This story is by Tiara Hawkins and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Life is like is battlefield. You have to constantly face Death in order learn how to Live again.
As a little girl, I grew up with my parents and younger sister in a small neighborhood full of familiar and friendly faces. We’d spend hours playing outside while our mother tended to the house and our father working hard at his job. We’d travel up and down the block, knocking on doors and picking up friends to keep us company until the street lamps shine like stars. I remember the both of us rushing home to our mother who already dinner ready for us. I loved how she let us clean up our messes and get ourselves ready for bed, but not before promising that we could stay up late until daddy came home. Both parents would shower us with kisses, bidding up goodnight as we escaped into our dreams.
We were happy.
But I learned at a very young age that things are not what they seemed. I watched my parents hurt each other with words, my father usually winning and my mother sporting battle wounds. I didn’t understand but from that point, the perfect image that my parents conceived had slowly begun to crack. I’d eventually learned to escape into my imagination where, in my mind, was the safest place to I could go in an attempt to keep the bad things at bay. But imagination could only take you so far. You eventually have to wake up and face reality: my parents still fought and my mother took the beatings for as long as could until one day, she discovered that her sister was getting married.
A golden opportunity to escape the hell she was in and she took it without looking back.”We’ll be visiting grandma and the family for awhile”, she said. But we knew, deep in our hearts, that we wouldn’t be coming back. We relocated to the bitter climate of Illinois to live with my mother’s relatives. They all wore happy smiles and gave us bigs hugs like they were genuinely glad to see us.
It felt nice for a while.
After we had settled down, there were phone calls exchanged between my parents; mom was willing to give dad another chance if he was willing to get himself straightened out (I would later learn that the story varied depending on the storyteller). Some weeks later, she received the divorce papers in the mail. A crippling blow to my mother’s heart, one that left her feeling more lost than she had ever been. My mother, homeless and stranded with two little girls, had to come back home to be left at the mercy of her spiteful mother and siblings.
Those few years we stayed at my grandma’s house were difficult: it was like living in an asylum, where we had several different people telling us how to act, how to be what they thought was perfect. “You need to watch what you say”, “Don’t cause problems or I’m gonna hear about it”,”You gonna end up just like your momma”, “Don’t do that it’s weird.” “Stop looking like that.” “You are such a brat…”
We were constantly subjected to their judgment, mostly because of deeply rooted issues that had nothing to do with us, but all to do with how they felt about my mother. We had no choice. It’s really no contest when you’re faced with being homeless or being scorned. So she drilled into our heads that we needed to be good. That we couldn’t cause problems for grandma and the others. But deep down, I knew she was just trying to make sure we survived, despite her own mental health. Because of the huge amount of stress, she would often suffer from constant pains in her stomach and went through bouts of depression. Even so, she tried to be understanding and loving in her own way.
With the constant stigmatization from the family and the absence of my father, I felt even more isolated than I ever did before. It wasn’t long before I began to experience symptoms of severe depression and anxiety, as well as recurring nightmares. The dreams were always the same: A young girl is watching tv with her sister and with two older boys. One leads her upstairs to the bathroom…and then…nothing. Since I was so young, I didn’t pay them any mind. It wasn’t long before I found solace in the books I read, immersing myself in the endless worlds crafted before me. Eventually, I too began to create my own worlds, learning how to tell my own stories despite the madness in my head.
Despite this, it couldn’t save me from what was to come. A curtain gradually lifted, revealing an image of an older boy promising a six-year-old girl some candy if she goes upstairs with him. She eagerly agrees, following closely behind him to the bathroom of her home.
As he closes the door, the scene fades to black.
“It’s a lie,” I countered. “It’s not true.” And suddenly the memory came flooding back: the little girl… the older boy… alone… in the bathroom.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
And I never did…until now. From that point, everything felt violated by him. The whispers brought to light the skeletons in the closet. “No one will want you now.” They snickered. “You’re already weird and now you’ve been tainted.” “Not that you’re special anyway…” The voices came at full force, causing me to slowly withdraw within myself. Until one day, a bottle of pills called my name, tempting me to come on over to the dark side. Unconsciously, reaching for the medication had been easy, but I felt my body shake as I loosened the cap. A handful in my hand, I plunged them into my mouth, trying to swallow them down. “This is it,” I thought, “this is the only way for the pain to go away.” As I went for the kill, the faces of my family flashed before me, my nerves going up in smoke as the pills were spat from my mouth.
Maybe it was God. He is why I could never go through with it. And for a while, I hated Him for it. I hated Him for all of the misery He could have easily prevented, He allowed. I didn’t even realize how angry I was until I learned to face my demons in form of the written word. And then I remembered Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. And even though I may have admitted and accepted what had happened to me as the young girl, the memories still haunt me. From the time I wake up in the morning, when I walk out of my house, whenever I’m in school and at work, I find no rest. So my solution was to drown out the white noise of negative emotions by filling it with stories of girls like me, who I wished to be, who’d go on great adventures with friends and families who loved them, doing extraordinary things that could only happen in pages I read.
Why couldn’t I have that too?
Look at me: A person who is devoid of hope, who wished death upon herself wondering why God let her down. Why did He let her family treat her like crap? Why did she-she feel so alone? Why He let that horrible thing happen to her? Why her parents split up? Why? Why? Why?
Then the answer came in form of a single word: Speak.
Yell. Cry. Laugh. Gasp. Breathe. Feel.
My heart swelled with so many emotions at once, I didn’t know what to feel first. I wrote. Then spoke. And wrote some more until that tiny voice became a sonic scream. And because of that, the resolve to keep fighting now resonates strongly within me. And even though I may lose some battles, I know now that I can’t let it prevent me from winning the war. In the end, I will be the victor because I am a survivor.