Tonight I did something I wasn’t quite sure I could handle. I went to volunteer at a counseling center for victims of domestic violence.
There is a group of writers who are running a workshop at the counseling center. The objective of the workshop is to encourage the participants to tell their stories. They can write about anything they want–meaning, they have the power to decide if they want to write about the trauma they have experienced or something else. I decided to volunteer specifically as an interpreter and writing tutor for the women in the group whose first language is Spanish.
But I wasn’t sure I could do this. I wanted to do this. I have been wanting desperately to give back. My memories of expressing my creativity as a way to recover from trauma are some of the most powerful reminders of the beauty you can find within pain.
But I wasn’t sure I could do it.
What if I cried as someone told me her story?
What if I started to remember awful things and wanted to leave the room?
What if I couldn’t help the women I wanted to help, because my own memories got in the way?
What if I wasn’t strong enough to lead them in their writing?
These were the questions that raced through my brain as I pondered the potentiality of this opportunity.
And I decided that since those were all questions that began with “what if…,” that I wouldn’t have the answers until I decided to do the very thing I wasn’t sure I could do.
And so I JUST SHOWED UP. I showed up and sat down next to some brave women. I observed them writing. The other workshop volunteers and I wrote alongside the participants when the instructor gave them a prompt. I watched the women seated next to me let the words flow out onto the pages without any hesitation.
A woman I was interpreting for wrote about how she wanted to be an eagle. She began to cry as she was reading her story outloud to the group in Spanish. She stopped and froze. I handed her tissues and touched her arm.
“You are so brave!” I whispered to her in Spanish.
She nodded and continued to read. She has always loved eagles because they are strong and free. She said she used to be free like them once. But then something happened. And now she hasn’t been free for several years but she KNOWS she will be free again just like she once was.
I looked at her, feeling a mixture of wonderment and empathy and pride. “Your writing will help so many people,” I told her. She nodded. She was so sincere and so real to me. She knew there was power in her pain.
You see, I had been so afraid of feeling weak, BUT THE OPPOSITE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. I felt the strength and the energy in the room–strength and energy and power.
Sometimes we doubt that we are ready to do emotionally hard things. And so many of those times we just don’t give ourselves enough credit.
In honor of doing hard things, I am sharing with you an excerpt of my writing tonight. As I mentioned, we wrote in silence with the participants, as a form of solidarity. But also because writing is good for the soul.
The writing prompt was a simple one. It was, “I remember…”
I Remember (by me)
I remember, now, that there were good things. I remember the sound of your laugh. So boisterous and loud. I remember how when you were filled with joy, everyone else was, too! I remember the smell of your cologne–so grossly strong, yet so good. I remember watching you play the piano. I remember how you slammed those ivory keys in a way that was over the top. I remember the first time I saw you play, I laughed outloud, thinking you were being funny, until I realized you were actually serious. THIS WAS YOUR ART. I remember how we laughed so hard at our inside jokes that we rolled on the floor, tears seeping out of our eyes. I remember how you lovingly touched the small of my back, and my nerve endings felt excitement. I remember how I wanted to be yours and how that simultaneously worried me.
I remember how when I left, I couldn’t remember these things because that would have created confusion. I remember that the pain of you gripping my throat on the closet floor clouded all the good memories of you.
I remember how the pain of loving you was my addiction. I remember how as I became stuck in this addiction that I had dreams of running away. Sometimes even flying away to a place you couldn’t find me.
I remember how much of a dichotomy you are. How all of it–all of you and all of us–couldn’t survive. I remember the day I realized how dangerous it was.
I remember all of this. But I don’t remember sometimes, because if I did, it would be hard to watch our child hop into your arms for safety.
But I remember. I do.