“But maybe I know
what she’s going through,
although it doesn’t show,
maybe I went through it too.”
Much like tears eventually stop falling, the rage in me was doused. I yearned for acceptance, support, and love. I wanted everything to be ok, even if it wasn’t. The care I was looking for escaped Hayley’s mouth before I had time to believe anything else. They knew what I wanted more than anyone else, and their hurtful actions were explained away. The glimpses of warmth that had previously gleamed through beamed through the both of them; they supported my belief that “we all have good in us”. Their sympathy softened my thoughts and I took three steps backwards.
My 21st birthday was on the horizon and plans were in motion for us to all leave for their home country. The country they called home, would soon be mine. I continued to hold on to the importance of education and anxiety of not reaching my goals filled me. Being in a different country, having to learn a different form of English, and being thousands of miles from familiarity swarmed through my brain. Promises of fulfilling my dreams and regular conversations of a brand new start slowly extinguished my fears. When David’s harsh comments rattled the walls, I wanted to prove him wrong. The disgust in his voice spewed out about how he had wasted his time on me. I was too young, wouldn’t make it, and didn’t really want them to love me. The past 10 years played through my mind. Love was all I wanted, even if that meant being afraid. After all, with their names carved across my left leg, I was branded as their property already.
The closer the new year became, the more arguing and fighting became the norm. Screams bounced off the walls as did anything in the near vicinity. I’d threaten to leave, only to be drawn back in. Talk of the importance of my 21st birthday drowned me in anxiety. The numbness through the years disappeared, and I feared for my life. I didn’t want to die. Feeling like my days were numbered, plans of escaping flashed through my mind. Lying awake in the middle of the night, terrified of what was so close, yet fearful of the possible consequences of leaving, tears smothered me and years of built up feelings were released.
Days before my 21st birthday was the last time I had contact with either David or Hayley. In the middle of a screaming match I slammed the door on the largest portion of my life.
“I’m done living like this! I’m done.”
The promise of “I’ll never leave” that I so tightly held onto slid away. I no longer cared about breaking promises and after years of protecting everyone else, the only person I was desperate to save was myself. I changed everything from driving routes to phone numbers, and moved around enough times to calm my fears of being tracked down. Tears welled up my eyes in the black of the night as I prayed to not be found. Clenching my eyes tightly, my wishes were to be a spec on the wall; anything that would make me blend in with everyone else and unrecognizable. Months later, I made the name carved into my leg unrecognizable and did everything short of surgery to fade the scars of my past. I was slowly on my way to truly being free.
Freedom is something expected in the U.S., but something that’s not necessarily as black and white as people tend to think. The other day I caught the story about the largest discovered sex ring in Alabama and came across another sentencing of a man for ongoing sexual abuse of a twelve year old. This isn’t freedom. The numerous amount of girls that are trafficked in the U.S., might I add, American girls, are not experiencing freedom. Sex trafficking, abuse rings, and abuse in general is not something that only happens in other countries, to the poor, to the “less fortunate”, to minorities, to people in “bad” parts of town, or to foreigners. It’s happening in your country, in your state, and more than likely in your city. And race, socioeconomic status, education level, or looks make absolutely no difference.
Most abuse victims go to school, work, are in after school/work activities, take family portraits, go to church, have friends or acquaintances, and go shopping. From the outside perspective, they’re no different than anyone else and even if you know everything there is to know about abuse, you may have no idea that freedom doesn’t look like what they learned in history class to them. The point being, as many times as I’ve heard “that doesn’t really happen here” or “it’s worse in other countries” I can very much say it happens everywhere here, and while there may be terrible things happening in other countries, that doesn’t minimize what is going on in our own country.
For me, freedom looks significantly different now than it did in the past. Grasping onto freedom has been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time all the while lies of my past have tried to wrap me back in chains. Like a soldier at war, it’s taken strategy and help from other soldiers to continue to hold onto freedom and to not surrender to the enemy.