’d be less damaged, less prone to self-destruction, had you been born into a different family. When the only parent that says they love you is the same as the one that beats you, it’s not that you lose your innocence. Being called a dirty cunt by your father doesn’t change that you’re just a child. Instead, you establish a baseline that normalizes your dysfunctional family dynamic; you assume that it’s normal for dads to talk sex with their eleven year old children. And when you finally realize that what you lived with all along was not ok, you can’t untangle your father’s hands and words from the person you’ve become.
Originally I tried to end this on an uplifting note. The foundation of my existence is made up of bones and neural connections. As unfinished as I may be, I can remind myself that I’m not undressed steel beams; my equal is not some pink pipe cleaner pasted in haste to a cardboard tube. That the comparison ends where my ability to change and learn begins. I wrote that I’m unsure if I’ll ever have the ability to see the strength other people see in me, but that I have too much time left in this world to let myself believe I will always be a victim, or that I can’t live a life like the ones I envy.
I can’t commit to those thoughts, though. More often than not, I feel that improvement doesn’t matter. Change is difficult, and I don’t have anyone in my life to keep me accountable. People confuse my ability to take a beating with being strong. The truth is I’m more like a cockroach: I survive the caustic, and will live on even when my body is subject to other people’s boots.
When I wake up, I tell myself it’s a new day. I can do better; I can close the gaps. But eventually I fuck up. I always do.