“I am not your enemy”- the words rang through my bones. My cells held them the way you do when you never realized you’ve waited your whole life to hear it. She said them, and the soft animal of my body put its claws away. I am 5’7. I am so tense that my shoulders are 5’9. My jaw is clenched, and I always have one foot out the door so I will never be the one who is left. Not again. As one of my favorite poets, Desiree Dallagiacomo said, “I will break my heart clean in half before my lover even cracks it”. My mind is a metal detector. My brain is a police scanner. There is no off duty when you believe everyone is a predator.
Misfortune riddled my early life. It’s taunted my twenties as well. When the people who should protect you cannot, you become prey by default. No one tells you that you can’t outgrow your age. You can’t out-mature the coping mechanisms that can only be acquired through time. Your mid-twenties generally come with a degree of immaturity. Grappling with multiple traumas without maturity leaves your perception warped. Everything is seen through a grayscale kaleidoscope. It is all a Hobbesian state of nature in my head. Not even friends or foes. Everyone is a shadow in the making. Names are just timestamps anymore.
Encountering injustice early made me hard. I convinced myself that if I calcified, nothing could ever hurt me. When my defensiveness drove people away, I learned performative vulnerability. I am the Meryl Streep of performative vulnerability. There are Academy Awards with my name on it for how close I can make people feel without actively participating in the discomfort. The calculated disclosure of information, a smile, a touch, the cadence and rhythm of the admission–I am a vulnerability choreographer. But the routine is tired. It’s for cowards, and above all else, I long to be brave. Nothing rich in life exists for the guarded. It is safe, but I want things grander, lusher, juicer than the vanilla flavor of familiarity.
Reader, I am an intoxicating idea, but a dizzying reality. Part of this is because I am all of what I say I am. No romanticism or hyperbole. Still, I am petrified. I don’t want you to know that how many days it feels like my body is a house of horrors, how my mind sours into dystopia when danger whistles in my direction. The threat lurks toward me and I devolve from content to suicidal in a matter of moments. My emotions blaze at the insinuation of jeopardization. I am hypersensitive and hypervigilant about being my own advocate. I don’t want you to know that I am scared to be loved, not because it would be something good but because something good can go away and then I’ll realize just how unloved I was. I don’t want to know empty like that. I don’t want you to know that I want people, and how it hurts when they want me back, just not enough to work for it. I know people love me like a gamble– inconsistently and able to walk away. I don’t want you to know that I cannot self-love myself through all of this. None of this feels good to write, but this is how I hardened. These admissions are my praise to the delicate girl I was, how I pay homage to her resilience and resurrect her softness. This essay is the hymn for every person who learned to be granite they they were meant to be silk. When a brutal encounter changed the matter of you. Softness is only a weakness in the hands of an aggressor, after all.
I don’t know how to keep my defensiveness from dousing everything I touch. My intensity is the byproduct of surviving an incinerator. I feel like what ever happens to me now is my fault because I’m an adult. I want to unlearn this, to unburden myself from fictions masquerading as facts. I’ll be damned if I am robbed of anymore gifts in the aftermath. I refuse to allow my oppressors to write any more of my story through influencing my actions.
You are not my enemy, reader. Every time I post, this tsunami of fear floods my senses. I imagine you laughing at the other end of this blog. I image voyeurs joking about the most intimate details of my life. I imagine every crush I ever had breathing a sigh of relief that they avoided entangling themselves with the messy matter of me. I assume the worst because the worst (and sometimes, things worse than worst) has happened to me. But it is a heavy thing to trudge through life with your guard up all the time. The guard is as protective as it is isolating.
The thing is, I am not longer isolated. I have people who love me. People who love me so deeply that they grieve for the little girl who fought her own battles without a sword. They are my village shielding me from the wolves, even when it is my own thoughts who bear the fangs. This is the love that heals. Nothing can un-damage me. No one save me from the memories where I learned trust was a fabled virtue, a dangerous thief in real life. No one can force me to disarm. But I want to. With shaking hands and staccato breath, I remove my armor. I break myself wide open to be neither adversary nor ally. Here, tender in all the ways I never wanted you to see, I am me. Here, the the riotous softness of your witness, I am seen.