Face to Face
I can still remember the feeling like it was yesterday, though many years have since passed. I laugh at the thought of once being a young, hopeful but completely naive teenager. As I sit in my chair and write this, I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ll never forget Tanya, I swear I won’t. Her slick pony tail, greasy edges and brown skin had a brotha believing she was the greatest gift to the good Lord’s green earth. I found no flaw in her at all. “She perfect bro,” I told my boy Will in one of those hypnotized trances. All he could do was shake his head and laugh. “Dude, why don’t you just talk to her?” he asked with a sheepish grin.
He convinced me to talk to her against my own fearful judgement. One step, two step— I made my move— inching past laughing teens, blue lockers and administrators who rushed us to our next class. Our eyes met and she smiled. I stood awkwardly next to her locker while she swapped books for next period. My incoherent small talk made her smile as I continued stumbling over my words. “Do you mind if I eat your lunch, I mean, get your number?” A single sweat bead slowly traveled down my face. Damn. She paused before responding which caused my heart to beat uncharacteristically fast. Embarrassed. She then giggled at my gaff and the rest was history. We became friends which meant in my young mind, I was closer to becoming her man. I walked away feeling accomplished, proud and relieved. When I glided back to my friend who watched the action from behind the corner; he exuberantly cheered, making me feel like I just scored a game winning basket in the NBA finals.
One particular day after months of talking and believing we were evolving into something special, she laid words on me that no guy ever wanted to hear from the woman he loved. “I like you, I really do, but not the way you like me.” The softness of her voice didn't even have the power to take the edge off of the stabbing words that shattered my heart. For days, I lamented over the situation. What did I do? Why didn’t she like me? I’m so ugly. Why would she ever want to be with me anyway? It hurt, what can I say? This story sticks out to me because it was my first brush with real emotional pain. The pain I felt was excruciating to say the least. Pain is such an unavoidable part of our human experience and as we grow through life. We’re all confronted with moments that leave scars that feel like they can take a lifetime to heal.
Emotional pain is no stranger to anyone of us. It seemingly knocks on our door when things appear to be going well. For some, it lingered from childhood, leaving us to pick up the pieces well into our adult years. The invisible bruises we incur still hurt long after the situation has faded into the past. Learning to face our hurt head on, confronting the trauma, is one of the hardest things to do. We say things like, “I’m over it, I’m good, I’m fine,” in an attempt to bury the hurt. The main character of my novel, Digging Deep Within: A Story of Courage and Liberation, found himself in the same predicament. He tried to use external sources to sweep the pain away instead of dealing with it. I’ve learned, it is when we face our most hurtful experiences that we begin to find healing. Many of us wear smiles as veneers to mask how we feel on the inside. Masking the pain unfortunately does lead to healing. In an attempt to avoid burdening others with what we feel, we try to deal with things alone. I’m here to tell you today, that you don’t have to unpack the pain by yourself. This is why seeking help is so important.
To those who are currently dealing with emotional pain as a result abuse; It wasn’t your fault. Please don’t blame yourself. To those who are dealing with heartbreak, disappointment and grief; I’ve been there. I ask you not to let anyone rush your grieving process. I applaud your strength for trying hold it together. It takes guts to stand face to face with uncomfortable feelings and experiences. We often, push things into the back our minds so that we can be all that we can be for others. No more neglecting yourself. No more substitutions. Let us continue to lift up one another as we each have our own battles to fight. If you see your brother or sister hurting, lend them your ear. There are people who can help. I found strength is seeking counsel during some of my most painful experiences in my life. I leave you with this declaration. 2019 will be a year of freedom and healing, and may we each vow to no longer allow the past to rob us of the peace, joy and wholeness we deserve.