I was 13. At that age I barely had the experiences that I have now. I barely knew what it meant to be me. Who I was. Who I wanted to be. What direction I wanted to go in my life. All I knew is that I felt a pain inside of me. An unbearable pain, and often it came from many sources. It came from how unappreciated I felt. It came from how unwanted I felt. It came from the harsh words that I was called. It came from the harsh words that I believed I was. It came from feeling unsatisfied.
All I knew is that I was just a young girl who had big dreams, I looked around feeling disappointed. It caused me to become depressed. It caused me to be anxious all the time hoping for something better. I couldn’t even describe it most times. And the times that I did speak up, I was told to remain silent. The times when I cried it out in excruciating pain, I was told to be strong. How could I remain strong, and hold the pain inside at the same time? How could people say such harsh things to me and about me, yet try to silence me. Even if my words come with love and truth. I simply didn’t want to be heard.
I rarely came across empathy. I rarely came across anyone who understood me. And I felt their pain too. I had to fight their pain too. It was many layers of pain that I had to shift through. When it became too much, I tried to hang myself. When I fell to the floor, I remember sitting there crying with my sister. She cut me down and we just hugged each other. I felt like a failure. I wanted to escape and I failed at my attempt. Eventually the tears dried and I tried to forget about that time when I wanted my life to end.
Over the years, I played around the thought that if I had the courage to die, I could if I wanted to. Yet those thoughts come and go. What was sparing me? What was compelling me to remain present? Was it the will to live? Was it fear of dying? In my darkest moments I just remember seeing just a bit of sunshine, or hearing a bird sing, or the flash of a good memory. I smiled.
I convinced myself it was not my time. I still believe this. I still have so much I want to see, to do, and to experience. I didn’t want to die in pain. I wanted to make myself proud. I wanted to make my mama proud. I wanted to be a better example for my younger sister. I wanted to achieve my dreams and make it a reality. I wanted to find something that made me believe that this life was worth living. I wanted to leave a legacy behind and not disgrace. Or just a fading memory.
Despite my ambition to continue on, I still faced the battles of my experiences, of my thoughts, of my emotions, and of the hatred that surrounded me. In these battles I found my will to survive. The primal survival instinct within me. This is also how I lived my life. No matter the pain, the hurt, or the dangers….. I had a basic instinct to survive. I did what I had to do to survive just being me. I found my gift in writing to express the pain I couldn’t express through my speech, that couldn’t be felt, or seen in my eyes. I found the beauty in my own art that I drew, danced, and sang.
The hardest part was finding my own beauty in the mirror. I remember it was many times I avoided eye contact with my own self. I saw something there I wanted to avoid. Maybe it was a pain that I wanted to deny. Maybe it was a pain I wanted to cure. Maybe it was something there I wanted to also survive. A dream, or a vision I have yet to create. When I avoided eye contact, I still made sure I took a glimpse of my smile before I walked away. It was enough. I continued walking.
When I began to believe, I started to look in my eyes more recently. I save the most uplifting words for this moment. I say the sweetest things to myself, through my eyes. My tears even look beautiful to watch. It was enough to look into my eyes as I see my own beauty. Perhaps my pain came from avoiding it. Perhaps my will to survive came from finding it. I am enough.
An Ode To Ntozake Shange
Photo: “Strength” by Renata Čėplaitė
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