I write this through a watery gaze that is shedding tears for the girl I once was…
I recently watched a video from a family member’s birthday party circa 1983. I must have been 2 years old and the party was held at McDonald’s when McDonald’s was THE place to hold birthday parties. The video was recorded on a VHS and it was slightly fuzzy. It was quite entertaining to see the fashion – especially my mother’s blue tinted, big framed glasses – and hear the music of the 80’s. As I watched, I looked for myself in the chaos of babies, children, teens, parents, characters, balloons…you get the picture. When I finally spotted myself, I was surprised by what I saw. I was sitting alone at a table and I had a look of fear on my face. My hands were clenching the seat beneath me and my frame was cloaked with anxiety. No one was talking to me. My mother wasn’t around. And I looked utterly alone. That video image spoke volumes to me.
Of course, being the good therapeutic patient that I am, I brought this up during my next therapy session. And of course, being the cryer that I am, the floodgates opened. My therapist attentively listened to my sharing and when I was done, she asked that question that I hate being asked, “Rozella, what are the tears about?”
I sniffled my way through my response and finally articulated what I was feeling. “I’m crying for the girl I was; for the image reflected back to me that embodied how I felt about myself. The image that showed me how afraid and nervous I was. The image that reiterates my greatest fear to this day – the fear of being utterly alone.”
Awkward. Sensitive. Ashamed. Self conscious. Anxious. Sad. Alone.
These are the first words that come to mind when I describe the girl I once was.
I was very awkward – in dress, in mannerisms and in habits. A nerd in the vein of Steve Urkel; a bookworm who loved reading more than interacting with people, I was the person who ate lunch in a teacher’s classroom throughout middle school to avoid the teasing and to just get lost in my books. Reading was the only thing that brought me comfort.
I was sensitive. The most repeated phrase to me throughout my childhood and youth by friends and family was, “Rozella, don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve.” I cried all the time, took everything personally and apologized for simply existing. I didn’t know how NOT to be sorry and would apologize for being sorry. I was a mess.
I was ashamed. I was molested as a child. I never talked about it or shared about it and a dark cloud of shame followed me into adulthood. This hidden shame impacted my relationships, my image of myself and my understanding of what it meant to be safe and secure. It would take my relationship with my ex-husband to help me address this reality.
I was self-conscious. I cared about what everyone thought and was always looking for approval. I realize now that this stemmed from my broken relationships with the two father figures in my life. I was constantly seeking love from boys but was so unsure of who I was. Needless to say, this made for a dangerous combination that reared its ugly head during college.
I was anxious. Always anxious. I’ve had stomach issues my whole life and I realized later that I carry my anxiety in my gut. I had habits that I now know were symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – changing my bedroom around frequently, obsessively planning a daily schedule, becoming overwhelmed and falling into despair when things changed, lining up my books and videos and tapes in precise height order, and falling apart when things in my space were disrupted.
I was sad and I’m not really sure why. It probably had something to do with my biological father not being around or my step father, the man that raised me, leaving when I was 13 or feeling like my brother was our great aunt’s favorite and that I was just in the way. I just remember be sad all the time and not really knowing why.
And I always felt alone. It’s funny how you can be surrounded by people and still be alone. Loneliness was a constant companion. All if these things led to my depressed state.
This is what comes to mind when I think about the girl I once was. And it breaks my heart because I know that this isn’t what my Creator intended me to feel or who my Creator intended me to be…
I want to talk to the little girl in the video.
I want to go up to her, pick her up, give her a hug and kiss and hold her hand.
I want to whisper words of encouragement in her ear as she walked the halls in school and tell her not to be afraid.
I want to make sure she knows that the things that happened to her were not her fault.
I want to tell her and make her believe that she didn’t do anything to make people leave and she couldn’t do anything to make them stay.
I want to tell her that her worth and value are found in a God who created her in a divinely holy image, one that has the capacity to create and to love.
I want her to know that her love of words would become her soul’s work – to not only read and write but to share love with everything that is written and spoken so that someone might be inspired and feel connected.
I want her to know that her relationship with a man does not define who she is; that their attention is not the ultimate goal.
I want her to know that even though life will happen and things will not go as planned, that God is always with her and that there are people in her life who love her and would hate to see her struggle by herself.
I want her to know that she will never be alone.
To the girl I once was…you are kind, you are smart, you are important.
To the girl I am now…your story is being redeemed by a God who has promised to never leave nor forsake you.
To the girl I am becoming…go forth in love and light, speaking grace, sharing compassion and always remembering that you are not alone.
“I found God in myself. And I loved her. I loved her fiercely.” – Ntozake Shange