I sit here thinking about where I am and how I got here. As my fingers fly across the keyboard and I choke back tears, I realize I have been running, moving, really just surviving for the past 9 years. I have never taken the time to sit and just be. Over the years, I ran until I was exhausted. I starved myself and worked my body to a dangerous level of unhealthiness. But this too, I pushed past. All the grief, loss, and trauma have finally caught up with me. Emotionally, I am stuck in anger and heartache. And I am ready to heal. I am ready to sit and feel it and hold it and let it go.
In 2005, I lost my Aunt Linda to an undetected aneurysm. She was my mom’s best friend and only sister. I felt it was my duty to be a foundation for my mom. I believed that if I took care of her, focused on her, then in return, I would stay strong. I remember being about 14 trying to mourn and be supportive at the same time.
I don’t remember much from the moment I got the news of my aunt’s death. I remember standing with my cousin at the wake crying each time my aunt’s favorite song, “What A Wonderful World” played over the speakers, but everything else is a blur. It’s as if my memories have hidden themselves from me; protecting me from a broken heart.
In 2008 and 2009, I lost both my grandmothers. I had a unique relationship with each of them. But with both women, I built a relationship with them through food. My grandma Mary taught me how to cook and passed down traditional family recipes to me. My mema (my maternal grandma) bonded with me through baking. When I lost both of them so closely together, I didn’t know how to fully mourn the loss of future moments we would have shared. Or, how to mourn who they were to me individually.
After my mema died, I wondered if maybe it was the end of the loss in my life for a while. I hoped there would be an uptick in good fortune. I wanted to be “better” and I wanted to be fine. I didn’t mourn my grandmothers the way I needed to. I tried to move on and pretend it didn’t bother me.
In 2011 my brother, Andy, experienced betrayal in his marriage, which ended in divorce. His wife was like a sister to me and it broke all our hearts that she decided to make such hurtful choices. It hurts me to this day that I let her into my life and she betrayed all of us. It was miserable for me to see how much my brother and nieces hurt, but I didn’t know how to balance that pain, so I focused on my brother. I felt I needed to be strong and foundational for my brother and his kids. I focused on them and hoped that maybe through them I would find the strength for myself.
In 2013, after my college graduation, I ran to Kenya to take a break from my life. I needed to clear my head, and this was the closest I could bear to be to what my life had become. I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend earlier in the year, and with a new relationship not providing the answers I needed, I boarded a plane and left. Turns out, hopping continents was still not far enough.
The end of that year was drawing near when my oldest brother, Jesse, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I received the news while I was in Kenya and I wouldn’t let the news sink into my heart. I bit my lip and took a deep breath. I told myself he was going to be ok because that is what I needed to believe. I didn’t allow myself to think about it much more than that.
When I came home, we dealt with it as a family. We were strong together, but once again I found myself searching for my own strength by being strong for others. I continued to tell myself he was going to be ok. I was unable to allow myself to think about the alternative. I kept tabs on my mom, sisters, and dad each time Jesse went for a scan, while my own heart broke a little more. We watched as he lost weight and his hair thinned. I forced myself to keep it together. I don’t think I cried. I just needed to be fine.
Instead of returning abroad, I got a job in the United States where I experienced gender inequality and objectification at work. Conversations that made me feel uneasy or uncomfortable, were ignored. I thought it was my fault, or that something was wrong with me. I thought I was imagining what was happening. I blamed myself and told myself “I must not be good enough” because if I was good enough, if I was smarter, or more composed, I wouldn’t be treated this way.
This was a particularly dark year. I wasn’t coping well. I was lost in myself just trying to survive. People at work noticed my decline in attitude, but no one asked why. I was told I should smile and be happy, but no one cared to ask more. Every time I stood up to get better I was pushed back down by a comment, a stare, or an uncomfortable joke. I felt like a joke. I survived my way through the year with enough energy to be fine. But, I felt broken and angry at my life and my world. I couldn’t find the strength I needed to move past what felt like a mountain with an ever-flowing avalanche of shit falling on top of me.
And now, I am not fine. I draw into myself to process and to hold it together. If I don’t, I know I will lose it. My insides are unfocused, shooting around like a pinball. Bouncing around between paddles. I fear if I open up too much I will melt into a hot, tearful mess. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to become a burden. I am still holding everything for my family. It’s time to unpack it all and to let go.
I sit here with tears in my eyes as I write. My heart broken at what I have been through; for the loss and brokenness I have felt. These are not all tears of sadness, but of healing. They fall down my face and wash over my soul like a warm liquid soothing my pain. I find strength in these tears. They fill me with a power and acceptance only emotions can provide.
If I heard this story from a friend, I would be crying with them, speechless. One thing after another. Stand up just to receive another blow to the face. My brothers are healing one emotionally and the other physically. These are small celebrations. They are moving on, and so must I. It’s about time, I think.
I am finally letting go and asking for help. I wasn’t ready for help before. I thought I should be able to fix it on my own. But I am finally able to admit that I am not fine; that I can’t do this on my own. I need a community to love and to love me.
I want to be honest and stop hiding. It’s time.