Somewhere inside me is a person who is strong and confident and who knows she is. I want to find that. I want to be her. I am slow and I stumble a lot. Years of shame and vindictiveness have left me battered and bruised on the inside. More than that, it has left me doubting my ability to breathe. But I can’t let them win. “Friends” and “family members” have taken so much from me already. To give them more would be equal to starving a child. That I would rest by and let them take choice pieces of me is the result of years of normalization training and false teachings, of selfishness and expectations I will never meet.
“Dear friend, wife, daughter, coworker, sister: Since you desire to be kind and good, since your heart is gentle and we know you are strong and skilled, give us your lungs and your heart and your soul. You will still be able to walk and talk and breathe without them, but you will serve us better for not having them. We’ll be able to mold and mutilate you into the form we desire, damage you to the point where you’ll never have need of or wish for anything more.”
In the episode of M.A.S.H. titled “Dreams,” in Hawkeye Pierce’s nightmares, he is forced to give up his arms, the one thing he needs more than anything to do the work he does: operate on injured soldiers, save lives. He is told to remove them and then he literally pulls them from his coat sleeves.
“That I would rest by and let them take choice pieces of me …”
It is not easy to repair the destruction of nearly two decades, to uncover the pieces that have been beaten upon and torn, and stitch them back together. It takes time and delicate work, performed with still-shaking hands. It takes turning your back on and sometimes beating off those who would have you back in their strangling grip. It takes biting your lip until it bleeds blood from your broken heart to prevent you from handing yourself back to the enemy when you are asked. You must break the habit.
It is a war with a daily battle. I know what inside me is real and true, but each day I must pick up my weapon and steel myself for the fight. The days are long and slow. Sometimes I gain ground and sometimes I lose it. Never all of it, but enough that the line that marks my progress wavers before it progresses again. I am the Union Army in the American Civil War, just weeks past the Battle of Gettysburg. My victory is imminent, but not to be won without blood and tears.
I will not give in; I will not surrender. I will not give up any more of me, and I will take back what is mine. I will fight until the dust settles and the air comes freely into my lungs. And I will find myself, who I am, who I was, and who I am going to be. I will no longer give up my vital parts to become what I am not. I will be me. I will be whole.