Trigger warning: The following string of vignettes feature explicit, potentially distressing language.
Voice spills out of little lips in the form of sunshine and glitter. A red afro hides a small pale face, exposing nothing but a big smile. All she knows is love. All she knows is joy. At least, until daddy starts yelling again and mommy slams the door behind her. Too little to understand, yet big enough to know, something isn’t right. She chooses not to run down the hall to grandma’s apartment tonight.
Adolescence hits her like an industrial truck. The angst, the self-pity–yet there’s an even bigger darkness tugging at her heart. Ever since mom left when she was seven, dad drinks more than he should. She has to take care of him now–even when he screams at her, even when he calls her by names not her own, even when he grabs her arms a little too hard, or even when his fists meet the wall right beside her head.
Depression haunts her bones and fear keeps her up at night. Anxiety drives her to question her self-worth. But she learned from her mom how to hide it, how to smile through the pain, how to let everyone think she’s okay for the sake of their well-being.
Skipping school becomes the first thing on her long list of vices; then, it’s stealing makeup she can’t afford. The boys don’t know what to think of her; she’s the only one who looks how she does. The two other black girls at school are mixed like her, but from the traditional light skin class–the kind that you see in all the rapper’s music videos. Not like her: pale skin, bright-red hair–a rounded afro inspired by the seventies–muscular, and lean. On sleepless nights, the voices go back and forth with one another. Questions echo in her mind, questions about where she comes from and why she looks the way she does.
It’s the summer before senior year. The abuse continues, and becomes a normal part of her life. She’s scouted by top-ranking soccer club and she’s close to a scholarship. Life, though never pretty, has a hint of potential. But, it comes shattering down when her father finds a stash box she’s holding for a friend. When he finds it, he hits her on the head with the box itself–noting it was made of tin. Bruise marks form and blood rises as she looks in his eyes. Usually warm and hazel, at this moment his eyes are black as coal. They’re filled to the brim with drunken fury. He puts his hands on her throat and squeezes until he lifts from the floor, with her toes straining for traction. He lets go as soon as her vision starts to falter. He does this two more times. He kicks her out in the middle of the night, with nothing but a t-shirt and pajama shorts. She runs to the elementary school across the street. She curls up into a ball, underneath a staircase, and cries until her lungs are sore. Here body shakes from shock, distress, and a drop of body temperature.
But alas, he finds her and brings her back home; to hell, once again.
Father at work, she leaves everything behind the next day. She escapes with nothing but the clothes on her back, a small purse, and her bike. She never looks back.
Three years later, happy, she preps to go back to school to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. She’s independent, strong, and confident. She’s me.
I escaped a situation that I thought would define me, that I thought would destroy me. It came close to, but it didn’t. Despite multiple efforts over the past few years, I’m not on speaking terms with my father. I now live in the United States, on my own, in love with a woman who helped me become who I am today. He’s still back home in Canada. Do I miss him? Of course. I miss the good in him. But the bad was stunting my growth and leaving me black and blue–physically and emotionally. Ever since I left my old self behind–the girl without a voice, the girl who never did anything for the sake of her own happiness and health, the victim–my life changed for the better. I had to lose myself to find myself. I chose to update to the version of myself I am now, and I’ve never been happier.