I used to see this therapist when I was in 5th and 6th grade. I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but he was kind, and he would abide by my silly laws of I will talk if you ____.
He let me bring friends to my session. I would talk for 30 minutes without them and then he’d let me bring them in for the remaining 30. He would take me across the street to this candy store and buy me these wax filled Cola candies that I loved (and sometimes gummy bears). He let me play board games in our session and also this weird leap frog game with little plastic pieces. I thought I was way too cool to go to a psychologist and I would tell my friends that my mom made me go. I would clarify that it was not a psychiatrist. Somehow that made a difference to me at the time. As if I was less damaged.
I never opened up to him. Not once.
I hated him for it.
When 7th grade came and I went to the middle school, which might as well be called the middle level of Hell, he’d started working at my school. I would see him in the hall and walk by him like I had never met him before. He’d say hello to me and I would cruise past as if I had no idea he’d been talking to me. I never once acknowledged him.
I had stopped seeing him the year before after 6th grade had ended. I called my mother tonight to remind me of him and she couldn’t remember much except that he was helping us in some way. He was either not charging us or was billing us through some weird system where we weren’t actually paying.
He’d wanted to save me. And he’d failed.
Except tonight in yoga, the first time I’d moved my body in a while if I tell you the truth, which I am committed to doing, I realized that he had saved me. That what I’d needed at that time wasn’t someone to force me to talk but to let me be. He did that. He let me be without a word. He let me do whatever I’d wanted and express my disdain at having to go see him and he’d let me eat candy and be mad. I really just wanted to be mad.
I wish I could remember his name so I could look him up, maybe on Facebook even, and thank him.
So much of my life has been spent being ashamed.
I had this boyfriend in high school. My first love. I loved him like you can only love that first one. In that way that seems so small and ridiculously large at the same time when you look back on it twenty years later. That I am going to be with you forever and I will die if you leave me and I will never leave you and I will go to the same college as you and we will get married even though most of you knew it wouldn’t ever end up that way. The part of you that felt it was larger than the other parts and outweighed the facts and the This won’t lasts.
My mother (G-d bless her) would let him sleep over. We were in high school! I think about this now and cringe and, at the same time, bow to my mom for trusting me like that. I wouldn’t even lock my door. She just wouldn’t come in if he was over. Like we were 30 somethings. Because her trust in me was so big, I lived up to it. I was an adult at 17. I was serious and proud and in love with someone who stayed in my room on school nights.
When I would see him in school though I would walk by him like I didn’t know him. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I knew I was doing it and I would beg myself as I saw him coming down the hallway Jen, reach out. Hug him. Hold his hand. Do something. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
It was like I was drowning in the Lake of Shame. I couldn’t let anyone see that I could feel anything. I was stone. I would walk by him and we’d silently agree that it was the normal thing to do. To be in shame, as it were.
I was ashamed of any feelings I had. I tried to starve them out of myself most days.
Twenty years later I am a pretty affectionate person. I still battle it though. With my family, my mother and my sister, for example, it’s hard. I wall up. I am a solid thing and I will not collapse and you can’t make me either.
Where does this shame stem from? What elephant have I shot in the wake of my growing into a woman?
I have always been sad. Look at my childhood photos. I never smiled. I was always asked why are you so sad, why don’t you smile, what could be so wrong? To which I didn’t know the answer until I did. Until so much heartache and heartbreak fell upon me that I wanted to bop people over the head and ask them How dare you ask someone how they can be so sad when you have absolutely no idea what it is like to be them? Maybe their father just died?
I was always ashamed of my grief and my sadness. I would not talk to any therapist. When my dad first died and I was maybe 8 or 9, I had gone to a therapist in Philadelphia and when she’s asked me how I felt, the best I could do was scribble on a 3 by 5 card with 5 different colored pens and then write This is How I Feel in all capital letters.
That was the best I could do.
And everyone was always tssk tsssking me about how sad I looked.
I was ashamed. I was ashamed of anything I felt. Sadness, love, sexuality.
It makes sense now when I think back on how I ignored my first boyfriend in the hallways at school. I loved him so much and I could not let anyone see that. I would walk by him in my cute green leather vest and Doc Martins and overly skinny body and not even look in his direction. I wouldn’t even nod. And he loved me still.
How guilty I felt!
Eventually I learned how to reach for a hand. How to hug. How to be vulnerable.
I have always had a grief stamp on my forehead, even before my father died, as if my body knew what was going to happen and had prepared me. As if my mind had known all along and was simply waiting, which is perhaps the worst thing in all the world. I have always had a certain sadness and grief and have always been made wrong for it until recently.
I write about it and so many people say Yes Yes I get it. I understand or me too!
Am I validated all of a sudden? Is it okay to be sad and happy at the same time? Well, yes. It always was okay. The thing is, when you find a tribe, as I have done, it feels as if all along you had reason to feel such sadness. That were a slew of others like you in the world just waiting for you to say Our Place Is Here. Just waiting for you to crack open the pattern of days, splitting what’s solid and finding that underneath it all, underneath the shame and sadness and grief is love.