If I had to choose an image that I felt was a fitting symbol of who I am and what frame of mind I currently find myself, I wouldn’t have to think twice. Why this image, why now?
I took this picture one cold January morning on the way into work. It was so cold, I was dreading having to walk to the door. I was almost at my job, and I saw the sun just starting to peek through, turning the sky a magnificent rainbow of orange, pink, and purple. It was a surreal moment. Like it was me staring back at myself. Caught in mid-sentence of a conversation with my father, I stopped talking, whipped out my phone, and snapped two pictures. I have to confess the camera isn’t the best quality, but for this moment in my life, even that fits so perfectly, you would never know that it was a metaphor of the accidental kind. Completely unplanned but absolutely perfect. You wouldn’t have known this, not unless I told you.
I hastily threw my phone back in my purse and trudged the ten yards from the van to the front door and rolled my eyes when I saw it was glazed with ice — on the inside. The snow, protesting my weight shifting across its sub-zero chilled surface crunched and crackled beneath me. Carefully, ever so gently and delicately, I balanced my iced coffee I had nestled in the crook of my elbow so I could open the doors unhindered after making my way down the long hall to the office suite. Last January, for the first time since I started working here (with the exception of braving the cold), this has become a part of my unbreakable morning routine. A silly thing, but along with the daring move to buy the deep red dress pants, V-neck sweaters, jeans with blinged out back pockets, jewelry, and makeup, toting my iced coffee down the hall became my first affirmation that I was alive and was actually capable of making my own choices without Kevin’s hand propped up my rear-end like I was his puppet.
It wasn’t really the things themselves that mattered to me, but the symbols they carry. The meaning the act of obtaining and obliging these things represents: that I acted in direct opposition of his demands to show that even in the little things, even though he had (or so I thought) laid me to waste, worked out in my favor when they were my choices. I could own them and walk down that hall every day knowing that even if my doing so would have been considered the worst of act of disobedience of him ever, every last thing resulting from every decision I made without obstruction or fear of sabotage was a piece of me and who I was inside.
If someone who didn’t know me were to look at the collage at the right I threw together using hastily taken photos (including the background), what would they see about me? Prissy? Materialistic? Geeky? Obsessive? Trivial? Would they miss the most important symbol in the bottom right-hand corner? More than a mere focus on outer appearance and painting the peacock, my makeup stash represents the hardest step I took toward reclaiming myself from the ashes. I felt a lot of emotional turmoil and discomfort the first time I was in a store to buy makeup. Actually, I had to fight back a panic attack, because the first time he put his hands on me and put fear of him within me, it was over this little thing: makeup. Specifically wearing it to work, as he accused me of wearing it for someone else. It was this little thing that was the catalyst to being thrown against the wall and being choked until I almost lost consciousness. This that left red marks around my throat where his vice-like grip held me prisoner. This was about facing that fear and denying him that power. The nail polish and the jewelry earned me the special privilege the first time I was jerked around by my hair. Simple things I was denied access to and use of, like books, etc. Particularly my language books. And the shoes, those beauties represent me taking back the argument where every nasty thing he could have said about my body type was thrown in my face. These were all purchases of refusing to listen to the hissing beast and letting myself speak up again.
Past that, they all represent little quirks and bits and pieces of my personality and preferences. Other than the obvious (that appearance matters and I like books because I may be a *tad* geeky), what should it tell others about me? Above all, I am a little quirky. People look at me and assume that I am more reserved than I really am, that I like things to be more plain. Some look at it as dull, but I am regimented and like classic, enduring things as a matter or practicality and an abhorrence of being ostentatious for the sake of flash. It represents control and structure, and if you know me well, especially after what I went through with Kevin and the chaos I was forced to fumble through, I detest instability. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin. But when you see me with pattern or a noticeable piece of jewelry, for example, there’s clear structure and a solidness to it that cannot be mistaken for anything else. The books really are the manifestation of the geek inside, but the journals and notebooks hint at the emotional side of me that lies beneath the shell. My love of stationary represents having an emotional connection to others and my need to share that bond with them in an unmistakably loving way. And color. Well, color represents my love of life. Passion, excitement, change, success, struggle, action, movement, playfulness. And red is the most brilliant, the best of them all. Red is rich, vibrant, and alive. Red is being emotionally charged. Incapable of being missed.
It wasn’t about owning things at all, but I had no trouble using them to hint at different facets of my personality. But I forgot that not everyone lives here inside my head with me. To outsiders, the deeper meaning of the image I put forth is lost and cast aside in favor of something as trivial as aesthetics. The meaning of who I am often gets misinterpreted or missed altogether.
So it is, too, with this image at the beginning of the post. When I concentrate on the little things, I realize how similar to the state of mind I have they truly are. And it was with this realization that I hurried fetched the phone and had just enough time to catch it before the moment slipped away in the rearview mirror behind me. I usually like to get right down to business when I get to work, because I am so flooded with every kind of task imaginable wasting time would be my Achilles Heel. However, on this inhumanly cold January morning, I found myself distracted, thinking about the pictures just sitting in the gallery, begging me impatiently to look upon them once more. And then once more.
As I peered at it with interest, the layers of me appeared before my eyes. My still semi-apparent habit of standing off the side, usually behind something or someone, an illusion of something safe, that can protect me even though I have to be seen. The fallen trees representing ever-present damage that I have had fight an uphill battle to clean up.. The sturdiest, healthiest trees representing the core parts of me that he didn’t get to take away, no longer caged in but free to spread out wide, to reach as high up as I dare go. And in the background, there is the light overtaking the shadows, representing me being on the cusp, on the verge of being who I am supposed to be. Even in my clouded objectivity (represented by the blurriness of the image taken last-minute through dirty glass) I can see the opportunity and peace lighting up the world around me in miraculous color. And this…. This is my hope. This is my heart, my dreams. This is me, and I only came to be this way through choosing love.
His forbidding me to make even these smallest decision due to my largely refuted lack of intelligence and capability was his most brazen act of hatred toward me. Denying me the ability to retain and nurture a sense of self, to ignite the fire of my self-identity, was an act of murder. All his actions were guided by his blind lust for jealous logic… an abated desire that led to every part of my personality being erased or locked away from the world so I could disappear. So no one would notice and no one would see, and therefore be unable to protest, the abomination of his behavior. And in a fit of blinded, uncontrollable rage, he tried his hardest to take that love away.
For me, these little things are the biggest act of self-love I could display. They show progress. Patience. Understanding. But the scariest thing to me, as I realized today, was that they represent the realization that I can begin to trust myself again. That even though it’s clouded at times, and despite the occasional fits of darkness, insecurity, and overwhelming feeling that there is a loss of control that attempts to overpower me and steal my progress, my objectivity is improving. The value I have for myself continues to increase, but now so does the acceptance of who I was, who I became, and who I had to learn to be all over again.
After almost fourteen months, I finally get it now. All this time questioning and doubting, waiting and searching, turning over every little stone and dispatching every leaf into the wind, I found the answer in the most unexpected of places: sitting in my office chair at work as I furiously churn out invoices. I couldn’t have made a different choice even if I wanted to. Especially not the kind he chose.