As a child, Momma always made me look both ways when crossing the street to my grandparents’ house. It didn’t matter that we lived in the last house on a dead-end street, with the dead end being a gaggle of trees before a set of railroad tracks. I had to look both ways or I could not leave the sidewalk or, worse, had to come inside the house. One would think that I’d grow to naturally rebel against this sense of rigor, become a jaywalking connoisseur. Yet, it was with this extra sense of caution that I crossed every milestone up to and including my senior year of undergrad. The danger was everywhere, the danger was everyone, in September of 2009.
The thing no one told me about agoraphobia is how subtly it could sneak up on me. How tightly it could grip my mind until my every moment was set to limit my interactions with others. Especially those who forced me to cross into the world without caution.
If I knew then what I know now, would I have tried harder sooner? Would I have flooded myself with my fears until I grew gills and a tail and swam circles around the lies that I told myself? The world is too big. The eyes too numerous to rest upon my flesh without ripping weakness from my pours. My heart will pound until it bursts from my chest. I will never find solace from this self—formed by trauma and control and not quite religiosity.
I sat in my room. I sat in my dark room. I sat in my dark room hearing the echoes of life and the deathly thud of interactions as my roommates crisscrossed the tiny living room to the tinier dining room of our basement apartment. These girls—not enemies, just other—waited to invade my space with pleasantries and bible study small groups if I let them in. To the walls that protected me from my own memories and the darkness that shielded my shame.
Time passed that way. Walls and darkness. Inside and outside cloaked, buried, pushed through tubes of memories unkept into vast spaces of bigger nothings.
Twenty-one was too young for trauma. Too old to deal with those who didn’t have their own. People always say that if they knew then what they know now then events would have unfolded differently. If my own precognitive abilities had been just a bit brighter, my pessimism a little less fruitful, my personal demons less acute, then the world would have had to find a new axis to spin on.
Eventually the isolation would fail to be enough. The fear shifted to an annoyance—a gnat zigging at the edges of my spirit. But in mid-September, I didn’t yet know my world to remold itself. Failed to notice that those who forced me into acquaintance, those who forced connection with their smiles and easy-going personalities, left behind dust from their varying universes. Cosmic enough to spin a new world into me. Big-Banging light into my dark rooms and reverberating enough maybes to tear down walls.
Terriane Ward holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. Through her work as a teacher and youth development specialist, she seeks to empower young girls through the power of the written word.
Terriane encourages you to donate to The Covering House, an organization based in the Greater Saint Louis Area that works with young trafficking survivors through therapeutic and residential based services. To learn more, visit thecoveringhouse.org.