“You have been loved.” Those are the words my grandmother repeated to me as she and grandpa drove me further and further away from my family. Leaving the box. Moving away on my own for the first time.
“Your dad, he has a good heart, he just doesn’t always show it,” she continued. She spent the next half hour giving examples from his childhood to prove it. Later, she shared stories of my early childhood. When I was born (at home), I had Jaundice. At the time, it was believed to be quite dangerous to newborns and the doctor recommended that they take me to the hospital. But my parents chose to keep me at home and use natural remedies (such as sunlight). I was fine, and eventually it went away. Grandma said, “Your parents were brave to go against the recommendation of the pediatrician. That took a lot of guts. They really care about you.”
I remember the time my dad found out I was buying a lamp for my dorm room. He gave me a small screwdriver because he thought I might need one and wanted me to have one for future use as well.
I remember the Christmas when the new Les Miserables came out for the first time. My grandparents took us to see it and I loved it so much that I begged my parents to let me go again. My dad took me to see it again the next week.
But I also remember when my dad told me he was taking me out for a surprise. And we drove up to the shot place and I got a shot. That was the day I stopped trusting him. I was eight. He went and bought me colorful cardstock paper afterwards, as a reward.
I remember the time I was sitting in the back of our mini-van as we pulled into the garage. Mom and Dad were in the front seats. Dad made a comment about me being old enough to need deodorant and that I smelled bad. I was embarrassed as I slid open the car door and walked into the house.
I remember the first time I told mom I liked a boy. I was eleven. She told me, on that night standing on the bottom of the stairway by the coat closet, that I was too young to like boys. I never talked to her about boys again.
I remember sitting in the hard wooden pew next to our visiting friend who was an unbeliever. He innocently passed me the communion plate and I, unthinkingly, took a piece of bread. I distinctly remember the intense guilt, shame, and embarrassment that was heaped upon me when dad realized what had happened. And hanging my head as I climbed into our van after church. I was probably six or seven at the time.
I remember hearing my little sister crying after I had been put in bed. I must’ve been two or three at the time. I got out of bed and went to go see why she was crying and to comfort her. Dad found me out of bed and spanked me without asking me why I had gotten out of bed. I broke the rule about getting out of bed at night, and it didn’t matter that I had gotten out to take care of my sister.
I remember being expected to never forget to do things. Forgetting was a sign of rebellion or disobedience (or both). I forgot things a lot, like cleaning out my pet crab’s cage or filling his water dish. But I wasn’t ignoring those things because of laziness; I honestly did not remember to do them.
I remember being held in the middle of the swimming pool by the swimming instructor as they slowly lowered the floor of the pool to a great depth. I could not touch the floor. I was terrified of going underwater. And I was forced to. The lady counted down from three and then let go of me in the middle of the pool. Over and over again.
I remember you trying to protect me. But from the wrong person. You found out I was emailing a guy online every day and had been doing so for months. You did not believe me when I said it was a friendship only – not a relationship. So you insisted I cut it back to once a week and write a terribly awkward note about how I was not interested in a relationship. You protected me from someone who never harmed me, but you were never there to protect me from the real bad guys who came later.
I remember and it hurts. I remember and I cry. Tears of sadness. Tears of lost innocence. Tears of hurt. Tears of a child. Tears of broken relationships.
I have been loved. But I have never felt that love. I am still a child inside; curled up, crying, and yearning for love, acceptance, and protection. Wanting to be valued. Wanting to feel love.
I know you love me, or at least, my brain tells me that you do. But my heart can’t feel it. And it has been wounded so many times that I’m not sure it will ever open for you again. I’m not sure I will ever trust you again. Even if you tell me ‘I love you’ a million times over. Even if you say you are ready to listen. Please give me time. And hear me when I say, from a very sad and broken place, that I want to trust you. But I can’t right now. And if I never do, will you try to love me anyway?