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Taking Charge of My Story

My first memory of my mother might not even be mine.

I have aphantasia - which is a characteristic in which you do not have a visual imagination. Memories, dreams, daily thoughts – I don’t see these in pictures like many others do. This can make it hard to distinguish between a story told to me and a memory I have lived through. All I have are words. Words are my salvation — and my downfall.

I recall a memory, or maybe a story my mother told me, in which I cried and cried as a baby. I wasn’t typically a fussy child, at least she says. But sometimes she could hear me wail. She would come into the room in worry, looking me over to ensure I wasn’t hurt. What she found was me pulling my hair, crying at the pain I caused myself. She would gently untuck my hand around it, easing me with gentle words. And I would be okay again, for a bit at least. She would leave the room to continue with her tasks only for me to restart again, yanking my hair as though this part of me wasn’t meant to be there, as though if I could just remove this irritating hair, I would feel whole and complete.

I think of this story/memory often lately. I laugh at the absurdity of pulling my own hair and crying as though I had no other option but to be in pain. I ponder if this is still how I’m living, waiting for my beloved mother or somebody else to save me from the pain I cause myself without ever realizing that I could just let go whenever I want to.

My Pain, My Memories

Having aphantasia, you would think, would make traumatic experiences less heavy. There are no visuals to cling onto, no flashbacks to prevent me from moving on. And yet, the words cling, the memories halt me in my healing, and the stories I have weaved together to make sense of my experiences linger. I remember the first time someone said something mean to me. I can’t visualize their face or the location we were in, but I have words that weave together to complete it.

The girl was small, and so was I. We were in third grade. She was darker than me with eyes that had a beautiful hue to them but always looked at me in hatred. We had fought over our best friend, Lisa, who we both wanted to remain our only best friend. We argued because we envied each other for having time with Lisa. And she called me ugly. She called me mean and ugly, and told me that I would go to hell. And that’s the extent of my memory. Every detail of that is everything I have to recollect. You hold the exact words that make up my memory, you have my memory as vividly as I do if not more so if you can actually visualize that. 

Words make up my mind, and because it’s hard to distinguish between my own words in my head and another’s, I commit it all to heart. I took her words and stitched them into my mind. I told myself that because she had called me that, that must mean it was true. And I went home crying where my mom held me and told me it was okay and tried to soothe my sobbing. My father said something about her just being jealous - a valiant effort, but I knew it couldn’t be that. She didn’t tell me she was jealous, she told me that I was ugly and mean. I couldn’t read between those lines because all I had was those words.

And this was how I lived for a long time, letting others define me. Ugly, mean, beautiful, kind, selfish, selfless, brave, cowardice, responsible, irresponsible, grateful, ungrateful. If you couldn’t tell – these are very contradictory. So contradictory, I thought I was the contradiction. I believed I was all of those and more. I was sweet some days, mean others, grateful at one moment, ungrateful the next. And that could all be true. But I didn’t give myself a chance to see for myself. I let others define me. I was a culmination of what others believed me to be. Their visualizations of me made up for my lack of visualization. Their words coated my mind as though they were my own.

The painful ones that told me I was mean and ugly and stupid and ungrateful and worthless stuck with me the most. And when others would say I was smart or beautiful, I would remind myself that others thought differently. I would let those hurtful words wash away any inkling of the kind ones to remind myself that I need to do better, be better. And there I am again, wishing and waiting for someone to untangle my hair from my fist and let me be at peace again. Wishing they could rewrite the story for me.

My Mother, My Life

My next memory of my mother was before my eighth birthday party, which I had requested would be a costume party.

Days before the party I remember my mother and me at the party store, looking for decorations, costumes, and everything to make the party perfect. My brothers had already found their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes. So it was down to me now. What do you want to be? She asked. A monumental question. A question I hadn’t even thought about before, too busy listening to what others wanted or thought I should be.

A princess, I thought. A fairy, I thought again. I had a long list in my head of what I wanted to be (I still do). And when I voiced these two options that stood out the most to me, she declared then that’s what I would be. Confused, I questioned which one she had chosen. I expected her to choose one, as everyone else chose who I was before, without ever intending to. Instead, she told me that I would be both. A fairy princess!

Frustrated, I told her that those don’t exist (they do, I just didn’t know it yet). And she told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be and that if they didn’t exist before, they would now and I would be the very first one.

Now obviously one memory at the age of eight didn't make me do a whole 360 and start defining myself. No, because even if I did I wouldn’t have understood then that what you define yourself as can change. And the fear that I was defining the rest of my life paralyzed me, so I left myself an open book for much of my life. My book was filled with words other people scribbled in between the writing of their own. And every now and then, I filled in the empty spaces between those. I am creative. I will do my best every day. I will be helpful. The things I knew I wanted to stick with me and more importantly, I believed they would, I wrote them down in that book to keep.

My Life, My Choice

I’m twenty-two now, and I’ll be honest I still have trouble not letting others scribble down in my story. But I’ve taken control now. I’m still figuring out who I am. I’m still discovering parts of myself I never knew. But I’ve decided to no longer pull at my own hair. I’ve decided to let go of what hurts me. Every experience teaches me something, but I no longer have to latch onto it to put that lesson into action. I can define who I am. I’m learning to rip out the things I don’t want and to rewrite my story, because it is my story. I’m learning that it's okay to keep rewriting and rewriting and rewriting because we are ever-changing. I’m learning that it’s okay to be happy with who you are, or unhappy with who you are, but that it is your choice who you want to be. It is your life and only you can decide what you let define it.

So, Mom, I think I’ve figured it out a bit. What do you want to be? I want to be strong, brave, beautiful, and kind. I want to have the strength to change and grow without fear of what the future will bring. I want to love with everything I have without fear of losing it. I want to be creative and never give up. I want to be the person so stubborn about their dreams that they make them happen. I want to be kind even when I face people who aren’t so kind. I want to be compassionate towards them, and strong enough to know that their words define themselves more than they do me. I want to be able to light up a room and help others reach their full potential and guide them when they’ve lost their way and are afraid to take the next step. Basically, Mom, I want to be like you. 

About The Author

Sierra is a recent English graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). She enjoys writing and reading with a passion. She is especially passionate about sustainability and human rights and she hopes to use her writing to inspire others in these movements. As the Editor-in-Chief at LYF, Sierra is happy for the opportunity to contribute to these topics. When not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games or binge-watching TV. The things she loves most include strawberries, new stationery, and her bed.


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