The fall of 2015, after my first time at VONA, I heard about writers and the emotional wound. I sat at a personal essay workshop with Vanessa Martir, as she talked about writing the wound. Emotional Wound, I whispered to myself deep in thought. I surfed the web, ready to learn more about the emotional wound. I gathered this: painful as a physical wound, if not more, emotional wounds originate from childhood. The wound oozes, and if left untreated, infects all the stages of a person’s life.
Emotional wound. Those two words, shaped themselves into a skeleton key, able to open a door from the past. A door I pressed my back against, and slammed shut. Quick to find the culprit behind my wound, I flipped through my past like an old photo album. Mami and Papi, I concluded, and instead of mug shot with serial numbers underneath, the words abandonment and rejection rested at the bottom of their pictures. Annoyed, I thought: isn’t that most everybody? Well, now what? Unable to see beyond, the sift of time necessary, and life to unfurl itself. I busied myself with living. I wrote, and wrote some more. I did not give much thought to my emotional wound, though my wound permeated through all the parts of my life. And, it leaked its pus all over my writing.
Truth is, I knew I was wounded early on. Tipped off by the fact that I read The Catcher In The Rye five times my freshman year of highschool. I had fallen in love with Holden Caulfield. All while girl’s wrote their names in curled script, underneath the name of their boyfriend or crush, trapped in the shape of a heart, on the top of their binders. I stared at them from behind my book, my heart longed for love too. Only much later, did I realize it was my own love it searched for.
I have always felt way too much. Deemed dramatica, declared una persona que todo lo toma apecho, and berated for being too sensitive. Told this enough times, shame grew, and I shoved all my feelings down my throat. Silenced, I spoke to the characters that lived in the pages of the books I gobbled up. Waves of fear have threatened to capsize me since my early memories. As a kid I cried when I saw my shadow, refused to look at strangers, threw colossal temper tantrums to have my blood drawn, wept during eye exams, and freaked out during episodes of The Love Bug. Not sure what to do with emotions, I saw them as something to hide from and repress. I fled. But, emotions cannot be outrun, like Olympic track and field stars, they are agile, able to both sprint and go long distance. Compounded, undealt emotions morphed, and revisited me during my unconscious hours. My night terrors began at three, and I have never outgrown them. Though they are far and few now, they still grab hold of me some nights.
Soon emotions haunted me during my waking hours. Anxiety. A shady ass bitch, anxiety snaked an unexplained fear through me, and rendered me captive. For me, anxiety did not come alone. Depression coiled itself tight around me. I sat terrorized by feelings, certain that they would turn on me one day and leave me a madwoman. I worked harder to numb myself to them. More books, grilled cheese sandwiches, shoplifting, playing with fire, scratching my head till I drew blood.
If anxiety is a shady ass bitch, depression is a con artist, a fuck’n liar. At nineteen I took note that my bouts with depression were becoming more frequent. Desperate to find a culprit, I blamed PMS and the winter blues. I believed this bowl of shit, so much I fed it not just to myself, but others. Anxiety, like I said is crafty, harder to explain it away, especially if it’s a fist pounding at your chest. I mean how the fuck can you ignore that? My first full panic attack at twenty-two left me jolted and mentally disheveled. On a train ride to midtown Manhattan I fixated on hyperdemic needles, worried I’d be stabbed by strangers, unable to catch my breath, I swore my mind had splintered.
Then, one anxiety attack became another, then another, soon a few a week. Afraid of my own mind, I sought the help of a therapist, as soon as I had health insurance. I was young when I started therapy, twenty-three, and for four full years once a week on a Friday I spilled my guts to my therapist. He sat in front of me in a recliner the color of sand, a Vincent Van Gogh print above his head and to the left, and his legs stretched long in front of me. I sat on the far end of the sofa, my hands on my lap, and eyes on Van Gogh’s bandaged ear.
I blamed the chaos of my childhood on Mami’s fits of rages, Papi’s drinking, growing up in Sunset, being the daughter of immigrants, and old immigrants at that. All complicit in shaping the wound lodged in my center.
My therapist nodded, his eyes often filled with sadness, he questioned, prodded, and listened. At the end of my sessions he remarked how hard I worked at therapy. Delighted that I was good at this therapy thing, I worked harder, happy to please. And, a voice whispered, why do you need to prove so much to others. Aren’t you in therapy for yourself. I folded my arms, ignored my inner voice, and searched for the world to love me.
My friend Awilda, once described me as un pancito de agua, a quien no le gusta el pancito. I smiled. True, who doesn’t like a sweet dinner roll? Years of smiles, careful vetting of others emotions in order to fold myself small, as not to disturb the space of others, and be liked. In spite of all this, I did not like myself. How could I? I wasn’t myself. Underneath my emotional wound of abandonment and rejection grew the need to be loved by everyone. And, I loathed myself for this. Betrayed by self, I hid behind the firey walls of my own rage.
The voice, which whispered to me at my therapist all those years ago, at Vanessa’s personal essay class, and all through my life, is the real me. I no longer shrug the voice away, I make space to hear what it needs to say, and I listen. It was that tiny voice, the one which knew for sure at eleven I wanted to be a writer. And, has since echoed, I’m so happy when I write. Maybe I write because I’m highly sensitive or I’m highly sensitive and therefore, I’m a writer. I don’t care why I write, I just know I have to write. Blessed to know this early in life, but unable to see my whole self, just a mere outline. I wrote myself into a character. Only behind the veil of fiction could I speak my words, tell my stories, and share my heart.
I’m stronger now. My character and I are not the same people. I can tell her story, which is my story in many ways, but I don’t need her to speak for me. My greatest act of self-love was to claim my voice.
These last weeks of the year I have told several of my friends, you cannot write 52 essays in one year, and not come out changed from that experience. There is no way. It changes who you are, I stare at each and every one of them in the eyes, and dare them to say any different. I am a different writer from when I started. I’m a different person. Writing, reading, and re reading my words, I got to pull back my layers, peel them off, get closer to my emotional wound. And, I love myself, despite that sometimes it hurts.