Many years ago, when I was in my early 20s, single and living in Boston, I had two friends who worked at a Boys & Girls Club.
Since I had a car and got home from work earlier than them, it wasn’t unusual for me to head there and hang out until their shifts were over.
I’ve always been comfortable around kids. Being that it was a Boys & Girls Club, there were often kids milling about at that hour. There was a game room and stuff, so I’d pop in, watch the kids, talk to those who approach me, kick their butts in bumper pool when challenged.
It didn’t take long for me to find out that the reason many of them were still there once it got dark was because their parents would forget them there.
Their parents were drunks, drug addicts, losers. Didn’t remember their own kids, or were too drunk, high or low to realize it was time to collect them.
Or else the parents simply didn’t care. Would leave them there as long as possible, until the Director of the place had to lock the doors. Had to force the parents to take their kids away, back home.
To whatever happened back home when we all weren’t looking.
One of my friends suggested I get involved – since I was there anyway – so I volunteered to run a program of creative writing and reading. It was for kids aged 7-10 (though whomever showed up could be involved). We provided paper or notebooks, and each week the kids could write anything they wanted. They could read it aloud to the group, or I would read it for them. We’d take turns.
Within a couple weeks the silent kids with dirty hair, shy faces, bony backs started slipping into the chairs I set up in a circle those afternoons I’d arrive as the sun set across the city.
Not long after that, the kids were starting to write, to read. Shaky voices muffled behind crumpled papers in their hands, big eyes refusing to leave their faint handwriting. Kids moved out of their chairs to get closer to me, lay a hand on my arm, play with my ponytail, push their sandaled foot against mine.
Soon they couldn’t be in a room with me without touching me at some point.
In many quiet late afternoons, without my talking about it, a group of kids who knew what real pain was saw that I understood. Saw that I could be trusted. Saw that I wouldn’t share their secrets, that I had my own inside.
Saw that I was okay, despite what I had been through. That I didn’t make a big deal about it. That it was a part of me, my history, but it didn’t have to be my future.
It didn’t have to be their future.
I still have a beaded bracelet one of the little girls made me, slid onto my wrist as another kid from her group read aloud to our rag tag group of survivors. A thank you I can’t even think about without my heart swelling with grateful ache.
So today, fifteen years later, when I hint and suggest with my words, show but don’t tell, please know that I am not embarrassed that I am someone who had an abusive childhood. Please know that it didn’t leave scars too deep for me to be able to live with them. Please know that it doesn’t hold me back.
Just know that when I whisper about it, those who understand…hear me. Just like I hear when others whisper about it.
Our ears pick it up. We’re familiar to the language.
It’s how I am used to speaking about it.
So I’m sorry if my posts where I think I’m going to be “outed” as a survivor to those whose lives have been sheltered from this kind of understanding seem too vague. They aren’t brazen and clear.
I want to end this year on a high.
On the kind of note that says you can be funny and sad and real and brave and scared and hopeful and happy and complicated and honest and weird but okay all at once.
I spent the past year revealing pieces of my past through writing prompts. But I’m guessing that, for some of you, my real story comes out unintentionally every time I press my fingers to these keys.
I couldn’t let the year end without being more honest with those of you who laugh with me, cry with me, feel with me, understand me, try to understand me.
Share with me.
I read you, I see you, I know you, I feel you.
And I promise to you, I will reveal even more of my truths, myself, to you over the next year.
Because I couldn’t do all this, be who I am about to become in the next year, without you.
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This post was in response to Lightning & the Lightning-Bug Flicker of Inspiration Prompt.
The theme is “Year’s End” and whatever that means for you.
I felt like I tried and failed to make an impact with outing myself throughout the year as a survivor of an abusive, complicated childhood. That I didn’t talk about it much, dwell on it much, because I truly am past it and accepting of it and have moved on from it ages ago.
I couldn’t let the year end without being frankly more revealing about this part of me, making sure those who didn’t fully grasp it – especially because (as many friends remind me) – my humor often masks this part of me.
So here it is. Thanks for listening.
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