To The Troubled Souls:

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It wrenches my heart to hear it said
That the mentally ill are sick in the head
When it goes unknown what it is they feel
And whether or not their pain is real

Who can say, with certainty, that
Anything’s real? We’re just a ‘brain in a vat’
Experiencing the world subjectively
Allowing things to pass unexpectedly

There is a notion onto which I cling
That allows for anything you wish to bring
Into existence to finally be seen
By you and whoever else believes.

The world is cold and harsh out there
Bravery is the only mask you can wear
Your scars convey more than they conceal
But their stories are still only yours to reveal

Don’t let them know you without your consent
They will never know truthfully what you meant
When you dragged that blade across your skin
But, please, don’t believe when they say ‘its a sin.’

These actions, you see, are not from your heart
They were not part of you from the start
The pain you inflict is but an expression;
An outward display of your auto-aggression

Know that when you feel displeased
There are other ways to get release
From the clenching hold of condemning words
Trust me, I know how much it hurts.

Then again, don’t trust a single soul
You’ll see that you can’t as you grow old
Everyone hides their true intentions
That’s why I strive for prevention

An Unexpected Visit

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I sat, slouching in my chair. English class was the bane of my existence. My teacher, Mr. Andrews, was really cool, however, my fellow classmates were not. I had a real issue with one kid, in particular. I did my best to ignore him but sometimes I had to leave the room to keep from getting angry at his stupid comments and wisenheimer attitude. I couldn’t wait for class to be over so I could book it to the art building.

My next class would be Ceramics, my favorite. It took a lot of energy that I didn’t have to move so quickly, dodging between oblivious teenagers straggling at their own pace. I had to get from the top floor of the main building across the street to the Unified Arts building. By the time I arrived at my seat along the studio bench, I was completely wiped out. I took a moment to catch my breath with my head down in my hands. My concerned teacher approached me, requesting confirmation of my current state of well being.

“I’m fine, just tired; need to catch my breath.” I let out between gasps of air.

“Alright, dear, just relax.” He said, soothingly. His genuine concern for students was endearing, but I was eager to brush him off — lest he should figure out what’s been going on.

He walked away and I did my best to heed his instructions and breathe. Air came out, but getting the air to go in was proving more difficult. Eventually my breathing steadied and I was able to join the class in creating masterpieces from within our souls, as Dr. S would have described it.

I was smoothing over a form that was intended to resemble a giraffe, but I just couldn’t get the feet right. The legs were too skinny to hold up the heavy body. I imagined real giraffes might experience similar issues due to gravity. I was getting lost in my thoughts when the room fell silent. I hadn’t noticed the scenery change, but the busy bodies around me slowed down and the sounds of their chatter drowned out.

I looked up from my half-giraffe and peered around the room, unsure if what I was experiencing was really happening. In a flash, almost like the blink of an eye, everything returned to its normal state. Sound returned to the vocal chords of the many students around me and all movement appeared in real time. I was confused but reassured myself that I was just tired. With that in mind, I began to relax a little bit. I looked away from everyone, towards the storage shelves. No one was usually over there. I often found myself gazing out the window on that side of the room.

I noticed something moving in the corner. I adjusted my position to see around the ceramic sculptures blocking my view to reveal a bizarre sight. In the corner of the room, beyond anyone else’s recognition, there was a young girl, drenched, wearing a soggy sundress, rocking back and forth in the corner of the room. She sat in the fetal position with a bewildered look on her face.

I stared onward with a stone face. I knew that what was happening was not real. I knew that I was the only one who was seeing this girl and I knew she wasn’t really there. I swallowed every ounce of fear I had and I looked the girl straight in the eye.

I was shocked to see her lift her gaze to meet mine. She locked eyes with me, not saying a word, just rocking back and forth. Her eyes were sad, icy and glazed over. Strands of her wet, dark hair fell alongside them. She was afraid or angry, or both. She stared at me until I couldn’t take it anymore and I looked away.

Staring back down at my hands, fiddling with the giraffe-like form, I assured myself that I was not insane. While I may be seeing things that are not happening in reality, this does not indicate insanity. In the back of my head, though, I felt like I was lying to myself. I didn’t dare look around to see if anyone else noticed how out of it I was.

I glanced back toward the corner, where the little girl had been sitting, to find her standing by the window. She stood with her back to me, peering out at the world that hurried by. It seemed that her presence evoked a stillness. When our eyes locked the first time, moments turned to days.

She stood, frozen in time while I sat, frozen by fear. The girl turned once more to face me and I braced myself. I don’t know what it was I expected her to do, but she simply reached out her left hand towards me. I looked from side to side; surely someone else was seeing this…

No one else saw. The little girl’s gaze never strayed from my eyes while she waited patiently for me to take her hand. Instead, I quickly reached for my backpack under the bench and turned my back to the little girl. I ran out of that room as fast as I could and out into the fresh air.

Deep breaths, I tried to shorten the panicked huffs of air into long, drawn out breaths. Pacing up and down the road, I eventually regained composure. When my breathing was steady once again, I checked my cell phone for the time. I had spent the entirety of class starring in the corner. I returned to the classroom to clean up after myself.

Without making any progress on my giraffe, I spritzed him with water, wrapped him in plastic to be stored until next class. I turned to face the storage shelves, afraid of who I might find. When the coast appeared to be clear, I made my way over towards that window, next to which was a shelf with my name printed on masking tape.

My shelf was adorned with half-finished works of art. I would begin each project as it was assigned, but somehow fail to finish them in the set time frame. Dr. S didn’t really mind how much time we spent on each piece, he just wanted us to do our best work.

Without saying a word to anyone, I placed my giraffe on my shelf and made a quick exit. I never told anyone about the little girl. I never confessed to feeling guilty for leaving her behind. I never even took the time to think about why she was there or what she was symbolizing, if anything.

In a therapy session, several years later, I was prompted to consider this experience and its possible implications.

I thought about how the little girl looked a lot like me. She was in a physical state that somehow mirrored my mental state. She was an external projection of how I was feeling internally. She was the vital message that I needed to recognize my suffering. If I never noticed how bad things were getting, I never would have taken the steps to make things better for myself.

If that little girl never came to me for help, I would still be that little girl.

Do you want to see the most beautiful part?

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I tell my stories because, unlike my sulking face and my slim frame, they are truly beautiful. My stories are not made better or worse by passing trends and they are not played up with accessories or pops of color.

I have been told all my life how very beautiful I was. I was assured that I should feel no hatred towards myself, that I shouldn’t harm myself, because of this beauty. As far as the outside world has always been concerned, sadness and beauty are mutually exclusive.

I wish I could tell you how many times it was revealed to me that my sadness simply could not be: I was far too pretty. I wish I could tell you that it made me feel better, but it never has. I have always been one to look upon my reflection, finding comfort in knowing I was stronger than they knew. It didn’t comfort me to know that I was nice to look at, if anything it made my skin crawl. I didn’t want to be beautiful to the world. I wanted to be tragic…

The abrasions on my skin were never enough to turn me ugly. No one even noticed them, really. If they did notice, no one said anything. I was fooling the whole world with my award winning smile.

The part of me that has been so vastly overlooked, the part I find most beautiful, is the part inside that you can not see.

I am most infatuated with the words that flutter from my lips like liquid courage falling from the lip of a bottle. It comes in bits and pieces so small you can’t separate them from the whole. The “whole” is a massive contortion of the English language that bends around the drums so as to avoid being detected by undeserving ears. The true beauty is in the meaning of the linguistic nonsense spewing from the semantic centers of my brain.

You want to see the most beautiful part?

Well, then, close your eyes.
Listen to the stories that have shaped me in the most abstract sense of the word. If you could imagine shaping a mound of clay without ever physically touching your skin to the re-hydrated ball of sand particles and other microscopic minerals, then you can imagine being formed from the indirect touching of people and places and events going on around you. None of it physically grasps you, but it tosses you about.

Feel with your fingers, the fleeing formation of the clay, as you hold it beneath the water. Feel the particles disintegrate as they reintegrate with the di-hydrogen monoxide. Strain the water to find the dissociated particles that are once again forming a solid mass. Feel as the malleable mass mutates as you mold the molecules to fit your form.

Now open, watch with your eyes as your own hands take this product of the earth, and with it, create something useful; something beautiful; something worth keeping.
Interpret the infinite possibilities of these peculiar particles. You have the capability to create; to understand; to transform anything into being. You have the ability to think and to think about thinking. You have these powers inside of you that you must learn to harness.

I find the most beautiful part of myself to be the deep, burning passion that I feel in my heart. The tingling of excitement when I know I am approaching home. The comfort I feel in seeing my mother’s smile. The release of the clenching in my throat to see my sister breathe fresh air; with a smile on her face, no less. The smile on my nephew’s face when he sees me for the first time in months, my father’s embrace: these are the things that make me beautiful.

“Do you remember what its like to be 15?”

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Oh, dear. In my short life I have borne witness to far more than any one lady should. I have quite the collection of scars and memories, as well as notches in my belt. I have experienced tragedy and I have seen it in others. I have come a long way since, what I refer to as, the dark ages. The days of dwelling on the past and trying, with all I had, to make sense of the shit-piece of a life I was living.

As a 15 year old girl, I will have you know I was in the very beginning of the dark ages. You see, it likely began at 14, when I was unequivocally sexually assaulted. This resulted in my losing trust from a boy I thought of as my best friend and truly thought I loved. Of course, I was a silly child, who isn’t possibly capable of such “adult” feelings (insert eye roll here). I told no one of these events and sorely kept them to myself, to manifest into deep-rooted self hatred and promiscuity.

15 is when I began my concert sequence. I would attend upwards of 2 or 3 shows a week. It was my thing. There wasn’t much else for me to do. I was a cheerleader (its quite uncharacteristic of me, I know) and a gymnast. These were the things I enjoyed doing, they were my only taste of normal. I would wear this normalcy around my neck like a medallion for years to come.

The year of 15 was spent explicitly denying requests from boys to partake in their “relationship” traps. I was not interested in being a victim or a prisoner, thank you very much. I was just fine without any sort of male presence in my life. A friend I made through the concert scene was relentlessly interested in pursuing a relationship with me, however, he had once dated a friend of mine and that broke my rules. I would  not let a boy come between my best friend and me. That was just stupid. He wasn’t even cute.

He was so insistent, though, that he went as far as to request permission from his ex (my bffl) to ask me to be his girlfriend. I said no over and over again. I did not want to be involved in these tricky games. I wanted to retreat to childhood and safety. He assured me constantly that I could trust him and that he loved me and only had my best interest at heart. He insisted on being my “protector” of sorts. I eventually gave in. Being with him came naturally and, though I wasn’t exactly attracted to him, I did really like him as a person and I even convinced myself I loved him. Maybe I did, to be honest, but I don’t anymore.

That boy got his hands on me and he grasped on so tight that I could barely breath from the get go. It was horrible of me to do anything before considering his feelings. This was, of course, absurd, but I didn’t understand that. I just thought I was being a bad girlfriend to him. I wasn’t terribly motivated to be any better, though. I continued feeling like a failure to him, and he continued to make me feel as such. He eventually became so mentally ill that he was convinced his life was a total waste. He had no foresight; no ability to project into the future and imagine what might become of him someday. His loss of hope turned into rage and he was often in an explicitly violent mood.

I became distant and elusive. I did not want to absorb his negativity and I did not want to upset him worse. I would retreat to the solitude of cyberspace where I could hide behind the anonymity of a user name. I made some friends I could be fully honest with, since they would never actually know who I was. It was merely an illusion, but it gave me the opportunity to imagine these were my real friends, looking out for my best interest.

The strangers offered insight. They conceded the fact that I had been raped during the aforementioned sexual encounter preceding the dark ages (up until now I wasn’t fully sure what that was considered). I had been bombarded by accusations of promiscuity following the event in question and I was beginning to believe them. These strangers with no faces were all in agreement that there was no doubt about it, I had been taken advantage of. I was reassured that I should not blame myself, but I didn’t hear that part. I was happy to know I was not at fault for simply being a rotten person, but I still felt quite rotten.

The strangers had interesting things to say about my relationship. They recognized it as emotionally abusive. I was blind to these cues but they were certainly present. It was true that I had bruises around my wrists often. It was also true that I had sex with my boyfriend more than I might actually want to and it was equally as true that he was rougher with me than I would’ve liked. These truths scared me and I started to see them myself. It wasn’t clear until an outsider suggested it, but it was always true. He was hurting me in more ways than just emotionally. Unfortunately these small signs were not enough. I tried to explain to him that he was hurting me and that I needed to be handled with care.

He was ignorant of my claims and requests. He was trapped inside his head by some darkness of his own. He stayed entranced for the remainder of our relationship. It was my birthday when he first really hit me. We had been out all evening celebrating and when we got home, he was very irritated. According to him, there were multiple reasons. As far as I was concerned, he could get over them for my birthday.  I wanted to have a nice night with my boyfriend. I was trying to convince myself everything was great and that we were happy. It was like a perfectly timed wake up call when he grabbed me by my shoulders and slammed me into the wall. When the painting fell down over my head, I was afraid I might not get a chance to run away this time.

The physical pain was nothing compared to the feelings of helplessness and an utter loss of control. I would have endured a thousand blows if it meant I could have walked away with even an ounce of dignity and self respect. But alas, the events of that evening were the kind that leave you in a funk. You know, like when people know something is wrong just by looking at you? Of course, the marks left behind were very telling, but my words were all too forgiving. The truest thing I sad about the occurrence was that nothing of the sort would ever happen to me again.

That much was true, at least. I left the quarters of the beast who harmed me that very night and in well enough condition to take the bus, 2 trains and another bus home alone in the middle of the night. Upon my arrival at the home of my family, nothing happened. I waltzed right in the front door, needing hide nothing, up the stairs and locked my bedroom door behind me.

I may have cried like a sad, scared little girl, who couldn’t find her favorite stuffed animal that fights the bad dreams away. Its also fully possible that I devised a plan that evening that would fully eradicate my newly proclaimed arch nemesis from existence. Though, in all honesty, the only proclamation that night was one of my own independence. I was no longer a part of this explicitly abusive relationship. I was now on my own; ready to fight any objection on my former partner’s behalf. To my delight, he was more than willing to keep his distance following his demise. I warned him that his presence would be cause for great outrage at my home and he never once attempted to come back there ever again.

I think of this as my graze with domestic abuse. I recognize that many women spend years, and some of them their whole lives, in situations like these. Some people are born into situations like these. I was lucky enough to avoid having excessively violent parents. Sure, they hit me and it took a toll on me growing up, but they were never vicious or vindictive. They were only ever trying to discipline me. I feel deeply for women who are trapped in relationships like these with men who try to hold you by your neck up on a pedestal; convinced you are their perfect prize of a trophy. Or worse, that you are their defective gadget of a possession.

There is much more to this story, of course. This man was more than a mere run-in with danger. He was a presence in my life for a long time and I like to think of his entrance and exit as grand moments of self-discovery. He first stitched himself into the fabric of my being as a destructive piece of a moshing puzzle.