by Christina Kaliher
One moment can signify the bitter end of childhood. Just one instant can carry the disturbing realization that the days of comfortable dependence and protection are over. The teachers and heroes become the enemies, for your parents are responsible for the crime of robbing you of your last years as a child. With one decision, they completely obliterate the transition from child to adult. The people you grew to trust and confide in, who taught you your values, and made you who you are fail to warn you the impact their newly acted upon desire may have on you. You still trust them, however, because they do not seem worried. They are actually so busy with pulling everything together, they barely notice your presence, let alone bother to stop and ask how you are coping or how deep your objections are.
Your parents’ decision means the end of their prison sentence, but merely the beginning of yours. Who would ever have imagined your own parents would trade your future for their golden years, trapping and smothering you from the inside out? They simply refuse to postpone the move until you finish high school. All this, grasped in one moment, as you look at your simple Illinois home through tear-filled eyes for the last time. Backing out of your own driveway has never been so painful. Your entire world has just fallen down around you, pushed down by the people who are supposed to do what is best for you, supposed to put you first, yet they only obliviously look ahead towards a land of materialism and overpriced property.
You don’t know it yet, but you are being replaced by inanimate objects, namely, a two-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar house. Now you have no one to reach out to. The only thing bringing you comfort is a tiny, tattered, red sweater that still holds the scent of your home. In this one moment, you know your childhood is over as you feel the hatred begin to build.
With every passing mile, the love and respect you once held for you parents turns to malice and contempt. From here on out, every act that results in butting heads is seen as ungratefulness for the superb gift they have given you, rather than acts of trying to find yourself in a superficial, dying society.
When you arrive in the alien land of the old, the rich, and the wasted it becomes apparent just how alone you really are. While they enjoy their mansion and the eleven-hundred mile distance from all that you hold dear, you are left to dig yourself out of the hole they so graciously dug for you.
What to do when neither the world you have always known nor the world you have been thrown into stops to let you in. You are on the outside, nonexistent. You fall into a dreadful daily routine. Everyday you open your eyes longing to see your childhood home, hoping to feel loved again. But instead you are faced with the daunting and almost degrading task of pulling yourself out of bed, putting on a suitable mask of health, sanity, and stability, and drudging forward in a world that has no place for you, without so much as a word of encouragement from the people who are supposed to support you the most, your family. You do not even get as much as a “good luck” on your first day at your new high school. When people look right through you and the only reason you are noticed has something to do with the way you never look up when you walk or why you spend your lunch hour at school alone, reading a book in a dark corner, you repeatedly curse your parents for hurting you this way.
How is anyone in the world you were forced to leave behind to know the torment you are enduring when you cannot even find a voice inside yourself strong enough to cut through the deadness your mind has placed in your soul where love once was? You realize the person you knew yourself as no longer exists. The fear you will never return to normal keeps you up at night. This and the knowledge that the most important person from the world that brought you such happiness, your high-school sweetheart, has found someone else initiates the nightly flood of tears to make their journey from the depths of your battered soul to the pillow in which your head is buried. You close your eyes only to be tormented by nightmares of your future. These are far worse than the nightmares you experience when you are actually asleep; the details of word and situation are controlled by you. Your view of the world and everything in it is now negative. The nightmares you cannot help but create reflect this.
As your captors ignore your cries for help and pleas to make the pain stop, the wounds in your soul fester. A dark, rigid shell forms over your still torn and bleeding soul, blocking the path for the return of childhood happiness, peace, and trust. This jagged shell only contains the rage and anguish for so long; with each miserable night, each argument, each day spent fighting back tears, pieces of the shell stab into your gashed and debilitated core, forcing the suppressed emotions to surface once again.
With every eruption comes a new method of coping. Some methods intentional, some more than you can bear to control. You find you cannot bring yourself to eat. There is no reason to. It requires too much effort to find your way to the kitchen in this ridiculously cold, uninviting house. The entire space is a monotone collection of tan and beige. There are so many windows you may as well be outside for the whole neighborhood to see. Your weight drops to ninety-two pounds. You are reduced to skin and bones and still they do not understand. They see only sand, serene palms, and artificial landscaping. Finally, you are so hungry you force yourself to eat more regularly; though soon you cannot control your eating. You eat whenever and whatever you can. You surpass your original weight and gain an additional twenty pounds, making your petite frame appear overweight. This however, your mother notices. You come to her upset because you have buy pants three sizes bigger than anything you own. She then proceeds to tell you the new size of your pants is indeed bigger than it should be . Food is the only physical comfort you have, though you can no longer stand to look at yourself in the mirror.
Now begins experimentation with your most destructive method of coping. You begin cutting yourself. The instant the blood surfaces, you experience a rush. Inflicting physical pain to lessen the inner pain forms a sort of equilibrium. This eases the private pain somewhat. This goes unnoticed; bothering you the most because you know anyone from the life you were forced to leave behind would notice this immediately. Unfortunately, if anyone from the world you were torn from were to see you now, they would not recognize your slouched, bloated, and scarred physique. The shell strengthens to practically a concrete shield after this realization and the need to inflict physical pain weakens.
Finally, after several hopeless months, you discover a positive way to cope with each and every disaster. Your creative side takes over. You create pieces of art. You find you can draw, paint, and write poetry. However, it comes to your attention that your artwork is only inspired by suffering. You discover you can express your fears, anger, despair, and uncertainties through word and color. At last, you find a way to make your feelings come alive. You even win a first place blue ribbon in the county art show. These moments help you grow as a person and allow you to pull yourself a few feet closer to the top of this very deep hole.
There is one more way you find to cope with your unstable emotions. You decide to take one more step on your creative journey to self discovery; you get a tattoo. The experience of getting a tattoo is different for everyone. Each person has their own reason for getting one. What runs through the mind while enduring the piercing of needles and hearing the monotonous metallic buzz of the gun differs as well. Your experience is no exception. With butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms, you enter the tattoo shop. As your less-than-comforting, miserable excuse for a boyfriend watches TV in the waiting area, you have one of the most satisfying release experiences of your life. This is just what you needed. You needed to find a lasting way to release the inner agony without leaving physical scars on your body. As the artist begins the unique tiger tattoo he has drawn for you, the sensation of pain is actually comforting. Physically, you shake as goosebumps cover your body. Emotionally, you return to the past year and a half of tears, inner torment, and abandonment. To your relief and surprise, the pain your soul has collected is subsiding! Being the compassionate guy that he is, your boyfriend occasionally strolls by to see if you passed out or not. With every puncture, a bit more of the pain dwelling inside is filtered out. As the relief in your spirit increases, a unique piece of artwork is slowly being created within your skin. The artwork is forever a symbol of survival, accomplishment, and inner strength. The tattoo now serves as your badge of honor. You now know you will survive and move forward.
One moment can engulf your heart with pain you so deep you feel you have no choice but to succumb to it. Unavoidable events of life including the end of your childhood, the realization that even the people closest to you can betray you, and the awareness that the world does not care about your feelings are devastating, especially to a sixteen-year-old girl.
However, these experiences are breeding grounds for valuable life lessons. You learn to be independent. You learn to be rational and realistic. You discover people are generally about getting ahead. Also, you learn to step back and look at situations from the outside. This provides the clarity needed to avoid rash decisions and undesired consequences.
Your lessons also cross over to more sensual aspects. You discover your talents as an artist. You gain the capacity to forgive. You learn from your parents’ mistakes. You promise yourself to communicate with your children and provide support when they need you, along with promising to never move them away from their childhood merely for your own wishes and desires. One moment can change your life forever. The question is: can you find the strength to make the change positive?
Christina Kaliher is a nineteen-year-old college sophomore majoring in Journalism and hopes to work for a publishing company following graduation. She lives in Florida but in a few years plans on returning to Illinois where she was born and raised She is unpublished but avidly seeking publication. Contact Christina.