I went to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn this weekend to see them for the first time in almost a year. It was hard for a number of reasons, but mostly because I haven’t seen anyone in my family for nearly a year. Nearly a year since I came out to my family, nearly a year since they stopped paying for tuition at my college, nearly a year since my independence became my liberation.

I consider myself estranged, but it’s complicated. Complicated like, in the process of cutting myself off from the two people who are the problem, I had to cut myself from two people who aren’t. Complicated like, that’s why I traveled for 7 hours this Saturday to see my grandparents for the first time in a year.

I’m not going home for Thanksgiving — which is partially why I took that trip. My grandparents don’t know what happened. They don’t understand the particulars of my parents loved their church more than they loved supporting me where I was at. All they knew is, I hadn’t been back in a year and they didn’t know if I would be. So I went back. 

If I could have my way, I wouldn’t be back for Christmas either. Maybe I won’t. I told my grandparents I would, just for that day. But the reality is, it would be like stepping back into the past, into everything I ran from, everything I’ve worked for years to mentally escape and paid for to physically escape. Into a room full of people who never really met me,who only saw the girl I was when I was still trapped, still brainwashed, still desperate and hurting and hoping. Such a timid, standoffish, limited girl. That is not who I am anymore. That is so far past who I am.

In the eight or so months since I became independent, everything about me has changed. It feels like my whole soul gets transfigured in a new way every week, and it’s liberating as all hell. My outlook on life, my life itself, is so radically different. But going back threatens to strip it all away for the time while I’m there.

On the bus back, watching the buttery yellows of the sky melt into raw pale blues behind the dimming silhouettes of houses, I reflect on what I’d do this time around if my past came back at me for a second round. If someone was on top of me I’d fight dirtier. If I ran away again, I wouldn’t come back. If I threw a punch I’d make sure it was a knockout. If I snuck a vitamin into the toilet I’d remember to flush. If they turned on those cameras throughout the corners of the house, I’d smash ’em. Shit like that.

But the reality is back then, I didn’t have any of the power I have now. None of the perspective. No money saved up. No distance. No one willing to help me when shit went down, because shit had not gone down yet. No, it was just me, just me and a duffel bag and a map of the roads to walk down when my parents’ home became a home to them alone. The way it went down is the only way it could have gone down.

I’ve recovered from so much more than I ever imagined. There are still some knots to tug at, though, reminders of how powerful old ghosts can be even when you’ve banished them from most parts of you. I still feel a shot of terror as I flinch when my roommate walks in the door. I still angle my computer screen away from corners of the ceiling. I still have trouble setting down my phone, and the password is twice as long as average. I still cry and feel violated when sex hurts. I still have flashbacks. I still feel unbridled bouts of rage when I see the people involved in my former high demand religious groups. I still have trauma anniversaries — including Thanksgiving and Christmas season itself — times when it feels the past all congeals together and comes rushing back to swallow me whole, to forget who I am, to forget that it’s over.

I still have that duffel bag packed. It’s in my closet. Part of me thinks it always should be. I should never forget what I came from, it makes all this joy and freedom sweeter — and realer. It represents so much pain, so much fear, so much from the long stretches of time I thought I was going to die. That suffering is still the most familiar thing to me. Sometimes it is even a comfort. It is what I turn to. It is what I know.

Because it IS all I knew. At least two Christmases, I was suicidal. Thanksgivings, too, I was forced into traumatic situations without exception, and I was always with my family when it happened. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to become that person again. I rooted out most of the psychological toll it all took on me. But at times like those, it comes roaring out of the corner. I feel engulfed in despair, in horror, in disempowerment. It feels like it’s still happening. I almost forget the person I am now.

Winter holidays are hard for me. I’ve set down a lot of the baggage digging deep into my shoulders, but I still have a duffel in the closet. 

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