Whenever people tell me I’m brave, I feel like a huge fraud.
I don’t feel brave. At all. Friends and strangers alike reference me sharing about my abusive childhood, my pain, and my journey as evidence of bravery, but these acts are not hard for me.
I have zero qualms about sharing these stories because in my mind, I have nothing to be ashamed of. These stories are not about my shame. It is my father (and sometimes, when I’m feeling uncharitable, my mother) who should feel shame.
My father failed me. My father hurt me. My father broke me.
Yes, of course, I feel nervous and somewhat clammy talking about what happened to me and my family. But after years of practice and telling these stories, it isn’t so bad anymore. I find it useful. It gives me power to name something and bring it to light. To watch something I think would bring me shame and watch it squirm under the harsh scrutiny of a thousand gazes only to find that I have not died.
I am still here.
But a weird thing happened along the way. I thought I was so open about myself because I shared these painful stories. After all, people told me I was brave – so I must be, right? People complimented me on my vulnerability so I must be a vulnerable person, right?
Except I was not. I hid in plain sight.
I am constantly afraid.
I am afraid to want. I am afraid to love. I am afraid to be present.
It is in fact easier for me to tell all of you that I am afraid of want, love, and presence than for me to want, to love, and to be present.
Having a real conversation with my mother, my brother, and my husband – being there without the slight distance of a phone or a laptop or even music coursing through my earphones – causes me to panic. Even thinking about it causes me to panic. And yet, the thought of them no longer being here also causes me to panic. It is a conundrum.
Though I want connection with my family, I hide. I keep things on the surface.
I have four children who I love to distraction and yet, the idea of spending quality time with them terrifies me. I hate playing with them. I hate putting them to bed. I hate being with them in the quiet.
I tell myself it is because I hate the squirming or the constant noise. I tell myself it’s because I did not grow up this way. I tell myself it’s because I love babies and not children. And that is true, to a certain extent. But it is also a lie.
Every time I really see my children, really see them in all their glory, I start sobbing. It is better to keep them at a distance. To say that they’re little assholes and tyrants and to pretend that they are nuisances who I love and am endeared to because they came out of my body and I nursed them for years and carried them but only begrudgingly.
Is it because I’m Chinese that I pretend to not hold them dear? For fear of loving too tightly only for the capricious gods to take them away on a whim?
I get so annoyed and frustrated because it seems as if I have written about this for years now. And perhaps I have grown marginally better at being present. But mostly, I have tread water. I have used writing as an excuse to avoid bedtime – because it is in the quiet that all my fears surface and I have anxiety attacks where I can’t breathe.
I don’t know why I am still so caught unaware – so baffled – when I am reminded anew that I have no idea how to be intimate with the people I love.
For someone who is an alleged good friend and reasonably emotionally intelligent, I either can’t or won’t get past it with my own family. The best I can do is to approach it sideways, all casual-like in true tsundere style (a Japanese term for a character who is initially prickly or hostile on the outside but is actually squishy and soft on the inside).
It’s why I am choosing in 2020 to wake up early to write so that I can’t escape as much in the evening to avoid my children when I am most vulnerable. It’s why I’m choosing to not work during certain hours – to make sure I give them the attention they deserve.
I am very unhappy with these choices because it seems extra difficult for my writing goals in 2020. But what is the point of fulfilling these personal dreams if I throw away my babies? How would that make me any different than my father who was never satisfied with what he had? What difference does it make if I am physically present but still emotionally vacated?
For many of you, it seems ridiculous to call your acts of being present and loving and sitting with your children an act of bravery. But to someone such as I, who finds love to be a lie – to believe and choose to love is a miracle. To see my family as persons, that is terrifying.
To love is to be courageous; and I only hope to be as brave as you one day.
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