Sensitive content: Sexual violence, mental health
Kate sneezed as she dropped another cardboard box in the dusty basement of her childhood home. Every time she felt accomplished in loading up an entire box, the room seemed to spit more things out to sort through.
She felt annoyed that the sole responsibility for organizing and cleaning up her parents house fell on her. The least Jason could do is step up for once in his life and be a good son. Then again, she really didn’t want to have to interact with her brother, they’ve never had much of a relationship beyond awkward forced family get-togethers.
Since their parents died, the duties included organizing the funeral and the celebration of life, getting the finances in order, cleaning out the house, working with the realtor to get everything in shape for showings…. the list goes on.
Jason had made no effort to help with anything. He simply showed up to the will reading, was pleased by the generous amount our parents left him and disappeared. This behavior was typical, as he’d always viewed our parents as some sort of ATM. He shows up to celebrate Christmas… because he knows there’s a nice Christmas cash gift. He loves you… but could you do him a favor? Tip for tap.
Meanwhile, Kate has focused her entire life on being the best child, the best daughter she could be for her parents. Always supportive, always there to talk to, showing up to every family gathering she could. She was reliable, trustworthy, always thinking of them first…. And yet, Jason somehow always ended up being the golden child. Despite his many wrongdoings, they just acted like he could do no wrong, even at the expense of Kate.
She tried to push Jason and her parents from her mind. This is not the time. But, being in this house again… everywhere she looked something cracked the carefully built wall in her mind. She needed to get out. She needed a breath of fresh air.
She hoisted the full cardboard box up between both of her arms, unable to see her feet and started moving as quickly as she could to the stairs.
Her foot caught something on the floor on her way out and in slow motion the box flew forward while Kate tried to catch herself.
“FUCK,” Kate screamed.
Despite trying to clean up her language, she always defaulted to swearing during a painful bump. There was just special something about the word fuck. Anytime she stubbed her toes or slammed an elbow into a corner, somehow ‘fuck’ truly relieved some of the pain.
She gathered herself on the floor looking for the culprit- a heavy book-like object. OH. It’s the old family album. Kate hadn’t seen it in years.
She slowly brought herself to her feet, bent down to grab the album and brushed off the dust. A huge sigh escaped.
As she made her way upstairs she felt something in her body tense up. First in her stomach, then her chest. It was like her body was begging her not to open the album, don’t go there…
The chair screeched over the old wooden floor as she sat down at the kitchen table. Kate stared vacantly at the album. This was the moment she could turn back, not open Pandora's box. Against her body, she opened to a random page - there in front of her was an old family picture. One of those pictures where everyone was forced to coordinate what they were wearing to appear like a united family..
Her mom and dad were both wearing red Jcrew v-neck sweaters while she opted for a white shirt/red cardigan combo. Jason of course was wearing something barely passable for the photo. Despite her parents buying him a brand new sweater, he opted for a heavily worn off color, long sleeve polo shirt that clearly had seen better days. This photo must be at least 10 years old, Kate being in maybe the 9th grade, Jason in 12th.
After getting past the in-your-face color scheme of red sweater against blue background, Kate couldn't help thinking about that day. While everyone is smiling in the photo, the entire drive to the photography studio was painful. There had been a big blow out fight between her mother and brother, resulting in Kate hiding out in her room until it was time to leave. Sitting in the car ride over, Kate knew better than to try to involve herself in whatever the situation was, no one liked her opinions anyways. Or really, no one cared how it made her feel. Her father took the complete ignorance route. Truly, to this day, Kate has never met a man better at ignoring his life. Looking back down at the fakeness of the smiles, Kate cringed.
“If only I could tell you, you’re going to be okay,” she thought, looking at her younger self.
“You’re so strong and you’ll be proud of the person you become.”
Kate felt her chest expanding and contracting. Every time she thought she had processed and dealt with her family trauma, her mind without a moment's warning would completely humble her.
She stood up and fumbled through the junk cabinet in the kitchen and after scrambling through rubber bands, bottle openers and pins, she pulled out a pen. Next she grabbed a floating paper in her bag from the realtor.
She was going to write herself a letter. Her younger self. After many years in therapy, Kate had finally accepted that her psychologist may actually know what she’s doing, despite how ridiculous the “homework” felt. Kate had been putting off the journaling/writing portion of her treatment for a long time.
She felt like she needed to give this version of herself some support. A version of herself that was drowning in hurt with no lifebuoy’s in sight.
Once it was complete, Kate folded up the paper and tucked it away in her bag. She placed the shoulder strap over her chest and decided she was finished for the day.
She made her way through the house, turned off all the lights and made sure everything was packed away before heading to the door. She paused in the open doorway for a moment and looked back inside.No matter how difficult confronting your own pain may be, once you allow yourself to face it, there was always a sense of peace and acceptance.
The letter Kate wrote is as follows-
You’re not cold and emotionless. No matter how many times you were told, no matter how much you started to believe this, you were not. Survival. That’s what guided the ups and downs, the choice of when to hold your tongue. Speaking up had consequences, or even worse, was met with empty eyes. Your feelings didn’t matter.
You chose to get out, you chose to find your freedom, but freedom had a price. Compliance. You had to comply with the things that were outside of your control. And soon, compliance turned into so carefully managing the chaos of the day to day. “Don’t rock the boat”, “I don’t want to make things harder for them than they already are, '' you repeated to yourself. A child. And you weren’t the child they needed to worry about.
The cries for help you didn’t even understand took over your psyche. It’s easier to focus on your body than it is to face the sadness of your reality. A dimple on your thigh shouldn’t exist, your legs are wider than your friends and look how disgusting your eating habits were. Food was the only momentary escape, but nothing beat the extreme relief that washes over you after completing the ritual. Hanging over the toilet, finger down your throat, you release your demons. You can’t help but laugh at how euphoric the experience of "removing the weight off your shoulders” is.
Even then, there was no need to worry about you.
I’m here to remind you life is fluid, the trials and triumphs you experience are temporary. You will see growth, but with growth comes pain. Pain from the elements of your life that are buried so deep so you can survive each day. Pain from allowing yourself to question.
You vividly remember when he touched you and logically you knew it was wrong, but you needed to survive. So you put it away. So deep, it feels like a distant dream with no emotions attached to it. Finally, years later, your body collapses to the floor, unable to ignore these memories burned into your mind. Only then do you realize the gravity of what happened.
Saying it out loud will make it real. That’s too scary. It's okay to need more time for the words to make it to your lips.
These lessons, as hard as they may be, are truly what freedom is. The buttons that have been so carefully placed inside of you are useless now, they cannot control you anymore. You have freedom to live true to yourself.
I write to tell you of your strength, of how much you will overcome. I write to urge you to be kind to yourself. To love yourself.
Most importantly I urge you to protect yourself. Just because someone means well, does not mean their actions should be free of consequence. You have every right to be hurt, to protect yourself and demand boundaries. You don’t owe anyone anything. You weren’t created to serve someone else's purpose. To serve as someone else’s doll of accomplishments, thrown aside and ignored when you become too inconvenient, only to be pulled out to show off when it suits them.
You are more than just a good daughter. You are a light soul, full of love, full of creativity, full of depth to share with the world. You fill up others’ cups.
It’s funny how you don’t even realize the difficulty of the twisted burdens you were forced to bear - a testament to your strength.
Life won't go exactly how you think or hope, but you are a stronger person in the pieces of yourself you didn’t even know were weak. Be proud.
A coddled grape makes a simple, uncomplicated wine. The best, most interesting wine is made from a grape that has struggled, deprived of water, fighting to live.