This is what it’s like to save your own life.
My husband of almost ten years tells me he is going to go out of town. I feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach. Pain wells up. Fear brims over me. Adrenaline rushes through my body in the way it does when someone attacks you, leaves you for dead, and you survive and escape.
I pretend I am dead. Not literally dead, of course, but dead in the same way I have been dead for ten years. I do not show him I am still breathing and that a flame is flickering under the surface.
He believes me. When he walks out the door, I get to work. Time is ticking. I put my toddler to bed and start packing. I try to remember what is important-photos, toys, clothes, passports, birth certificates. As I stuff them into random boxes and suitcases, I suddenly feel like I just can’t move anymore.
I lie down on the floor of my bedroom. I want to cry, but my heart is pounding and my body is hollow from not eating. I realize I do not feel sad. I feel paralyzed. Paralyzed by the fear of doing something that other people will think is crazy. I realize they will think I’m crazy, only because they do not know I have lived a lie for years. The lie is crazy-not me.
I call my only friend.
“I can’t do this. I can’t pack another thing.”
My friend reminds me that voice is a liar and that I need to keep moving.
I do the next thing and the next thing, followed by the next.
Soon, it is morning. Even though I did not sleep, I keep going. My uncle and aunt arrive to help. Then my mom and dad show up. We pack the moving van quickly. I am afraid a neighbor will see me and ask me what the hell I’m doing. But no one does.
Next, I go to the courthouse. I empty out all the contents in my purse and put my belongings on the conveyor belt as I walk through the metal detector, clutching my paperwork for the protective order. I make eye contact with the security guards and I wonder if they can observe that there is strength in my frail body.
I go down to the basement to file the order. I speak to a victim’s advocate. She tells me I am beautiful and that my life will be better after I file the protective order. She tells me her story and how she once ran away too. I look at her perfectly done nails and long blond hair. We are nothing alike. Can our stories really be the same, I wonder? I do not feel beautiful and I’m only pretending to be strong.
I rush home, drive the van to a storage unit, and unpack everything there except for a small suitcase. A stranger catches my eye and asks me if I’m moving.
“Yes,” I tell her, hoping she does not ask anything else because my mind may crack.
I get home and I take one last look at my kitchen where I used to bake cookies. I do not feel sad. I know the same kitchen where I baked is the same kitchen where I was once beaten with a broomstick.
Everyone leaves the house and goes to their vehicles. It is pouring torrential rain, and we need to get out. But I feel the familiar wave of paralysis again, underneath the adrenaline and I cannot move. I ask my uncle for help.
My uncle is my second father. Over the last ten years, I have burdened him and my aunt with the story of my shameful marriage, so that my parents’ hearts wouldn’t break. He knows everything, and he and my aunt have walked beside me through the pain and recognized the flicker of light, streaming through my brokenness.
“Do I leave a note?” I ask him.
He pauses and thinks. I can tell he doesn’t think I need to, but he gives me a piece of paper anyways.
“This is what you write,” he tells me. “Aliana and I are okay. I hope you can find a way to be okay, too.”
This note feels truthful and perfect and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I am proud of this note. I put it on the door and we walk out and never turn back. The note feels like a bomb that is about to detonate on the path of fear I have walked for so long.
I tell you this story today, because I remember what it feels like to die and start again. I tell you this story because I do not want to forget it. I do not want to disassociate from my darkness completely, because every time I do that, I forget the lesson that lives there. That woman is me. She is a survivor. I AM A SURVIVOR.
I need that lesson. Like, that lesson is the antithesis of my kryptonite. All my power lives right there.
And the lesson is this: WEAK IS THE NEW STRONG. Each time I get to the end of myself, there is power in the new beginning. At the end of everything hard and messy, there is a reclamation of self that must occur. There is that moment that you do not want to cross the next line and do the hard thing, but you pick up a piece of paper, and start writing out the truth. You create your reality and are simultaneously shocked that you could do it.
I will keep trying to remember my lesson, and I hope you remember your lesson, too. When life is hard, remember that really hard thing you did. And know that you can do it again. And again. And again.