What I have learned

By: A. H.

On the eve of my birthday, a dear friend and I walked back from my car, snacking on cups of half-consumed froyo. She asked me a question.

“What have you learned this year?”

And I wanted to tell her nice life lessons. Bible verses. God stories. Jesus-in-the-flesh stories. I wanted to tell her about how the hard parts of the year helped me cherish the good parts. I wanted to say that I learned to love a little better. Hell, I wanted to at least start listing off the syllabi of all of my classes.

But my first thought was his name.

Because the honest answer I guess is that I learned not to trust people. I learned that sometimes people aren’t actually as they appear. Sometimes people do the unimaginable. Sometimes the neat lines you draw around people, the assurances you curl under at night before you turn out the lights, are just thin air.

Sometimes, people lie.

Sometimes, people say they would never do x, and they do x. A lot.

Sometimes, people do the inexplicable. And it’s just that. Inexplicable.

But that’s not good post-froyo, my-last-day-being-a-teenager nostalgia, so I say:

“Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes people say things, but they do things that show that they didn’t mean what they said.”

Because that’s a nice way to say:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again, and I’m still in this same 19-years-and-364-day-old body, but days like today feel like learning to walk again, so here I am, wobbly knees and weepy eyes, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense.”

So I guess I’ve learned to stop blaming myself this year. I’ve learned to stop apologizing. Because the fact is that this should have never happened to me. He should have never happened to me. They should have never happened to me. I should have never had to make escape plan after escape plan as safeguards for the next time, because this year I learned that some things never change. This year I learned that I didn’t leave my ghosts in my hometown. They came back, even after I went to all that trouble to put the blood over the doorpost and eat my dinners with a staff in my hand. Because sometimes, ghosts come back in different bodies. So maybe I’ve learned not to be so optimistic when I open the door. Maybe I’ll check their ID next time. As if ghosts come with warning labels.

So this year I’ve learned it wasn’t my fault. This year I’ve learned there is no amount of age, experience, or knowledge that can safeguard me from abuse. Sometimes shit happens to you. And I am done listening to people telling me how to avoid it. It’s time that I start saying:

“I’ve been screwed over and I’ve spent a quarter of this year being kidnapped and the last quarter trying to find myself again…and I wasn’t the person who misplaced the key.”

I wish I had round, young answers for sweet friends. But I find an optimism in admitting that there are some parts of my story that I’m not complicit in. Sometimes people haunt you. Sometimes people hurt you. But I am hopeful, because one day I will have a little girl and a little boy. And I will tell them.

“Sometimes people lie. But it doesn’t mean that we stop telling the truth.”

This is my truth. I am 20 years old and I woke up at 4am last night with nightmares. I don’t remember every detail of everything that has happened to me, but I remember the edge of my tapestry while it did. I have a handful of people that listen anyway, and I’m grateful to the people who tell me the true story when my brain wants to make up a fake one that’s easier to swallow–you know, like the pills that say that you’re making it all up. It’s appropriate that the medical term for my brain is four letters long. I thought about writing down all of the events in order, but then I realized that to say any of this is to say that it happened.

That’s what I’m learning.