The past comes back sometimes in ways that I can never anticipate.  Cleaning out my childhood room, for instance, held some memories that punched me in the stomach.  Memories that I’d thought were buried.  You see, forgetfulness is a drug that I’ve enjoyed for a long time.  To cope with the trauma from my childhood, my mind clamped down hard, like an iron wall, on several of my most painful memories.  But sometimes a crow bar gets in there and pries a hole underneath that iron wall.  A hole that lets painful memories seep in under the gap.

That’s what happened when I cleaned through my stuff in my parents’ house (finally!) a few weekends ago.  For nearly as long as I’ve been able to write, I’ve been journaling.  When there was no one else to listen to, to talk to about anything, I had my best friend, my journal, to tell my thoughts and confusion to.  Well, I found one of these journals the other day.  An old school journal, I almost threw it out thinking that it held nothing of importance or value.  But, since I’m a pack rat who never throws anything away without intense consideration, naturally I had to peek inside.

I kind of wish I hadn’t.

I’ve always been incredibly protective of my food.  Nothing makes my eyebrows raise and my nostrils flare faster than when someone snags a bite from my plate without asking.  Nothing makes me grumpier than being super hungry.

When I was little, I was constantly hungry.  Constantly.  There was always a deep, gnawing, painful hunger in the pit of my stomach. And sometimes, when I’d get food all to myself, I’d scarf it so fast I nearly made myself sick.

That day, at my parents’ house, I found a journal entry that explained why.  In the innocent voice of my 7 year old self, I read about how I gave away my last fish stick to my brother, because he needed it more than me.  Because I remembered that if I didn’t give him my food, he’d take it.  If my mom bought me chocolate milk, he’d drink it.  If someone made me a birthday cake, he’d lick all the icing off before I even got a chance to see it.  He “needed” more food than me, he needed the food “more” than me, and to me, that “logic” made perfect sense.

So I gave him more food.  I gave him my food.  And the gnawing emptiness in my stomach continued to grumble, desperate for someone to pay attention to it.

For most of my life, I felt starved; starved for attention, starved for food, starved for love. I guess now I know why I have to fight the beast within me every time someone asks me for one of my french fries…


Body Armor

So what do you put on to protect yourself?  To tell yourself that it doesn’t hurt?  To deflect all the pain, everything that’s happened to you over the years?  Is it a tough exterior?  An “I don’t care attitude?”  Do some people call you a bitch?  Do you put up walls, keep people away, not let people touch you?

Does your back clench up anytime someone sneaks up behind you?  Coiled with the pain of decades, all the times that one person touched you, caressed you, sickening your stomach and twisting your life?

My body armor was strong.  It was deflective, off-putting, full of biting humor that kept people at a distance or shoved them away with intense force if they stepped too close.  Like fire I scorched the people who surrounded me, singeing them with my harsh words.  Words.  Like a sword I learned to wield them well.  Maybe if I said the right thing, was persuasive enough, convincing enough, he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.  For years I perfected this armor.  Sharpened the steel and added on layers.  It was indefensible, indestructive, like Captain America’s shield, it was a metal that nothing could penetrate.

There was only one flaw in this armor, in this, my brilliant plan.  One day, I realized that I no longer wanted the armor, that I no longer needed the armor, now that my attackers were nothing but shapes of the past.  So I threw the armor off, stripped the chainmail down.

And oh the pain.  The pain when it came off.  The rust stains and scrapes that it left on my skin.  My vulnerable, squishy, soft, pale skin.  Like a wounded slug I lay exposed, my heart wide open to the elements.  The pain was so harsh at first that I thought I’d never make it through, never be able to stand it.  I longed to hide back inside the dark, cool depths of my armor.

But it was time to face the world as I was.  Vulnerable and with honesty.  Time to cast off the coping mechanisms I’d used for so long to survive.

Sans armor, it was time to be me.