Back to Me

While growing up, I always thought that I would meet a guy, fall in love, get married, and have a beautiful family. I never thought love would be complicated, and to this day, it is still somewhat of a foreign subject to me.

I never dated in high school, so college was where I’d fall in love. He was a wonderful person. Smart, ambitious, kind, and down for any adventure. My family loved my boyfriend; they welcomed him in with open arms. He had his issues, but I was the perfect person to fix them. He had just gotten out of the military, so his PTSD became a problem. He couldn’t handle stress well. The smallest things could set him off. I would be a bystander to his destructive behavior, all while going to school, working two jobs, and still getting to know him. 

Selflessness quickly became my favorite poison. Seeing my boyfriend struggle with PTSD alone, without his family, only left him with me. Without his request, I slowly began to give up parts of myself to mend his broken pieces. I was there ready to hold his face between my hands, to bring him back from whatever tormented him that day. Everything and anything he wanted, I made it happen; I was addicted. I wanted him to trust me, to know I genuinely cared for him. I loved him. But I was playing a role, running into battle, needing to be the superhero, and forgetting it wasn’t my war to fight. 

Parts of me died; un petit mort, which came with letting go of the one place I enjoyed the most, school. It was a euphoric feeling walking into campus with my books and backpack in hand. The area was always buzzing with students eager to learn like me. I can still feel the cold morning against my young face—the first in my family to attend college. I was ready to take on the world. I had my path set. It would lead me to CSUF, or if I was brave enough, to my dream school, the University of Washington State, go Huskies. Yet with one phone call, I would leave my favorite class to go find him. Before I knew it, I was officially a college drop out. 

“It’s just for now,” he would try and comfort me.

I became his assistant/number one fan. Together we commanded an ocean of stories and art for his work projects. I was all ears for his ideas and creativity. I applauded his talent and became a critic of many designs. I rushed here and there, keeping track of what he needed, all while “making sure my energy was calm” as not to disturb his meditation, per his request. 

Don’t get in the way of my career; I want you to know that I will always choose it over you,” he spoke truthfully. 

I believed him. I kept my distance, waiting for him to look for me because I knew that I could get burned if I reached for him. 

It was only a matter of time before I found myself saying my goodbyes to my mother and siblings. My mother had to see me go once again as I would make my way up north to be with him. She was happy for us, and I was excited to follow him to the Evergreen State. Washington State had been my second home even before I lived there. So green and clean, so fresh and beautiful. This was it, our antidote. Even if it came with the price of being miles away from home, the furthest I’d been from those I loved.

Loneliness crept in, depression a comfy blanket. My strength was gone; my weight tipped the scale. Even though this man was with me, in reality, I was truly alone. In his eyes, I had no reason to be depressed, so he left me there alone. I should have known. Nothing was going to make him happy. My heart weighed heavily when those blue eyes judged me. So he was right; I was ridiculous. Me, depressed? How pathetic. I made myself useful. I woke him up to his favorite breakfast: eggs, bacon, and toast filled the weekday mornings. I bought good coffee; dark chocolate cherry was his favorite. The coffee was ready to go by the time he drove up to Seattle. Its sweet aroma would dance around the car and relax him on his long drive to school. 

When he was gone, I scrambled to occupy my time with anything; I had to beat my debilitating depression. A depression that made me breathless brought me to tears and momentarily stripped me of strength. After he left, I survived. I sat on the window sill that overlooked the lake. I drank my coffee and watched the sun climb up the horizon. Its warmth settled within me, burned through the loneliness. But the thought of him returning home tormented me.

 “What did you do today? Did you take the dog out? Is the room clean? Did you do something productive since you stay home all day? Leave me alone; I had too much of a stressful day to hear about what it is you claim to need.” 

I was trapped with no family near, no friends, and no money. I couldn’t drive anywhere because I didn’t have a car. 

“Honey, how are you guys doing? I miss you,” my mom’s concerned voice came through the phone. 

I’m fine, mom. We are doing good. He is going to school, and I’m here. You should see the view from my window right now,” I choked back the tears.

“Good. Well, I’m glad you have him. He is a good man, and it seems like he is supportive and taking good care of you. Tell him I said hello,” she said with relief.

Right, I will,” I said blankly, staring at the glistening lake as I scratched Zeus’s ear. 

Zeus was well cared for, his dog. I knew how much he loved him. I did too; he was my only affection at my weakest moments. The pup’s earthy brown eyes would stare into my soul, reassuring me this sadness was momentary. 

“I sure hope so, Zeus. I don’t feel well,” I wondered if he understood me as he set his furry face on my shoulder. 

My loneliness became a thing of the past when we met Angela and Jacob. They were married and had come back from their trip to Peru. Angela is Peruvian, a strong, independent Latina who never stood quiet in the face of injustice. Por fin!! A person I could speak Spanish with. A person who understood my struggle. Washington wasn’t as diverse as California. Our Latinx blood was our instant bond, sharing our favorite Spanish songs, novelas, and our cultures’ delicious food. 

Tuesday morning, rainy and gloomy, just like yesterday. Perfect! Angela and I made our grocery lists. We both grabbed our North Face raincoats, Angela’s jade green, and mine an onyx black. I weaved around my neck, the colorful Peruvian scarf she had gifted me. We were both excited about our morning grocery shopping trip. As usual, we drove through the rain and reached our favorite coffee shop drive-thru (part of our grocery trip ritual). 

“We would like two 12 oz. Strawberry white on white, please,” Angela said. 

With our coffees in hand, we made our way to Fred Meyer. Together we moved from one food section to the next. I spotted some caramel popcorn and rushed to it. 

Angela sighed.

“What? He loves it! And I like getting him little treats,” I said.

“Nothing, I remember when I was like you. It’s the honeymoon phase. I used to treat Jacob like a king, but it has to go both ways,” Angela smiled. 

Right, I silently thought as I looked at the popcorn I held in my hands. I looked up at my friend, and in her eyes, I could see a question bubbling up. So I waited.

“Can I ask you something?” She asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Do you enjoy it?” Angela asked.

“Enjoy what?” I was confused.

“Do you enjoy doing all that you do for him? You cook, clean, go shopping, have two jobs, and still please his every need. I understand you are supportive of his dreams, but all he gets to do is take care of Zeus and write. You do everything else. I talked to him last time, and he said you like doing everything else.” Her eyes were intense as they searched for the truth.

“No, I don’t enjoy doing everything,” I admitted.

“Then why-” she got cut off as she looked past me.

“I’m open over here, miss for check out!” A cashier interrupted, waving at us.

My heart ached; what Washington had to offer didn’t suffice. Again, we found ourselves saying goodbye to our friends. With a heavy heart, I had agreed to move back to California with him. The clouds were replaced with sunny blue skies—Mount Rainier and the luscious green trees by palm trees. I was happy to be home, but I still longed for the constant rain that once kissed my face every day. He went back to school but soon felt he was beyond it, so he dropped out. We found stable jobs and life settled. Unsatisfied yet again, he asked for a year off to focus on his acting and screenwriting career. I agreed. And since I would be the only one working, we would go live with my family. 

My family was a handful at times. We often found ourselves arguing about them. There was a language barrier for him, so I translated everything and included him in everything that I could. 

Maybe you should learn Spanish. I can help you, and we can start having conversations to practice,” I excitedly suggested.

No, learning Spanish isn’t a priority,” he shot the idea down.

He pushed me out and started to argue with me more. He’d say that I didn’t understand him or how I wasn’t supportive enough. I began to stress out more. I had issues with my family that I refused to share with him because he would bring them into our relationship and arguments. 

“Why are they so inconsiderate! Don’t they see how they are affecting us?!” He angrily exclaimed.

“I don’t understand why we are arguing about this again! I was just venting! What I said has nothing to do with us,” I cried. 

Here I was again, alone. I stopped sharing my thoughts. He no longer asked. 

“You know you aren’t obligated to be with him. If you aren’t happy, you can leave the relationship,” my cousin Jenny said. I couldn’t hold it in any more people were starting to notice.

What was wrong with me? 

I mean, was I really a crazy jealous woman like his ex? I didn’t think so, but I fixed that. 

I showed him I cared, but he said I didn’t, so I fixed that too. 

Standing in the way of his success? I fixed it by making myself small, which always seemed to be helpful for him. 

I’m not good enough for you? That one hurt. Mostly because your actions shouted this before your lips tore at my heart. 

I used to think maybe someone else could better fit next to you. The image tortured me as I compared myself with her.

But I never left. 

I tried harder. 

Before I knew it, I had given more than I should have. I was dreaming of freedom but never strayed from the plan: love, marriage, and a happy family. Besides, I didn’t know what my family would say. I didn’t want to be alone. But I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Who was this empty woman, wearing my brown eyes? Walking around like a zombie. 

I felt ashamed to want to let him go. But I had a month to think and clear my head, and so did he; we were on a break. Anxiety bubbled up within me:

“There is a distance between us. I know you feel it,” I searched his blue eyes, “I think it would be best if we parted ways. I’m so sorry but I can’t-

So that’s it! You are giving up on us just like that?” He asked. 

I felt guilty. His eyes were full of pain. Pain that I still couldn’t make go away. I was just making it worse.

“I’m not giving up. I just don’t feel the same anymore. I’ve given every part of me. I have Nothing left. It’s the best for both of us,” I tried to make him understand.

You won’t find anyone else out there. You know what?! I always thought you weren’t worth enough to be with me,” He spat. 

I know,” I held in my tears.

“At least I won’t have to deal with your troubles anymore…” He scoffed. 

I didn’t defend. I didn’t fight. I froze, letting the man I love take his final blows. In my mind, I remembered Angela’s concerned light brown eyes questioning everything I did for him. “Why do you do so much for him? Does he do the same for you? He is fine. He needs to pull his weight now. It’s your turn to be vulnerable. It’s your turn to have him behind you.” These old words burned with truth, my blindfold falling softly to the floor. 

I began to open up more to my friend at work. I would catch her on her break. Up until that point, I started feeling like a wildfire. I was set ablaze, uncontrollable, refusing to burn or destroy anyone but myself. I didn’t want to be alone amidst the loneliness and chaos reigning within. But once my friend shared her experiences with me, I wasn’t alone; instead, reassured that everything would be okay. It helped that all my friends were supportive of the decision I had taken. And though the fear of loneliness and failure still had its grip on me (Will he be okay? What now?) I remained vulnerable. 

Letting go was difficult. The change was even scarier. I was beginning to take root, and all of me wanted to blossom. My family was shocked when I told them about the decision I had made. My mother questioned if I was using sound judgment, but said she would support me either way. My aunts and uncles were behind my choice, supporting my growth as a person, which they understood I wanted and needed. My friends were happy that I was finally choosing myself. I was finally putting me first. 

 “I’m proud of you.” Angela had seen me through. 

But one of my dear aunts was sad to hear the news. She thought I was making a mistake; she still thinks it’s a mistake. She said I could have been married and with a child by now, but that I’ve let such an essential part of life go.

“Do you know what is the most important thing in life?” She asked me.

“Yes, my happiness,” I answered her. 

I wasn’t mad at her for saying this to me. It was part of our culture, where she grew up and how she’d grown up. I understood her. She was unmarried and had no children. She didn’t want what she felt was a lonely life to be mine as well. And to be honest, I share her fears. I fear I won’t find a man to share experiences with, who will admire me and love all my scars. I fear that the spot next to me will remain forever empty on the adventures I have planned. Fearful that my belly will never grow to give life. But those fears have been tossed aside; those fears won’t eat me alive. 

In the course of my growth, I have continued to lose some relationships. I have discovered what is needed for my good. Others are awed at my change and wonder where the old me went. She didn’t go anywhere. The old me just sprouted wings to fly into new skies. Ending my four-year relationship to focus on myself was just a baby step in my long journey to self-love. A journey I still struggle with today—many steps forward and some steps back. As I push onward in my growth, my friends and family cheer me on. I’m slow to learn how to self reflect and be proud of how far I’ve come. I never think its enough. I’m my worst critic. I know I haven’t fully healed from my previous relationship. Some wounds have been wrapped and ignored, only now nursing myself back to life again. Painfully and slowly. I stare at the bits and pieces of the person that once stood in my shoes. I fear her. But because I fear her, I fight for her. 

My friends pause me from time to time, to hold the moment and say cheers. Cheers to me. Cheers to my smile that rises with the sun every day. Cheers to these wings that have begun to take me places. Cheers to the love and kindness I have shown to myself. Cheers to the strength I didn’t know I had—here’s to the amazing person I am and my ability to continue. 

Miriam M.

Ever Growing, Ever-Changing

At the age of 13, you’re supposed to have a sense of freedom and independence, but that wasn’t me. During my adolescence, my mother had become very religious. No more secular music, no pg-13 movies, no more Halloween, it was all now deemed “The Devil.” She was only 29, and doing what she felt was best, but I felt I was being suffocated by the walls she had chosen to build around my life. You see, for the first seven years, I grew up with a fun, adventurous teenage mom. She was the one who wanted to try every roller coaster at the park and pushed me to try everything new. But she felt she needed more structure in her life; she found a husband and dedicated her life to Christ. Our lives changed drastically. And before such an abrupt adjustment, it was ‘us against the world.”

I remember we sang SWV and TLC on our pretend microphone pens in the car as we journeyed from town to town. I loved to dress up as a fluffy bunny or prim ballerina and carry a pillowcase door to door engorged with treats on Halloween. In my mind, my mother was Glenda, the Good witch from Wizard of Oz. She always knew what would happen and call it mother’s intuition, but my mom was magical. Things were different, and I felt different every day. As I yearned to learn from the world and navigated the pressure, my frustrations soon grew into anger. I didn’t really know how to voice my needs, and my mother didn’t recognize them within me. I was stuck being perceived as the perfect angel I previously was; she was now the clashing parent figure in a teenager’s life.

When my best friend was going through the same feelings with her mother, we decided we were fed up and could do it on our own. We hatched a plan to run away. After school, we’d meet at her house (since it was closest to our escape route), pack her bags, write a letter informing her mom she was at my house, and then do the same for me. To our benefit, her mother and aunt loathed one another, so after a few bus changes, we’d make a pit stop at her aunts’ house to load up on food and water before heading to nowhere. Everything went as planned until my friend couldn’t remember how to get to her aunt’s. Annoyed with her, we found a Carl’s Jr. to sit and try to figure out the next bus route. I guess I should’ve blamed it on the lack of cell navigation in the early 2000s. I barely had enough minutes from the prepaid card I bought at 7-11. Upon arrival at our destination, we were greeted with a “what are you doing here?” Mind you, it was close to midnight. My friend replied with a quick,

“Oh, my mom wanted to see how independent we could be.”

Her answer seemed acceptable. We gorged on snacks and filled our eyes with television. But once we awoke, well-rested, and sprawled out on the aunt’s couch, we were greeted by two police officers, my stepdad, and baby sister. Honestly, it was a good thing because our runaway plan had no plan after the aunt’s house. There went our imagined thoughts of miraculously becoming the best strippers we could be—the type of strippers who made a ton of cash without sleeping with anyone because we were thirteen.

It was there in the aunt’s driveway, where I learned about my punishment from the officers: Probation because I was now in the system as a “runaway.” But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for me at home. My mother didn’t speak to me for three months, not even to talk through my stepdad to me. It was all extremely devastating. We were so close that to feel nonexistent in the world was detrimental to my soul. Deep inside, I felt exhilarated and exonerated after running away. It was the first independent thing I’d done, and I just wanted my mother to understand and embrace it. I wanted her to realize I was on my way to womanhood and to let me journey towards it.

Even as an adult, others have tried to lock me back into their perceptions of who I should be. It’s a challenge when it’s family because you can’t escape their chains, especially in the role of the “good wife.” My ex-husband had his own idea of what that meant for me, and I received backlash when I couldn’t and just wouldn’t comply. During the time our son was less than six months old, we’d meet my grandparents and help them clean the salon my mother owned at the time. This particular day, my husband was exhausted; he had gone to lie on a bed in the salon’s rear. I couldn’t help clean because I was holding my baby, so I decided to free my hands by setting up one of his portable playpens. The floor was dirty so I couldn’t just place my baby on the floor. I opened the door to the room and asked my then-husband if he could hold our son while I put up the playpen. He refused. I asked again, and he refused again. Each time I asked, his voice escalated with rage, so I thought, “if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.” I plopped my son on my left hip, facing him away from me while I strong-armed the playpen with my right hand. Two sides up and two more to go. On the third snap, I heard my baby boy whimper.

In a rushed manner, I flipped him around and examined what had gone wrong. There was a drop of blood on the top of his left hand, so I quietly walked to the restroom to further check it. I wiped it clean and examined his hand but couldn’t find where the blood came from. During my examination, my ex-husband burst open the bathroom door; he gave me a glare and screamed,

“Oh, my God! “

He ran out. Confused, I slowly turned my head, my eyes swelled, and my heart dropped. I screamed bloody murder. Blood was spewing straight up around the exposed bone from my baby boy’s middle finger on his right hand, dripping down my back. It felt like a murder scene from a scary movie.

Seeing my panic, my grandfather motioned for me to come to the shampoo bowl to rinse my angel’s finger once he noticed the blood. When he turned the water on, the hose swayed and danced in the air, throwing water around like a World of Color water show at Disneyland. My grandmother walked onto the main floor from the back room, calmly shut the water off, and shouted, “EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP!” We all froze while she instructed us to go to the hospital. I held my baby in the back seat as his head started to droop, he was no longer crying, and his body was going limp. It’s the most terrifying feeling holding your child as they begin to slip away. He had lost too much blood.

The years following this event, my husband shamed me. He blamed me for the entire accident. He had a cookie-cutter view of me as his wife and as a mom. His displaced frustrations just made it worse, and his molding of me just hurt. I was learning, and so was he. Parenting is individualized and scary enough. I needed a teammate, not a judge. But it took his unacceptance for me to realize that it wasn’t personal, rather his issue and his judgment of himself.

In my formative years, I needed my mother’s acceptance of my growth. And although it was detrimental to me, those 3 months of silence were necessary for her growth as a parent. Once my silent treatment ended, she finally did understand me, and we were bonded even closer together. I could sing Mariah Carey again, and I was allowed more freedom to just be myself. I could now reveal some of my layers without total judgment.

And as for my son’s finger, it grew back, you can barely tell anything happened. He’s 13 now. He understands boundaries, and I understand his need for growth and independence into the man he’s bound to become.

I now understand how much I needed to heal and grow. What if I didn’t face change? I would have stayed stuck slowly, letting others wither me away. I’m not meant to hold onto everyone or even to my past self. I’m meant to keep an open heart, to share my gifts with you. At age 33, it’s hard enough to go through change and even harder for family or friends to accept it or not. No matter where you are in your journey of transformation, it’s unavoidable and imperative for an enriching life. Be the change you want to see in this world, and don’t be afraid to show it off.

Thank you, God, for holding me while I change into who I was meant to be: for my son, for myself, for the thirteen-year-old me.

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living”

-Gail Sheehy.

The legacy on Diamond Head Dr.

Eventually there is an inevitable process that comes along and strips you of any comfort.

I think I’m going the right way. I have been here a million times before, but just with her as my guide. Strawberry Fields on the left, two verses of “I just can’t give up now,” and then it’s a right. You drive parallel to the park before swinging under the light and hitting a left turn through residential. We lived in an apartment complex growing up. That being said, it was a common practice for us to spend the weekend surveying houses as if they were imminent realities and not just delusion, as if it were a holiday, and the custom was paying homage to people with mortgages. To be so without yet so sustained, a state of mind I would venture to live in, a fantasy. The state of mind that is never satisfied with where she is. But I think it was vital for me to see, the longing, the waiting, and the eventual letting go. Day by day watching, dreaming, and secretly knowing precisely what was needed. I was about four years old when we lost our home and ten years old when I watched her conceive a new one. Perhaps she wanted this particular house, fourth on the block, grayish blue, with wood wrapping around its borders, painted white. But I turned out far too sentimental for her cyclical surveying to be anything less than intentional healing from the most significant conception she’d ever lost.

One day we stopped in front of that extended blue house. I can’t even imagine what she was going through the day she scheduled a house tour for the two of us. I followed her lead as I sauntered into what I believed would be my room and fantasized about how things could be, all the friends I would finally have over. None of which are my friends today. Even then, I knew it wasn’t a reality written for her or me. Children of divorced parents seem to very quickly learn about the needs of others and the imminent submission of their own. It’s a transcending viewpoint, growing up to witness the woman your mother becomes. She’s bought a home since then, with a new husband, and almost like I was 10 again, I watched her hang a slab of paint on the wall and cherish the place it would live in her home. It was her way of keeping the faith and establishing no doubt in what she wanted to create.

I wasn’t always so admiring of her. Growing up, I hated my mom for silent reasons; we both knew it was more profound than disdain. Even then, though, later down the line, she’d transform into somewhat of a God for me, as I followed her lead and felt lifted in her belief of me. She was and is everything I ever wanted to be but that I was too afraid of becoming on my own, too fearful of change. When I was unsure about whether the boy who first entered me would be my husband, she assured me he would not.

“You will be the possible wife for many men, but it doesn’t mean they will be your husband. “

Even though I loved him deeply, it wouldn’t matter. Her words could infect my mind, and in a matter of months, I would tell him goodbye with a voice and demeanor so sure and wise you would have mistaken my words as my own – but they were hers, and she was right; she’s always right. He’s engaged now to a woman that suits him, but the point is her words were law, and I was willingly devoted to them, no questions asked.

And although her advice is still the most beautiful sound I know, the most calming and reassuring message to rest on, there is now a deep knowing in my soul that I just can’t abandon.

Eventually, there is an inevitable process that comes along and strips you of any comfort, it feels like it’s stripping you away from her, especially from her. And just when it feels like you need her the most, like the purpose of your life is on its way, and with her anything is possible, a subtle shift chokes out her words and fogs your vision. Still grasping her hand, you nudge her forward, ahead of you where she belongs, better than you, wiser than you, everything you could never be. But she keeps falling behind, the one you once watched gracefully stride ahead of you is slowing down right beside you. And the truth that I have discovered is that it’s not that she’s falling behind because she is and always will be the most graceful woman you know. But it just may also be true, that so are you. That maybe she was a woman just like you who has had to suffer and survive. You realize that it was you telling yourself that you were stunted and couldn’t be trusted, it was you who elevated her law and her being above the clouds, who fully and wholeheartedly relied on her intuition. 

But eventually, you need your own. 

And so some days I mourn her presence. I feel the shift beckoning. The reality is underway, the legacy slowly rising, and the little girl maturing. I must need her in a different way and step into our new role of her needing me. Heat flashes pang, her body betrays her, hormones flood her emotions, and she craves rest exponentially. Your mother needs you in a way that warrants you as an adult, as a woman who can conceive her own life and dreams, to see community and purpose in others, a skill I never thought I had. But now the day has come, and one day I will be the mother she has been to me. One day she will grow old, and she will step into the new phase of her own womanhood. And when that day comes to pass, it’s me who must carry her legacy. This moment was always destined to happen. After decades of watching and relying on my mother and avoiding the inevitable change, it’s here, the severing, the let go, so that I may find my own way. So that I may take all that I have learned, and establish my truth, dream up my own dreams. But of course, I miss her and the childish parts of me that still require healing try and hold on. The phone seems to ring longer than before when I call her and need her right away. And although her advice is still the most beautiful sound I know, the most calming and reassuring message to rest on, there is now a deep knowing in my soul that I just can’t abandon. One that is more true to my own direction. I think she feels it too. After all, it’s the same process she had to go through. 

The women who lineage before us leave footprints in our story so we won’t feel lost. I still feel lost. A big part of me even rejects the notion that I am ready. But the shift is occurring with or without my permission because nature knows and trusts its own course, only the foolish try and direct it, control it, give it meaning. She believes in me, and that’s all that matters. Deep down, I believe in myself too, and that matters more. The other day I wrote two words on a post-it and stuck it on my mirror. 

“You’re enough.”

If I was going to do this, like really do this, it would be done in the most honorable and efficient way I knew. I was going to place it on my mirror and watch it every day. I was going to facilitate a cyclical routine that ensured our eyes met periodically. To establish responsibility for what I create in this world and in myself. I would walk past it every morning, conceiving a new home for myself with only love, one that housed peace, honesty, wisdom, and faith just like my mother did with the grayish blue house, fourth down, on Diamond Head Dr.