As her blue ocean eyes peered into mine of bluish green, her blonde curls falling beside her face the way mine did when I was her age, I told her “If there’s anything you ever need to say, and you don’t feel safe or sure to tell anyone else, you can always tell me. I will listen to you, and I will believe you. No matter what.”
My parents never told me that, and they never did that. Listened, believed unconditionally, helped make sense of it all, and then act appropriately.
I am not this young girl’s parent. I am her aunt, but I did see her come into this world and that moment was one of my life’s most profound. Those early months were magic. I sang her to sleep some days with mantras. I felt her beating heart on my own while she curled her legs up to her chest and nestled into a similar shape on my own limbs and torso. There is a shared experience between us star children.
I worry about her and her ability to be listened to, and to be believed. I worry often that she won’t find ears for her truths.
As I dig for clues behind the current rage and contempt in my heart at the cruelty in this world, and the pain and problems and their denial to be seen within people who share my own blood, I find a deep yearning, simply, to be listened to, and to be believed.
I find that much of my harder to feel emotions are covering a deep despair over not ever being unconditionally believed. And if I am not believed, then am I really seen? How could I have had worth in the eyes of those who are supposed to hold me unconditionally, if I was not listened to fully and then loved no matter what.
I realize, as a child, that it was not safe in my world to share my full truth. People were uncomfortable if they knew the sadness, the abuse, the reality, of my life. It was only safe to share my victories, not my losses. So, I created a lot of wins, perhaps, just to have a voice. Being better than is far superior to being real. (I’m so sorry for those I hurt when I was trying to be better than you.)
By not sharing the darkness of what I was experiencing, I allowed the storytelling of shame to begin within my hiding mind. Shame grows wild in the secrets and stories we keep to ourselves. (Brené Brown can fill you in on that if you’re not up to speed.)
Looking back, shame was all around me as a kid. It was in the denied depression and resentments of my mother, the overeating overworking over-angry high standards of my father. It was in my blood. And it filled my household.
There were moments when efforts were made, despite its presence, for genuine redemption (glory glory hallelujah) but were covered quickly with a round of “tell us about your perfection, kid number 2” at the post-Sunday church Chinese buffet.
I saw shame also in the sad eyes of some of my friends, in the lower middle class houses I passed in a school bus. My family’s house looked nicer than most on the outside, with its big weeping willow tree out front and the pony out back, but the farmhouse was cluttered, and unfinished (for as long as I lived there) on the inside.
Instead of finding ways to understand, I found ways to escape. Turns out, I wasn’t alone.
There were so many of us sharing our selves with each other, with our harvest season joints and our fifths of very bottom shelf vodka purchased at the Cherry Lane, with a passing round of cigarettes to burn holes in our arms that would scar circles forever. I felt belonging and believed in that badge akin to a polio vaccine wound. I wore it proudly. I had my tribe. And then I overdid it, everything, and saw the havoc I could create with enough charisma and a willingness to please. But it felt good to escape nonetheless. So I kept on… and perhaps still do.
I can’t fault anyone for being who they are, and for having only the tools they have. I know well enough that we are all a product of where we come from and the emotions of those around us when we’re young. But… I can be wiser than that, and choose differently than that, if I try hard enough. I fear I’m not trying hard enough. But I am trying.
So I told that little girl, with the ocean eyes that look into my own with a unique blend of sadness and spirit and a bucket of absolutely horrible beauty behind them, and I tell her that she will always be believed.
If there is ever confusion in her mind of why she feels a way that seems different from what she sees acted out around her, or if she is hurt, or forced, or wild with expansion… I want her to know she can share it without fear of being shushed.
I wonder what could have been if I felt safe to share.
I don’t want that little girl to grow into a woman who wonders what could have been. I don’t want her to impress everyone. I don’t want her to be unsafe in her body, so unsafe to feel what she feels that she hides any abuses passed her way even after an accomplice dies. I hope that she never has those stories to tell me.
I know the blood that raised me also raises her, in part, so I must try to show her another way than denial and avoidance and forced perfection.
I will listen, and I will believe you.
And I hope that she doesn’t need me in the end. I hope that she has that at her home, where should always be her most safe place. But if not, I’ll be there. Just like I try to be, insist on being, for my own son.
And for anyone who needs to be believed, I am here. My resolution for 2021 is to find more ways to listen. There are other bodies out there needing ears for their truths.