I lay on the bed, curled tight into myself. The song from reverberated in my ears as I hit play and then play again, and play again. The harsh world of my new reality was fading into the distance as I allowed myself to listen and breathe and relax.
I was aware of how quickly the feeling of calm changed within myself. I felt my heart rate increase, I could feel the familiar prickle of panic as it rose on my skin. As the airconditioning blew cold on me, it was like I was back there. I could hear the sounds of the apartment around me. I could feel the sunlight beating hot against my arm through the window as the airconditioning blew it cool again. I could hear the whir of the fan as it moved the air throughout the hollow room. Down the short hallway to the bathroom I heard the voices of my Dominican neighbors laughing and talking through the bathroom window. I smelled their lunch as it cooked. That airshaft that brought all our lives together in that tall apartment building also introduced me to the culture that I thought would become part of me.
I lay there knowing my exact place in space, in my room, in my parent’s home, and yet I was there too in the loud and too large apartment in that loud and too large city. I felt desperate to open my eyes and get my bearings again, but at the same time I wanted to sit with it. I wanted to figure out why my mind took me back to the place that left so many scars.
The version of events I tell people about my return here to this life is ever changing. Sometimes I am honest and don’t leave a detail out, other times I give the most brief version I can. Sometimes I find myself telling people details somewhere in the middle of that or giving details here and there, in small bites at different times. For a while telling it was reliving it again, which was too hard, too painful, too traumatizing. That wore off. Then the telling became like someone else’s story. I told it pragmatically, void of emotion or much thought. For the most part my life there felt like a bad dream, when I look back over the last year, it’s hard to believe that it was my actual life.
So I laid on my bed with my eyes shut tight, the song surrounding me. What? What was I supposed to be hearing or working through? Why did my mind take me back there? Quite suddenly there it was, that moment in bed, in the Santo Domingo afternoon, my youngest napping in the room next to me, my oldest playing some game down the hall. I had never felt so alone or so afraid. Far worse moments were to come, but that was the first moment a new reality began to dawn.
For so long the only feeling I could identify with was fear. I was afraid of everything. From the day we left here almost a year ago I felt fear, and if I’m honest, I felt fear long before that, not fear of a new land and culture, but fear of my life, my choices. In fact fear was such an integrated part of my life I couldn’t see anything that wasn’t first taken through that lense. The questions always swirled in my head, what if I was rejected, what if I wasn’t good enough, what if they didn’t like me or my kids or my husband, what if I wasn’t able to succeed, what if no one loved me? That fear led to apologizing for everything. If I could apologize for my existence I would, and I’m sure at some point in the past I have.
My response to that fear was to begin building. I started the long process of building the wall I surrounded myself with years ago. Brick upon heavy brick, bucket after bucket of mortar, the wall went up. I built it high and strong. I didn’t put in windows or doors, I closed it up tight, all around me. It felt good if no one could get in, and felt even better if I didn’t allow myself out. The day I picked up the first brick, I let the fear win. And with each brick that was built into that wall the fear became shut inside, and I was free to work on making my life look pretty from the outside.
Last night I sat with a friend, giving the abbreviated version of events that happened in my life in January. It was almost too painful to talk. Thinking about the moments that led to the first crack in my wall hurt almost more than I could bear. I realized if I talked much longer about it I might break, so I stopped short and ducked behind the wall. It hurt because I was allowing someone in, someone from outside my tight inner circle of family, the hurt came from acknowledging the mess that is my life. The pain exists because I’m finally allowing it to. The pain I felt that day in our apartment was there because I stopped ignoring it. In many ways it finally led to my freedom.
I opened my eyes and the view was quite different from the one I was imagining. The windows letting in sun were shaded by the large tree outside the window. Downstairs I heard a dog bark and the front door open and close. I realized at that moment that I need to be listening. I also realized that the reason for the pain, the reason that the moments of my messy life are so painful is because as painstaking as it was to build the wall, it’s even more painstaking bringing it down, and that’s what is happening. In some ways if I could blast the wall to pieces in one move I would, but I know that it must come down as it went up, brick by single brick. With each brick that comes down I have a more clear view of the freedom that is outside the wall.
In some ways I realize I am still so comfortable behind the wall I built, but I know God didn’t create me for a life of comfort, especially when that comfort comes from a place that ultimately hurts me. God wants me to live boldly. He wants there to be more purpose to my life than this pain. He wants my freedom as much as I do. Right now I don’t know what’s around the next corner. I don’t know what lays ahead of me down the road. I do feel scared by the not knowing, but even more than fear, I feel free.