Seven years have passed since your shelter was taken apart, piece by piece. I’m writing to you what I wish would have been said to me when I needed it.
You have so much light and kindness and carefreeness, and you feel invincible—those around you see a friendly, extroverted young man. No one knows, but I see you. I see what’s underneath the pristine wrapping with the little bow on top. Sometimes the happiest people are the ones that carry the heaviest type of brokenness.
The theme of the religion you are growing up in tells you that without God, you are nothing. You’ve been told by preachers that yell and that whisper and that shake their Bibles in their fists that you are unlovable, but by the grace of their god, he loves you. You won’t understand now, but you’ll carry this message and your mind will warp it. You’ll begin to believe that you don’t have inherent worth—you have to be of use to be loved. After all, our purpose on Earth is to spread the love of Jesus; there is no greater cause.
You will take this cause and carry it. No one will be prepared for the enthusiasm which will guide you to work with kids at a camp, hand out tracts in neighborhoods, invite families to vacation Bible school, and even answer all of life’s big questions. You will learn that staying busy keeps the soul-shattering feeling of not belonging stifled in that deep, dark corner of your being.
You learn to answer “I’m just peachy” to those who ask how you are, even the ones that want more than a three-word answer. But when you lay in bed at night and remember the chip, chipping away at your personality that happens constantly, you’ll feel more like a corpse flower than a peach. You can hear the echoes of being told that “You shouldn’t stand that way,” or “Don’t use that word to refer to someone.” Still, they clamber to reach your attention: “That video game is too violent” and the answers of “Here, read this book” or “What does the Bible say?” to the questions you do dare to ask.
When you end up hearing about the girl in your class at school that’s been expelled for getting pregnant, you’ll feel the anger and disappointment that everyone else feels, but that’s just it. That’s what everyone else feels, not you. You’ll hear about your cousin who gets kicked out of college because he “did something with a boy.” That’s unforgivable, you’re told.
* * *
The mind of a child is resilient. Horrific events can happen, and still a child can become a flourishing adult. But sometimes resilience can only hold brokenness at bay for so long.
You’re scared, so go ahead. Split your personality into two. It’s easier to present a boy that no one will question. The boy that speaks the Bible to those around him. The boy that smiles and laughs and cries with you when you tell him about your “sin.” And yes, even the boy that wants to become a preacher and change the lives of teenagers. Sometimes I wonder if that is because the only time you felt heard was when you would hang out with your youth pastor and talk for hours. You wanted to give other teenagers like you a chance to be heard.
No one questions you — you can do anything you like. So you explore your freedom. You find pictures of men, naked, beautiful, works of art. You move to videos, and then finally to actually exploring your sexuality. Still, that personality must stay cut off from those that know you. No one else can hear, but I can hear you crying, sobbing, praying that God change you. You promise God you won’t do anything like this again if he will just hear you and still offer his salvation. Your pillow, some nights, is soaked through on both sides.
You feel more and more disconnected from those around you, but still no one questions the personality that everyone has come to love.
When you really start to question, you’ll hide in the closet of your childhood bedroom to let the boy in the corner out, but even there, he’s not really safe. He doesn’t care though; he yearns to be free. The closet is the beginning of the glimmer of the type of light you wish to see.
You’ll find your parents want to be missionaries in China, and that they are taking your siblings with them. While most normal kids would think about missing their family during holidays, long weekends, and special events, you feel relief. Maybe you can experience more freedom and bring the boy you’ve hidden in the corner out to play more often. But when your parents’ dream becomes your dad’s dream, your mom will confide in you and sob on your shoulder while you feel cold inside. She stammers out between choked breaths that your dad is throwing things and he won’t talk to her. If your dad could do this to his wife of 20 years, what’s to stop him from doing this to his son if he finds out about the boy in the corner?
In confidence, you vent to your mom about some of the things that were done to you and for you as a younger version of yourself, hoping for comfort. But hope is easily squandered. Instead, she will tell you that she feels she and your father made mistakes with you. They were first-time parents, she will tell you.
But she cannot see both boys—the good and the bad—inside you have a need to belong to a family that loves unconditionally. After being told all your life that you’re nothing without god, this statement just reiterates what you tell yourself at night. You are unlovable without having a reason to be loved. Maybe if your parents hadn’t made mistakes with you as a child, you wouldn’t be this fucked up. Maybe if they had made less mistakes, they would be interested in hearing what no one else wants to.
* * *
You begin to stuff the bad memories away and instead focus on the present. You need to feel, but anxiety that the boy in the corner will be seen by others stifles every other emotion.
I’d like to say that running away will make everything better, but you’ll find out soon enough that making everything better takes effort. Painful, heart-wrenching, stomach-dropping effort.
Now I speak to the boy in the corner. You took the salvageable traits from the front you showed everyone and combined them with all of yours. Your innocence is gone, and not the innocence of virginity, but the innocence of not knowing real sorrow and real heartache.
Even now, you long for a family to call your own, that will love you unconditionally. I think you’ll always fight that battle, because you have been told for so long — and are even told now — that you need to have a reason to be loved.
Your relationships are invalidated by your entire immediate family. Your way of living is deemed so sinful that your siblings and parents will only check in when you haven’t been heard from in long enough time for them to worry something’s happened. Once they hear your voice and know you’re okay, you become a therapist more than a son. So you continue with a family that knows very little of who you are still.
There’s always a brightness to life if you look hard enough for it. Glimmers, waves, even entire days and weeks of light sometimes. But you’ll always carry the remnants of the innocent boy that only knew love. He can never be put back together, but with what you have now, you can create a new boy that takes your experience and uses it to create unconditional love. When you feel like no one can hear you, remember I can. When you sob and feel how deeply sadness cuts the heart, know I feel that too.
You have a new family that continues to grow. You have a relationship with your boyfriend that isn’t what you expected, but if it were what you had expected, you would be sorely missing a love that surprises and takes all of you at face value, not just the parts that are desirable.
I love the idea that time heals all wounds, but I think it would be better stated as “love mends all wounds.” A wound never really heals, just closes over and scars. That’s okay with me. I’ll take the reminder of what has happened and remember that I’m here in a place that rivals the greenest pasture anyone could ever find.