22 years ago, I read some book called The Root Cellar. I remember the story, how sucked into it I was, how I pined for the boy character, how I sympathized with the girl character. I remember feeling sadness and excitement but it's been so long, I can't conjure up those feelings about it anymore, no matter how hard I try.
30 years ago, I played out front of my house with my brother and my dad. We nailed each other with the hose, we got ice cream cones from the truck, we made mud pies. I know the air was hot, the water was freezing and the ice cream was sweet. I can recall those facts, but I can't feel the heat anymore, or the cold, or taste the sweet when I close my eyes.
25 years ago I sat in a sink with a razor that had been used, oh, 50 times already, and I tried to open a vein. I didn't know it wouldn't work if the razor was dull, and I don't think I cared. I just wanted to know how it felt. I know that bathroom had a florescent light and a cold tile floor, but I can't actually bring back that memory of how blue the light was or how cold the floor was or how the blade pushed and pulled, but refused to dig in.
19 years ago, I kissed a boy for the first time in the hallway of his house while my mother banged on the front door for us to let her in. It was exciting, it was scary as shit, it was wrong and right and perfect and a disaster. What lasted 5 seconds in reality lasted for hours in my mind. He wore too much Drakkar Noir, and had the softest lips in the whole world. I can't remember the smell or the feel of any of it, just the words that describe what it was. I did, however, take up using his brand of chapstick that day and have used it every day since then, so for once in my life I got to carry an actual sensory connection from one side to the other.
21 years ago, my 10th birthday came and went. That night, I sat on my bed, covered in the new Strawberry Shortcake sheets my father had bought me a week before so I could have something close to a 10th birthday present. I looked out the window at the black night, the trees starting to bloom, and I felt empty inside. I felt alone and small and enraged. Today, right now, I can't muster that heart-pounding anger, that soul-crushing isolation. I know that it was there with me, I just don't know how it felt anymore.
17 years ago today I stepped out of a front door, into a car, into an airport and onto a plane. It landed in Denver and I stepped onto a jetway and into my father's waiting arms. We walked silently through the airport, down to baggage claim, and outside into my brand new life.
Today is my 17th birthday. All of those memories, all of those events that sit in the little black book of my soul, none of them happened to me. They're all chapters of a book I read, photographs in a scrapbook I thumbed through once some time ago, some life ago.
We walked through the slidey-wooshy doors and into January in Denver, into dry cold and black sky, into more stars than I knew humans could see and thinner air than I knew we could breathe. We walked, silently, through a lot of cars piled under snow, and as we passed one car of no significance at all, I scooped a handful of snow off its hood. I stopped, looked at my hand, looked at my father and asked if they were filming a movie at the airport. He said they weren't and wondered why I'd asked. I told him, "Because this isn't snow. This is dry, like salt. It's like plastic or something." He put his arm around my shoulder, took my bag from my hand, and told me that snow was just like that in Denver. He told me that lots of things were different, and that I'd get used to it eventually.
That was the first moment I ever lived. That car is the first thing I can remember fully. I can feel the powder in my hand, I can feel his weight on my shoulder, I can close my eyes, breathe in, and feel the air in my nose and throat. I can make my head spin if I want to, reliving the wonder and confusion that stuff he was trying really hard to convince me was snow made me feel. That was real. That happened to me.
I'd sat in the airport earlier that day, crouched in the bottom of a phone booth, watching and waiting for my mother to come find me, hurt me, kill me, drag me back with her, I didn't know. I just knew it was coming, and I knew I had to hide. I sat there for hours, and she never came. All that terror swirling in my head instantly headed south and thudded down in the top of my stomach. The pain of being let go, pushed out, given up, that pain that I can only describe as being dumped by God, it settled in my abdomen, under my ribs, into my lungs and it knotted and twisted and turned and sucked the life out of me.
I can only recall that with a semblance of clarity because six years later, a small person lodged himself into just about that exact same spot, and when he finally was strong enough to kick his mother he kicked the very spot my pain decided to reside. He twisted and turned and sucked that pain right out of me.
That day, this day, I didn't just run away from home, I did the first truly courageous, selfish, and right thing I'd ever done in my life. I didn't just switch parents, I survived something. I rose above something. I dared to dream, I took a leap. I didn't just throw everything I owned in a dumpster and forever walk away from the only family and home I'd ever known, I wrote the end of Me, the book and started in on the sequel.
I don't sleep curled in a ball anymore, with my arms around my head and my head tucked into my chest to try and spare myself visible bruises from silent, secret, middle of the night assaults. I haven't dreamt of knives and blood and revenge and murder, I haven't gone to the hospital wondering if I was having a panic attack or if my busted up, swiss cheese heart had finally given up since I don't know when. I can't imagine doing, thinking, or feeling any of that. I can hardly believe I ever did.
Everything that came before January 9th, 1992 is just faded pictures on a page, watercolors of my past. 16 years were wasted, and for 16 years I've lived to reclaim them, to balance the books. Today is year 17, the first year out of the red, and finally none of it is real, none of it exists, none of it matters anymore. I can't forget what didn't happen, I can't forgive what doesn't matter. It's not about that anymore. It's about me being thankful that I made a choice, me being proud that I survived, and didn't I survive. It's about shadows in corners that I don't fear, about strings cut and ties severed. It's about tomorrow, never yesterday. It's about the scales being tipped in my favour now.
It's the person I am, not the person I was. I have no clue who that person was, and I never, ever want to.