I Still Have A Secret

Update: I removed this from my blog a while back because it is painful. Because I worried that those who knew me would read it and I didn’t want to to face that. But with last night’s election results, I feel like I should share my story again. I am terrified. Facing the future as a black female terrifies me. I kid you not I had a panic attack after the results came out. And I’m afraid I’m going to be living my life on the edge of a panic attack for a long time. 

I almost died before I even had a chance at life. I was born a little after midnight on January 25, 1987. The cord was wrapped around my neck and I was blue. They couldn’t get me to cry. If you believe my father, who swore at first such a pretty white baby with blue eyes couldn’t possibly be his, I didn’t cry for the first 6 months of my life. Eventually my color returned but my eyes wouldn’t change for the first few years.

He always says I never cried.

I remember very little about those early years. There are many stories about how I learned to read very early and my parent’s were astounded by my ability to pronounce and use words far beyond my years. I read a lot. I still read a lot.

I know that I started puberty at 6.

You read that correctly. I started puberty at 6.

I know this because I remember the doctor’s appointments. I remember waking up in, what seemed to me like the middle of the night, and driving hours to the children’s hospital. I remember my mother putting my shoes on me in the car of that hospital parking lot while I was half asleep and desperately wanted to be left alone to sleep more. I remember vials and vials of blood. I remember “Terry Too-Soon.” I remember Disney movies and IVs. I remember awkwardly undressing in front of male doctors while they poked and prodded parts of my body I didn’t even want them looking at while my parents sat there stone faced and looking distraught. I remember.

But there is so much I don’t remember. I remember objects better than events or people. I remember things. My brothers will say, “Remember when…” and the answer is always no. I don’t remember.

But I remember him.

My parents met in the 80s. My father was a child of the Civil Right’s Movement. My mother was a single mother of two who left an abusive ex and was making it on her own. They knew, of course, that their relationship would be difficult. My father is black and my mother is white. Things were never easy. I know but I don’t quite remember that my father worked for the steel mill in the area and they laid him off a lot. I do remember falling asleep to the sound of them fighting about money.

They lived paycheck to paycheck. There were 4 children in our house. There were 6 mouths to feed.

Sometimes I feel like my life was meant for a Lifetime drama.

We lived in Ironton, Ohio. That’s where I went to preschool but my father had different ideas. He saw quite clearly the paths that were open to me if I continued school there. He saw the crowd I would be apart of since the first several years of my life were spent in the Projects. He knew that crowd and he knew those schools since my brothers had been through them and he wanted better for me. As a result, I was enrolled in South Point schools which was just about 15 minutes away. My mother worked at WalMart there. My father eventually found work for CSX and that provided us with much more steady income. They still lived paycheck to paycheck but no more lay offs.

Because I was going to school in a town I didn’t live in, it was always explained to me that I must not tell anyone where I really lived. I took this to heart. I had no friends. I was very shy. I was terribly afraid of what would happen if we were found out but I was tough. I was always the tough one.

I didn’t cry.

My parents were very clever. I had a babysitter that we lovingly called Nan-Nan. In the mornings before my mother had to work, she would drop us off at Nan-Nan’s house and we would sleep until it was time to go to school. We would get off the bus there and mom would pick us up after school when she got off work. This is where we pretended to live. It worked though it was very unorthodox.

You might say, “why didn’t your parent’s just move to South Point?” They were trying. My older brothers were in high school in Ironton. My younger brother and I were in elementary school in South Point. It was very complicated. After my brothers went off to college, we moved to South Point but we’re not to that point of my story yet.

Nan-Nan eventually moved away to be closer to family. This took place around the time I was in 3rd grade. We had to find another babysitter who was willing to lie for us. Enter his mother.

His mother was a sweet woman. She was a single mother of two boys and she ran a day care out of her home. She was great. Really she was.

He was her oldest son and he was very troubled. He was 6 or 7 years older than me. I’ve never really been sure and I’ve never bothered to find out. He had a host of problems in school and possibly with the law. I don’t know. I don’t remember that.

I remember him.

I was 9 when I first met him but I don’t remember very much about that time. I remember his mother’s house burnt down and she got a new house. A bigger house.

When my mother dropped us off at his mother’s house, we would sleep on the couch until it was time to go to school. He was always up before us wandering around, getting ready for school.

I started puberty at 6. My body and my age didn’t match up.

I don’t remember how it started.

I remember he said that it was a secret. That we would get in trouble.

So, I had another secret. And I was terrified of getting in trouble. I was terrified of disappointing my parents. I had to be a good girl. I had to be as little of a problem as possible. I didn’t want to be a burden. Somehow I knew, even as young as I was, that my parents were struggling. Sometimes I thought they would get a divorce. I just remember being afraid they would break up and who would I live with? If I lived with mom, would I ever see my dad? If I lived with dad, would I ever see my mom? Would my little brother and I live together or would they split us up? What would happen to my older brothers? If I tell, they’ll find out where we live. They can’t find out where we live. No no. There were too many things my child’s mind was already worried about.

So, I had another secret.

I was always the tough one. I didn’t cry.

There is so little I remember about it, that sometimes I laugh at myself and tell myself it wasn’t that bad. Sometimes I trivialize my own pain. I tell myself others had it worse and who are you to play the victim. I tell myself I was stupid. I should have told someone. I am the worst victim blamer of all.

There were things he would whisper to me when no one was around to hear that I can’t even stand to repeat. The worst memory I have is of waking up to his fingers inside me while I was asleep on the couch and being so afraid that I pretended to be asleep until he went away. I knew he wanted a reaction so I gave him nothing. I don’t know how old I was. But by the time I realized that we both wouldn’t get in trouble, by the time I realized that he was protecting himself because what he was doing was wrong, I already believed him when he said no one would believe me.

I looked at him, this pretty, troubled white boy, and I looked at myself, this tom boy with brown skin and a body that was too old for her, and somehow I knew that I would be blamed.

I hate myself for that. I hate myself for believing that.

But I didn’t cry.

My silence made for a shy child. I wasn’t angry. I never remember being angry but I remember feeling so alone and that even later when I had friends, I could never open up to them. I was a liar. I was so good at spinning half truths into reality that I don’t think anyone ever knew who I really was. I didn’t even know myself.

I wasn’t angry until I was around him. After I got over my fear of him, I know I told my parents I didn’t like him. I know I gave him the dirtiest looks I could manage whenever he was around. I tried to never be alone with him but he would follow me. He would try to bribe me or to hold things over my head to keep me silent.

“You let me do what I like to do and I’ll let you do whatever you want.”

I remember that attempt at compromise so vividly because there were smaller children around to hear it. He was trying to bribe me in front of innocent children and the thing he was asking of me was so awful I wanted to cry right there. Eventually I was full of expletives and venom and he thought if he threatened to tell my parents I was cursing that I’d let him do whatever he wanted. He thought he could continue to control me using fear but by that point I was angry at him. At that point I wanted to hurt him, so I told him exactly what he could do with his offer. He was persistent.

It’s like I was never a child.

He couldn’t touch me very often because I would never let myself be alone with him. Sometimes I think his mother knew. At some point, I didn’t sleep on the couch any longer but in the spare bedroom. It had a door that locked. I remember that door knob. I would stare at it sometimes for hours listening for footsteps. I remember holding my breath while the door knob turned. She didn’t leave us alone as often but they had a pool. I tried to avoid the pool if he was home but sometimes he would come around unexpectedly. I can still feel the the way my skin crawled as he watched me in the pool. I can still feel my panic when I replay the things he said to me. I saw him doing some of the same things to another girl. Unlike me, she looked her age and she was younger than I was by at least 3 or 4 years. I knew it was happening though I never actually saw him touching her. I felt it but I couldn’t prove anything. I remember very vividly that she was sitting on his lap looking very uncomfortable and his hands were under her bottom. I could feel how uncomfortable she was. I could feel it as if I was the one sitting there. I kept wondering why no one thought it odd that this small child was sitting on this teenager’s lap. Why was no one wondering where his hand were? And still I kept my mouth shut. I was so relieved that he wasn’t after me that I kept my mouth shut.

I hate myself for that too.

Eventually we moved to South Point and I was considered old enough to watch after myself and my younger brother.

I was in 6th grade. But the damage was done.

I had always been a very melancholy child. I gained friends in Middle School but I spent very little time with them outside of school. They were kind of like place fillers. I couldn’t be a complete loner so I latched onto a few kids in my accelerated classes. Mostly I stayed in my room.

I wanted to be a writer. I wrote depressing poetry and I’m certain it must have scared the shit out of my parents. I slept a lot. I stayed up very late. Late enough that my parents were never sure if I was just not sleeping or sleeping all the time. As I got older, the poetry got more depressing, the stories more dark, and I slept a lot more.

I became a master at hiding the obvious. I constantly felt alone. I was so lonely and so empty that I wasn’t even sure how to feel anymore. I knew what was expected though. So, the poetry, the writing, I pushed that away. I stopped writing. I told myself that it was stupid. Cliche angsty poetry and dark stories meant nothing.

“You’re no Edgar Allan Poe. Grow up. Stop wasting your time. You have not suffered. Stop playing the victim.”

So I played sports. And everyone liked me. And I pretended for all the world that I was happy and well adjusted. I was intelligent. I was athletic. I was humble. I was kind. I was just the right amount of loud and boisterous to pass for a normal teen but I was empty inside. It was exhausting, the charade, the keeping up of appearances. I was so tired.

I cannot count the times I heard the phrase “teenage angst” or how many times I was told I was lazy or I needed to just get up. I couldn’t be depressed. I had a good life. I would sleep from the time I got out of school until my mother or father made me come to the dinner table. After dinner, it was back to bed until it was time for school. Eventually I realized that I could not continue in that fashion. Too much concern. Too many questions. I couldn’t stand the pain in my mother’s voice as she asked me if I was okay and begged me to eat. So, I started spending my spare time with my younger brother and my cousin at the public park playing basketball with guys two feet taller than me and schooling them on the 3 point line.

Eventually too much sleep turned into not enough sleep. And I was doubly exhausted.

I didn’t even recognize it as depression. My family probably did but black people don’t go to therapy. Mental illness has such a negative stigma. I had friends on anti-depressants but I was still convinced I was just being a stubborn lazy teenager. And I was still afraid that if I really tried to seek help they would ask my why I was depressed. This followed me well into college until I finally realized that I needed help. I had to get help.

I was failing classes because I couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed to attend those classes. I was still telling myself I was just lazy. I could see myself destroying the hope my parents had for me and I could see myself disappointing them but I could not physically get out of bed. I’d love to tell you that I got on medication and everything worked out but though I took that medication for years I still couldn’t finish school. The medication worked just enough to get me out of bed most days. Getting out of bed was still too hard sometimes. It’s still too hard a lot of the time. Most people would consider this a warning sign that they needed different medication. I know I needed different medication. I know I need to start taking it again. But I cannot find the energy to try to get better. I am still too often convinced that I am worthless or I am just being lazy. Logically I know that I am broken and I can’t do this on my own but those lucid moments are few and far between. This is a lucid moment. In a week, I’ll be telling myself I’m fine and to suck it up. So, mostly I feel worthless. Mostly I want to die.

How terrible is depression that I can’t find the energy to want to get better? I can’t find the energy to take a pill every day. And then I worry. Who am I without depression? I don’t know that girl. She has never existed. Not in my memory. I am afraid that I will somehow lose myself because all I am is a broken, lonely girl and without that I am nothing.

I remember him.

I’m still the tough one. No one sees me cry.

And I still have a secret.