names have been omitted and or changed in this post
It was a quiet evening… I was in the spare bedroom of the apartment I lived in with him. He, who I had been arranged to live with after living for some time with Bao who could no longer keep me under his wing. Bao had kept me safe for as long as he could… never expecting anything and always showing me the utmost respect and love. Even with our occasional language barrier we had a connection in friendship that would always be remembered and cherished.
How is it that we can feel more understood
and loved by a gangster than our own father?
We may find connections with others
in the most unlikely places.
Yet I was now in new territory and this new relationship had started with rape and then consensual sex… not really consensual but then again… who wanted to fight every time he initiated… I didn't. I didn't have the energy and wouldn't win. It was a bizarre situation… it wasn't okay with what he did and yet part of me had come to terms with the fact that this was the way it was. Bao certainly wouldn't have condoned it nor knew about it, yet staying with him was no longer an option. It was this new man or some alternative unknown scenario that might prove even worse… or go back home. Each day I chose to stay.
People often scratch their head at that… perhaps can't understand it. I equate it to voting… you are told to choose between two candidates, specifically two evils… so you choose the lesser of what you determine to be evil when really neither are a good option and both should be passed on. Staying with him wasn't a good choice yet going home wasn't either. Fast forward to 2012 when I would sit in the psychiatrist's office who diagnosed me with ADHD, he asked me about high school and the choices I'd made. He looked at me and said "Tell me… tell me what happened back in 1994." I didn't know where to begin. Because my story doesn't really begin the day I left school with Bao in the drivers seat but way before that… all the years leading up to that moment shaped who I was and making that decision to leave. Growing up not feeling heard, not feeling seen, not feeling valued… not feeling loved or worthy. It all adds up and it's ugly, it's tears, it's hiding in bathroom stalls, it's not understanding the math problem at the chalkboard and being teased, it's not being allowed to do anything but go to school, do homework, eat dinner and go to bed, it's a life devoid of any fun or spirit, it's not being told "I love you" by your father, it's constantly being told "In a minute", "I'm busy", "Let me think about it", "Go find something to do!" and more… it's feeling like an inconvenience, an annoyance and unwanted. I clasped my hands in my lap and looked at the psychiatrist "You wouldn't believe it if I told you. Sometimes I can't. Sometimes it feels like a dream. " But I have the scars to prove it. I have a startle reflex so heightened that when I jump I startle people who innocently sneak up on me. I have a quick reflex that if I'm driving and my phone goes flying from the dash I can catch it midair with one hand while turning a tight corner… I suffer from insomnia, I have TMJ and wear a mouth guard at night and have panic attacks that I'd love to turn off… we all have something. These things are born from wounds that were inflicted on us by others… coping mechanisms; our systems, our bodies, our minds have adapted to deal with what we've been through… we can wear them like marks of victimization or we can wear them like badges of battle scars… Everything you've been through has shaped who you are today. You are lovely. Don't accept and swallow the mental garbage people have fed you… that you are not this or that… that you are damaged or less than because of your experiences, your past, your trials. You are worthy, you are loved. Christ sees all you've been through and the bright future you have… sometimes we have to take a step backward to take ten steps, fifty or a thousand forward into the glorious future He has for us…
There was a knock at the door… then insistent loud banging and I froze. It was late… the middle of the night, he was at work on his night shift and someone was at the apartment door. But who? I instinctively knew it wasn't good. Dressed in khaki slacks and one of his white dress shirts untucked I opened the bedroom door and and peered around the corner into the living room. The wife of the couple we shared the apartment with got up from where she was perched on the couch watching television, gave me a concerned quizzical look and went to the door. Opening it she was accosted by two people. One, an elegant older blonde woman dressed in a dark pants suit who appeared to be in her late fifties and a stocky built man of Japanese descent who shot me a pointed look. The Japanese man spoke to my roommate in rapid Vietnamese and she appeared to be arguing… him gesturing toward me… her finally nodding and resuming her spot on the couch. He nodded to the blonde woman as if to signal she could proceed and then stood like a stoic statue by the door like he was guarding it… keeping me from leaving… or to head off anyone who entered. The blonde woman began approaching me and I backed away a few steps from where I'd now stood in the middle of the living room. "Jennifer… " She began, "I'm not going to hurt you… I just want to talk with you." She stressed to me and I was hesitant. "I'm not taking you with me." She added then asked "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
I nod and say "Okay" and gesture to the bedroom around the corner. She follows me into the tiny room and I can feel her eyes pouring into my back and piercingly appraising the room. She pushes the door just to but not all the way shut and glances around the four blank white walls with a despairing expression. I take a seat on the mattress and box springs draped with a navy blue comforter resting on the carpeted floor. Across from me sits the black dresser and mirror… to my right, the matching black chest of drawers and closet. She sighs and takes a seat beside me to my right. We sit in silence for a moment and finally she speaks "Let me just start by saying I'm Kathleen, a private detective and was hired to find you. This has been the most difficult case I've ever had…" She admitted, "And I should tell you that I'm not here to take you. I'm here to talk to you." She informed me. "Okay…" I said and sat waiting for her to continue. I felt defensiveness rise up in me. She was judging my surroundings and me. She cleared her throat "Jennifer… your family is very worried about you… they want you to come home. That's the message I'm supposed to relay to you. They are very upset and just want you to come home. They love you."
Sitting in silence she spoke again… "Don't you miss them? Your sisters?" She asked almost wearily. I studied my hands clasped in my lap. "Yes, I do miss them. I miss my mom. Very much. But I don't want to go home and see my dad… I know he's angry at me." I admitted. She shook her head "No… they just want you to come home. They just want you to come back and know you're safe." She stressed to me. I felt anger rising up… rage that was always simmering just beneath the surface… threatening to boil over. I was being treated like a fool and I knew it. I spoke "You say that now… they say they just want me to come home. But what about a week from now? A month from now? It won't just be okay. It doesn't work that way. I know all too well. The anger will set in… about what I've done… what I've put them through… and then it will be hell. It will be much much worse than what it's already been." I told her. She sighed and shook her head "I don't understand that… they seem like very nice people. Your mom just wants you to come home. I don't see how they could be angry. And even if they were I don't see how it could last very long. They just want you to come back."
More silence… I wasn't stupid… she acted like I was. More anger rose within. And what kind of snow job had my father pulled on her, I grimaced. I knew better than to believe he wouldn't be angry. I knew better and yet she was sitting here treating me like I was being irrational when I knew well enough to know I'd pay and pay and pay for ever leaving. He'd see to that. She finally broke the silence and spoke "Is he treating you well?" She asked, referring to the man I lived with. "I'm fine…" I replied with an edge to my voice and tears beginning to creep at the corners of my eyes that I blinked away. "Has he hurt you?" She inquired studying me closely. I ignored her. She peered at me seeing the tears. She knew. "Can you leave on your own or is he holding you here?" She asked. I cleared my throat and spoke "No, he's not holding me here." I replied although I wondered about the reality of leaving and if he would be okay with it. That remained to be seen if that was the choice I made. She winced painfully and glanced around the room again, "Do you really want to stay here? And live like this? In poverty? You could still turn this around… go to school, get a college degree and make something of yourself." She told me.
The words "poverty" and "make something of myself"
continued in my head like an ugly loop…
"No one should live like this! " I snapped at her, gesturing to the mattress and box springs on the floor. "But they do. Everyday." I told her bitterly. I suddenly felt extremely defensive for the people I lived with. They worked hard at jobs that paid very little… had little to no education and language was a huge barrier in bettering their life… why wasn't anyone doing something about this? Why were people living in poverty? It seemed everyone should have an automatic right to the very minimum of a comfortable life. If I had the money to fix it I would in a second. But I didn't. The world seemed so heavy, so exhausting and so hopeless suddenly. "I guess I'll have to think about what I want to do…"I told her. "I'm not leaving tonight." I informed her. She looked disappointed and I knew that wasn't the response she wanted to hear but I didn't care. I was angry. On so many levels… I wouldn't even know where to begin if asked to. She pulled a business card with her name and number on it from inside her jacket and I saw a glimpse of her gun. "Here's my card…" she told me and I took it. "Call me. Anytime. Day or night I'll come get you if that's what you decide to do. Please think about it. Your family loves you." She stressed to me and rose. I stood and she gave me a quick hug before I walked with her to the door. With a curt nod the gentleman and she departed without another word closing the door behind them.
Everyday we choose. We choose to embrace our past and acknowledge it's made us who we are today or try to shrug it off like an unwanted ugly sweater denying it's existence. It's our choice. Our past and all it's specks have shaped us into who we are… our narcissistic parent, our absent parent, our dysfunctional childhood, our lost spirit, our brokenness, our choices made out of having to choose between two evils… it's all ours whether we like it or not… it's shaped who we have become… stronger, better selves… to deny what we've been through is to deny who we are today and most of all who Christ has transformed us into… we are each beautifully made no matter what our past or what we've done. Everyday no matter what we can each raise our hands to the Heavens and thank Him for pulling us through…
New International Version
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.