Somebody loved me, once.

My parents left me with an Israeli couple when I was little. My parents knew nothing about them except that they were Israeli. When I told my mother that my father abused me, my mother said, maybe he was the one who did it.

My body says differently.

My body says that I felt safe, once. My body says that when my friend and I ran around outside and I thought I felt the hand of G-D, I knew it was G-D because I knew that someday G-D would come for me. I knew that because somebody once told me I was special.

My parents told me I was special because I was smart. That is, I was not pretty, or kind, or friendly, or creative. I had to be something, so I became smart. I earned good grades and I tried to stay hidden. I told the special parts of me to shut up and when they surfaced I was embarrassed. My parents hung my report cards on the fridge and my mother threw out my notebooks full of poetry. Years later my parents hung onto my report cards until the day I sorted through their old mementos and threw my old report cards all away.

There are so many things I might have become, if I was not so busy being smart. I might have been taking photographs. I might have been reading my spoken word poetry out loud. I might have been transforming into somebody really special.

I don’t know how to become brave enough to wear my special on the outside, where anyone can see. I am afraid someone will see those secret parts of me and mock them. I am afraid I will never be wanted. I am afraid I will never stop speaking cruelly of the people I love most in the world because they have left. I am afraid I will never learn how to stop the people I love most from leaving me.

In the story I have told myself for all my life, that man left me. Him and his wife, my surrogate parents. They abandoned me, left me like a dog by the side of the road. Or, they rejected me, ejected me from their house, they did not want me any longer.

In the story that is the real true story, they loved me but they could not keep me. I belonged to my parents, and not to them. That is the law. In the story that is the real true story, they had to let me go.

I grew into a child who ran away from love. I grew into Payton Sawyer in One Tree Hill insisting, people always leave. I grew up into a girl who made my shattered heart into shattered-heart jewelry. I grew angry and twisted like a tree trying to hide the rot at its heart. I grew up wanting to die, because the only move I ever had to assert myself in an unsafe world was to leave.

I grew up into a world that didn’t know how to keep me alive. I never learned to say, this is what I need. I never learned to say, you’re hurting me and here is how. No one was listening anyway, for too long. By the time someone was listening, I was like any child fostered out to parents she knew she could not trust. I was hostile and swamp-snake cunning, digging roots into the ground and refusing to grow up, to grow at all. I was hungry but hurting much too much to eat. I was writing my story in the sand each time I went to the beach, message in a bottle, then washing my words wash away.

Once I watched my mother nearly drown on a beach in Hawaii while my father laughed.

Many times my father mocked my mother’s stupidity with me as the audience, but my mother has a PhD in Psychology, my mother is not stupid. My mother is traumatized, beaten into a child-sized body and a desperate impulse to please a man who hates her.

This is marriage, if you ask me. The way men cut women down to size. Women with our dumb sheep’s eyes saying, tell me again what’s wrong with me.

I told him I have short term memory problems and he snarled, that boy. He tells himself I am stupid or crazy, I suppose. Really my brain is damaged by concussions but my mind is intact. So much the worse for me, I suppose.

I hope that boy knows someone out there loves him. Really really loves him. Even if I am fat and wounded and damaged and not enough. Even if our lives are much too late to discover the treasure is really there. Women are taught that love and martyrdom are the same, if those women are me. I was taught that. I was told that was my role in the family, in the world.

I am not unlovable only I don’t know how to be loved. I am out of the habit.

I am not without love, only, love is a language I do not know how to speak. Somebody asks for love, they get martyrdom in return.

I am not smart, not really. I am brain-damaged. I am creative and intuitive and clever and resourceful and someday I might even be intellectual if my brain ever heals. I am not the smart girl, anymore. I am many things more than smart. I am many things that matter more to me than being smart.

I am even many things that matter more to me than being pretty.

Mostly, I am the surrogate daughter of a father whose face I cannot remember. But I remember being loved.

Nobody ever forgets being loved. Do they?

My community never left me. I left them. They hurt me, and I left. They let me hurt myself, and I left. Nobody ever taught me how to get angry, and so how to be safe enough to stay. I taught myself. It took a long time.

Love means, you stay. You stay with what’s real and you say what’s real, and you stay, and you see, and you let yourself be seen.

There are many more important things to be than smart.

Starting with, being loving.

Writes all the things. Photographs the light. Smiles at odd moments. Reads in the shower. Sings to the trees. Hopes a lot.

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