One Step At a Time

Published September 4, 2015 by Wookie Rider

Let it go. Conceal don’t feel

“Stranger danger!”
“Remember to always bring a water bottle!”
“Don’t wear skirts or…”

“Mom…I’m in love.”

I was five years old when I told my mom that I had fallen in love with the juvenile bad boy in my kindergarten class. He shared his 24 pack of Crayola crayons with me when I only had the pathetic pack of four Rose Art crayons: red, blue, green, and yellow. He was the fastest boy in our class. No one could touch him when we played Freeze Tag. I loved him.

All of my goofy smiling and overt need for his acknowledgment paid off when he sat next to me that day during story time. We even put our mats next to each other for naptime. We were the real deal. I saw our marriage in my head. Our first kiss would be underneath the jungle gym between the monkey bars and the slide. We’d have chicken fingers and Kool-Aid at our reception. I was ready.
When my mom picked me up, I bursted with excitement. I spilled my every desire and dream to her.
“Mom. He’s so pretty, and he likes me. His hands are so soft. I love him, Mom. We’re going to get married! Watch! And we’re gonna have Oompa Loopa children and a big, gigantic gingerbread mansion. And…”

My mom slows down the car and pulls into a decrepit parking lot. She stares at me, sighs, and asserts, “Stop with all this boy-craziness. Don’t let these boys control you. You’re better than that.”
I never talked to Judah after that day. I thought about him, though.

The scorn on my mother’s faced mixed with the palpable disappointment of “the-girl-I-was-becoming” continues to be a persistent image in my head. See, if my mom taught me anything, it was to be wary of men. Their attention. Their manipulation. Their “ways.” I was 5 years old. I was in that phase where I loved PBS, and I wanted to have a dog like Clifford, and I used to be chided for eating my food like the lions from Between the Lions. I wish my mom waited on giving me that advice. 15 year-old me would’ve really appreciated that.

When you’re young, everything exists in a binary. If it’s not good, it’s bad. If they’re not black, they’re white. End of. My mom’s message- although she didn’t intend for it to be so impactful- enforced a binary that I continue to struggle with. To be on guard or to let go.

Since elementary school, I’ve been a guarded person. I could trace it back to that moment where half of the population became yellow tape, or I could attribute it to the incessant messages of constant dangers from which I needed to protect myself. Ice cream men were potential rapists. My uncles were potential rapists. That man who sat outside on his porch reading the Bible was a potential rapist. My male peers were potential rapists. My male teachers were potential rapists. Sometime in middle school, it stopped being a male thing, and it started becoming a people thing. Everyone was a potential rapist. And I’m not merely speaking of sexual abuse. I’m talking, also, about mental, physical, and emotional abuse. Basically, any action where someone can manipulate me or misrepresent me. Or just make me feel bad. I avoided it. I stopped opening up to people. I stopped letting people in. I didn’t want my mom to know that I’ve been fooled because I didn’t want her to see my failure. Friends I made during that time in my life were ornaments to disguise the loneliness. Survival and self-preservation meant exclusion. No one could hurt me if I never allowed them to know me.

Then, I watched Frozen.
“A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I’m the queen.”
“Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see.”
“Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know.”

My whole life was summed up in a melodic pre-chorus. I’ve never had to explicitly confront my reality so. I knew that my personal hang-ups prevented me from forming meaningful relationships, but I never viewed them as negative. Distancing myself from people was a defense mechanism. To avoid disappointment and heartbreak, I could not let myself invest in people. I locked my emotions in an impenetrable box. I was always waiting for someone- some man- to break down those walls. Little did I know was that it starts with me.

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