I must’ve watched this video and read the poem at least twenty times in the last few days. Each time feeling the words cutting through to the depths of my soul—opening and cleansing old wounds—wounds that have scarred and hardened so many times over that they’ve become a stone fortress—a wall that simultaneous protects from maleficent social elements and screams “KEEP OUT!” to the benevolent ones, of which I have convinced myself I am unworthy to receive.
The first time I heard this poem; I was in my apartment going about my evening routine. A friend had posted it on her Facebook wall, and I had intended to put away clothes while listening to the lyrics, unaware of it’s content. Those clothes soon dropped from my hands, and I found myself sitting on my bed tightly hugging a pillow to my chest as if that could stop the tightness in my heart and the river of tears that flooded my checks. At 33-year-olds, a poem had me in an inconsolable state.
“to this day
I hate pork chops”
I wasn’t yet five years the first time an adult lifted a hand at me, the first time kids shunned me from playground games, and when I earned my first nickname . . . “Pizza”—a nickname that would resurface during my early adolescent years when a trail of acne lined the sides of my face like mountain range surrounding a valley.
To this day, I still can’t eat Pizza without hearing those taunting voices.
“I’m not the only kid
who grew up this way
surrounded by people who used to say
that rhyme about sticks and stones
as if broken bones
hurt more than the names we got called
and we got called them all”
I was in preschool when the words “ugly,” “stupid, and “annoying” were first thrown my way. In elementary school, my body grew too quickly. By the time I was 11 years old adults mistook me for a 16 year-old and the sixth grade girls would take every opportunity to flip my bra straps, meanwhile, my classmates mothers would say, “Aren’t you too old to be playing with [insert name here].” It was always a statement, followed by a “request” that I go play with “kids my own age.”
My body became my own worst enemy. It was ammunition used against me by kids and adults. “ The older boys changed my name to “___Titsa.” and the name stuck through high school and with a small resurgence in college.
“the school halls were a battleground”
. . .
“outside we’d have to rehearse running away
or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there”
Outside was my freedom, and the classroom my prison. I was lucky enough to have at least two good friends—never in my class—whom I could stick close to at recess. But even they couldn’t protect me from the onslaught of words that always found their way to me.
In elementary school, I would end the day in an unsupervised home where my older brother would call me “fat” or “pig.” He would break my toys, and when the mood struck him, would campaign our cousins into excluding me from the latest game. On its own, it would have been nothing more than sibling rivalry, but it wasn’t.
Any reaction would just egg them on. Once, I asked an adult for help, and the answer I received was “deal with it,” so I learned early on to hide my feeling from everyone. I would loose myself in the fictional world of Nancy Drew and the Babysitters Club, fancying myself a respected teen detective, or loved member of a group of girlfriends who did everything together—hoping that one day people would see past the surface, past the awkward body, closed personality and acne-ridden face, to the person inside.
Until then, I found solace in books and dove headfirst into academia (the only thing in life I could control).
“to this day
he is a stick on TNT lit from both ends”
I formed a protective wall of isolation, enhanced by an undercurrent of rage. By the time high school came along, I had so much pain bottled up inside, that I would explode into fits of anger over what seemed like nothing. To this day, I still do.
“so broken heart strings bled the blues
as we tried to empty ourselves
so we would feel nothing
don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone
that an ingrown life
is something surgeons can cut away
that there’s no way for it to metastasize
I never learned to properly defend myself or to ask for help. People lost interest if I didn’t react, so that’s what I did. I’d never say anything, and became skilled at removing myself from hostile situations. That method stopped working once I hit college and I started my professional careers. Not reacting—being stoic turned into a power struggle for those who wanted to control me. The years of taunting a teasing finally culminated a few years ago, when one of my bosses asked me one day how I could possibly “live with myself.” Stating that I was the “most offensive person” she’d ever met. That day, I broke.
After years of name calling, of being the brunt of taunts and practical jokes—years of struggling to love myself, I came home for the first time and asked myself, “Am I wrong?”
“and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?”
I don’t they make sound. I’d been breaking for years—launching into emotional fits of rage and frustration by unpredictable triggers. It wasn’t until I heard myself—it wasn’t until I yelled out loud, “What is Wrong With Me! What’s the point in living!” that I sought professional help. And it wasn’t until that first meeting that someone thought to ask, “Why? What are you angry about all the time?”
“we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun
was something they built for us
in their tool shed”
When I was younger, I used to stare in the mirror and ask God why he made me so ugly. Why he would give me a perfect sister, who was pretty, great at sports and had a likable personality. “Why?” I would ask him, “did you make me hateful?”
I convinced myself that no one could ever love me. I played out futile relationship after relationship—a self fullfilling proficy to my self-depricating belief that I could never be good enough.
Beauty and the Beast was my favorite fairy tale. I used to see myself as the angry beast who didn’t believe that anyone could learn to love her, but who still hoped for it.
To this day, I still catch a whisper of that girl who can only hope to believe.
“but I want to tell them
that all of this shit
is just debris
leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
we used to be”
It was all shit. Bullshit that I let myself believe, but was never true. Sometimes we need a catalyst to make us move—to force us to tear away at the lies. Mine was the first man I ever slept. Whom after six months of dating, I finally felt comfortable enough to “be with.” But one week after the “big” decision, he dumped me. His reason being that we weren’t “sexually” compatible and that he “could never love me.” It almost broke me. My one most sacred fear, had come true. “I could never love you” translated in my mind to NOBODY could ever “love me.” Did I even love me?
“and despite an army of friends
who all call him an inspiration
he remains a conversation piece between people
who can’t understand
sometimes becoming drug free
has less to do with addiction
and more to do with sanity”
I’m not good at taking criticism. Years of negative feedback make me weary of it. I always wonder if the next mean thing someone says, will be the next break me. So I avoid conflict as much as I can, but when it’s unavoidable and those negative observations make their way toward me, I get on the defensive. I’ll be the first to attack, then fall into an inexplicable state of despair. It becomes a struggle of sanity—of reason between the me who fights for it ok to be me, and the me that says I need to change and become the person people want me to be. I need to remember though, that it’s ok to break. It took breaking to start the process of healing.
It took breaking to finally listen to the voices of those that surrounded me. To understand that their frustration didn’t stem from my “hateful” person within, but from my own blindness to my own potential. To this day, I don’t see what they see. Despite my “army” of family and friends, I never think I’m good enough.
“and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer”
I’ve only recently learned to hear the people I should have been listening to all along. To listen to the family who feed hidden beliefs inside me that need validation to thrive. Those people, who look at me and see beauty and tenderness, and who refuse to be fooled by the hard guise that I rarely set aside.
“because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit
you built a cast around your broken heart
and signed it yourself
you signed it
they were wrong”
I realize now, though, that part of me had always been listening. When I started to really look in the mirror, I realized that that all those days I spent picking away at every imperfection, my hands would twist my hair into braids and curls, and that the only items of makeup I ever bought where those that accentuated my eyes and lips—that I had always made it a habit to make the most of my best assets. And that I wasn’t alone because I didn’t deserve love, but because I was unwilling to share it with someone who isn’t deserving of me. To this day, I wonder if I’ll ever meet someone who is worthy of me.
“we stem from a root planted in the belief
that we are not what we were called”
On days that I felt hateful and unworthy—on days when the taunting seemed endless—I would instinctually surround myself with friends and family who loved me. To this day, I still call them when I’m feeling bad, refusing to give power to that little voice in me who used to think that “they” were right.
“but our lives will only ever always
continue to be
a balancing act
that has less to do with pain
and more to do with beauty.”
Life is a balancing act. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days that I look in the mirror and see that “wretched” girl starting back at me—that there aren’t days when those dormant feelings are awakened by a comment made in passing. But those days are few and far between.
Sometime ago, I invested in a better mirror and looked a little harder. I trained that pretty girl within—the one with great hair, intensely intelligent eyes, and a vibrant smile—to be the one who stares back at me. To be the one to say, “YOU ARE WORTHY.”