“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Have you ever lost someone close to you? So close that it felt like you died too? Not like a piece of you died. No. Like you were buried 6 feet deep, like they walked out of your life and away with your soul, like you’d never be able to look onward. Forever looking back at what once was. Suffocating, flatline, on permanent rerun. I was there. But it wasn’t a person I lost. It was my words. Rhythm and thoughts. Scribbles, nearly unintelligible, in blue and black and red and purple ink.
I was moving out. For the last time. It felt golden. Like life’s transition into the world had met me with petal-soft kisses and the sun’s reflection across a misty sky. Like multiple rainbows. I was in love. That love felt so full of promise. But much like that love, my wide-eyed approach to adulting was audacious. I packed all of my things into my boyfriend’s car the day before my journey to the promised land: San Diego. Upon finishing that evening, I closed the door and hit the LOCK button. I practically skipped back into the house. I felt like such a big girl at the green age of 22. So young. So naive. So stupid.
That night, his car was broken into. The discovery of the broken glass and empty window frame, at first sight, left me completely stunned. I reached through to unlock the door on the passenger side behind the driver and opened it. At first glance, I thought they’d taken nothing. Everything in the front and back seats was still there. And then I opened the trunk. There was an empty space where something had clearly been sitting. But I couldn’t remember what had been there. Suitcase, check. Boxes of shoes, check. Plug-in stereo, check. Random folders and toiletries, check. Box of books? Box of books? I ran around to the back-passenger side, lifted jackets and sweaters. Then hurried to the front-passenger door where the only thing that sat, poised, ready for the trip, was a mini, plastic set of drawers. And I still remember the gasp that followed. Like everything I couldn’t find the words to say, were swallowed in that breath. And I stood there, hands at my sides, eyes wide, door and mouth open, shaking my head in small, jolted movements. I couldn’t fathom it. Why would they take something that meant absolutely nothing to them... and EVERYTHING to me? And then I was angry. Incensed. Belligerent.
They didn’t take my clothes or the radio or any of the many other electronics that I had packed. They took one box. With things like loose CDs, stuffed animals, random books, a couple pairs of old shoes, and ALL of my journals. Journals I had kept since high school, when I truly began to discover my love, my gift, for writing. Crushed doesn’t begin to cover the grief I felt. I felt... empty. Like the preservation of a lifetime had been exposed, dried up like mud, and swept away in a gale of wind. Like the stories of my life, the pain, the discovery of self, the study and induction of a style had been unraveled, leaving a string of so many ideas that then, meant everything and nothing. I never typed anything. If I shared those thoughts as spoken word, they were read from the paper I wrote them on. Not to mention the many shreds of paper, receipts, napkins, flyers, whatever, that were written on and stuffed into those journals.
I made a police report, replaced the window, and parked the car, with all of my things, minus all of those grand and modest revelations of self, in the garage. I died. It wasn’t that I needed proof of the gift that I possessed. I had no desire to hold them up, pointing animatedly, saying that I had, in fact, penned all that glory. No. I needed to know that my story existed. That everything I had experienced and fought for and against, had happened. Those journals were my validation for heartbreak and joy and exploration and anticipation. They were me. Someone had broken into that car and stolen... me.
For years, I couldn’t bring myself to write anything that actually meant something to me. I wrote plenty of papers in college, but nothing that felt passionately and authentically me. I couldn’t bring myself to write a piece of poetry on a piece of paper that would stand alone. So I didn’t. Until one day, in casual conversation, a friend mentioned that she had joined a writing group that focused on writing the stories of people in our community. It tugged at that part of me that had died on the street in front of my parents’ house. It spoke to the core of my calling. The call to uncover stories that had been buried beneath grief and shame and fear. The purpose of the group just resonated with me. And it was a painless gateway back into the world of writing. I got to sit and converse with people and observe them as they relived some of the most amazing and heartbreaking experiences. It reminded me that my story still existed within me, lying dormant. It reminded me that there was a passion that existed beneath my love for writing. The passion was to use my writing as a means to awaken the story in others.
Historically, stories have been a means to keep culture and beliefs alive. I stand on the belief that when we tell our stories, we are reaffirming our identity through the experiences that have brought us to truth. And those affirmations stir something in those who hear it because even when the story is different, the emotions are the same. So many times, I have experienced a spoken word piece or heard or read someone’s enthralling journey toward self-actualization and I immediately feel encouraged to write.
There was a time when I was obsessed with the hope that I’d find those journals again. That the thieves would realize their mistake and dump them on the side of the road somewhere. Or even crazier, that they’d bring them back. Of course that never happened. But I found my words. My rhythm, my thoughts. I found them at the center of someone else’s story, where our heartbreak collided into an onward journey toward real hope.