I remember watching my younger cousins bouncing around the den. Their laughter piercing the ears of my grandfather as he silently sat in his chair, his lips forming a straight line. My gram hunched over the coffee table, lost in her own thought, searching for letters to fill the boxes of the daily crossword puzzler, as she would say, a grin of known cleverness spreading across her face. They were watching the People’s Court, Judge Wapner presiding, a daily six o’clock ritual.
Rolling on the floor, and throwing pillows. I watched the agitation wash over my grandpa’s face, his body. Twisting in his chair, willing my cousins to silence with the narrowing of his eyes until they were nothing more than slits. His jaw hardening with increasing speed….and yet no one else seemed to notice.
I could see the eruption forming. His feet near the edge of a cliff. I darted up the steps, hiding in my Gram’s bedroom turning up the t.v..
My cousins would soon follow, a wash of tears and embarrassment, the intense tongue lashing leaving their heart bruised.
I knew better than to poke the bear. In all my years, I don’t remember him ever exploding on me.
I would venture to say by the age of eight or nine, I had already become very adept at reading people and situations. The river of alcoholism and dysfunction running deep and wide in my lineage. Learning to alter my behavior to fill the box that would offer the most protection was necessary to avoid the land mines hidden beneath the surface.
On one hand this skill has served me very well, catapulting a career and opening doors. However, it is also a double edged sword, whittling away the wholeness of who I once was, trying to morph into a space that is not mine to fill.
As a child it was essential. As an adult it is exhausting.
Round peg, square hole.
Tight and uncomfortable. Claustrophobia searing through my veins as the walls creep in a little closer, another piece of myself falling away. My inner voice screaming to get out. She knows she was created for more. She does not belong here.
Fueled by faith, and little else, I trudge through the muck of confusion. Footsteps heavy, deliberate, requiring more energy than normal to place one in front of the other. Bending to pick up the pieces of my former self, haphazardly strewn throughout the path I’m walking. I hold each in my palm, examining closely under the microscope of recovery. Knowing they will never form the same puzzle they once did, they are nonetheless valuable. Tarnished, I brushed away the lose dirt and slide them into my pocket. I inch forward. Slow but diligent.
I could say I don’t know how I got here. Truth is, I do.
I know better than to poke the bear.
Unwilling to stay in the box.
Feet on the edge of the cliff.