There is a wall. It has been built slowly, brick by brick. It has been knocked down, and rebuilt. It is stronger than ever. The wall is a protector. A defender. It is strewn in barbed wire and poison oak. Gargoyles, with eerie red eyes, are perched at the top, scaring off anyone that tries to climb. There are constant storms. Rain. Lightning. Thunder that will shake your bones for days.
This is the wall. The wall that separates me from the rest of the world. This is my wall.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly I started building this wall. My parents divorced before I was a year old and my alcoholic, drug addicted father wasn’t the most present in my life for a while. My memories with him are limited. And though my mother was physically present, emotionally, she was (still kind of is) a dud. Even though I know my parent’s absences have certainly laid bricks, there is one memory that stands out in my mind and still makes me shutter when I think about it.
I was ten years old. The summer before fifth grade I went on a vacation to Daytona, Florida with my family. That was the best week we had ever gotten along. With a temperamental stepfather and a mom who only showed her cigarettes attention, family vacations were never really our thing. But this vacation was different. For a moment in time, we were a happy family. The night before we were supposed to leave, mom told us we would stay an extra few days. That was until we woke up at 4 A.M. to her screaming bloody murder.
My great grandmother, Granny, was like a mom to my mother. They were as close as it gets. Granny died that morning. My sister and I ran out of our room into the sitting room. Our mother was hysterical, running around in her night gown, screaming and crying. We chased her into the bathroom where she threw herself onto the floor, almost like a child having a tantrum. I remember wrapping my arms around her neck, begging her to calm down, telling her it would be okay. All I remember thinking is that I hope I never have to feel pain like this. I can never let myself break the way I watched my mom break that morning.
She was shattered. And I began building.
My mind became obsessed with the idea of loss and death. Though I wasn’t close to Granny, her death impacted my life in a way that I didn’t understand at the time. Seeing my mother so distraught and broken, it left me terrified. I promised myself I would always guard my heart and never let anyone close enough to break it.
Little did I know, my own wall would be the one to crush me, over and over again.
Fast forward to 2009. I’m a freshman in high school. Fourteen, nearly fifteen, and trying to figure out who the hell I was. I got into an unhealthy, mentally abusive relationship with a dirtbag and lost my innocence. I was so wrapped up in having a boyfriend and being “cool” that I completely forgot who I was. I was skipping school, stopped going to church, let my homework pile up. I lied to everyone I cared about. Slowly, I went down hill.
April 18th, 2009, I hit rock bottom.
Being the annoying little teeny-bopper I was, MySpace was life. I spent my morning home alone, mulling over who would be in my top 5 friends while eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and watching MTV. It was around noon when a friend of mine from my dad’s small town of Chincoteague Island sent me a message.
“Hey, is it true what happened to your dad?” I almost laughed because it was so random. Someone I hadn’t talked to in nearly a year was asking me about my dad. Surely if something had happened I would know about it. He had to have been mistaken. So, I sent him a message back asking what he was talking about. Not even 30 minutes later a familiar car pulls in my driveway.
My aunt Debbie (dad’s older sister) and very pregnant cousin Christy come to the door. Although I was happy to see them, I knew something was up. Neither one of them would ever come by for a random visit. They lived an hour away, and at that point in my life, I didn’t consider us that close. I walk out onto the porch where they both stood, exchanging glances. Skipping the small talk, they went to each side of me. Christy to the left, Debbie to my right.
Christy didn’t talk. She held my hands with one of her own, and had her other hand on my back. Debbie started talking about someone, but I couldn’t understand anything she was saying.
“He was suffering………..He couldn’t bare the pain anymore…………He shot himself.”
I immediately start panicking. My thoughts were spinning. Who is she talking about? Whose dad? Who died? I don’t understand.
“Your dad shot himself. Freddy died this morning.”
Suddenly my knees locked, my breathing became rapid, and my vision blurred. Aunt Debbie and Christy were holding me up, taking me inside, and sitting me on the couch. I couldn’t form words. Nothing was making sense. It felt like one of those nightmares where you’re watching yourself from a distance. You can see that you’re in pain, that you need to wake up, but there’s nothing you do about it. You have to watch until you wake up. I never woke up.
When I got myself together I picked up my phone to call my big sister. After a few rings she answered. I told her she needed to come to the house and to hurry. She could tell something was wrong, but didn’t question me. Within 1o minutes she was walking in the door. She fell into the recliner, put her face in her hands, and screamed.
Not long after that my mom, stepdad, and older brother showed up. My brother, Joey, has a different father than us, but was practically raised by my dad. I knew he was hurting too. We’ve never been a physical family, never showing affection. But in that moment, I’ve never been held longer or tighter than when my mom came running in the house.
That night I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out what the fuck was happening. He couldn’t possibly be dead. He wouldn’t do that to us, he wouldn’t leave us. After fighting his addictions, he was finally sober. He wasn’t drinking, using drugs. He was fine. Shaking off the urge to cry again, I pick up my phone and dial my dad’s number. It rang until his voicemail came on.
His voice. His cracked, southern voice. I told him to call me back. Something was wrong, he needed to call me. I continued to call and talk to his voicemail until my voice was hoarse. Finally, I cradled my head in my hands, remembering the last time we spoke a few months earlier.
I had just gotten in trouble for skipping school. Two days of in school suspension. My mom made me call my dad and tell him myself. He yelled at me for over an hour. Telling me how disappointed he was. I wasn’t the daughter he knew. We didn’t speak for a month. One day I called him, asking if I would see him for Easter or Father’s Day. Or when I’d be able to come visit for the summer. He seemed upset. He said he didn’t think I would be able to stay with him at all that summer. I knew he was still mad at me for skipping school. He knew what happened, I didn’t have to tell him the details. I could hear the resentment in his voice. So, I lashed out to him out of spite.
“I don’t want to see you anyway. I hate you.” Click.
Now here I was, dialing his voicemail over and over, begging God for another chance.
He was cremated. There was a memorial service. We spread his ashes over the hills of the farm. I stayed in bed for two weeks. I avoided everyone who tried to speak to me.
I was still in the nightmare. I watched as I built my wall. I began to close myself off from the world, including myself. I kept watching until, finally, I couldn’t see myself anymore.
Fast forward: September 2010. I’m about to start my junior year of high school. I had transferred to Gate City High the semester before, ending my sophomore year on a better note than when I was a freshman. My mom and stepdad split up the same month I switched schools. Change kept coming. But I needed the distraction.
Since I finally had my driver’s license and a car, I drove to my cousin Ethan’s soccer games and practices. Ethan was, and is, pretty much my brother. His mom was my dad’s twin. We grew up together. The majority of my childhood memories are with him. For a really long time, Ethan was my rock. He loved me, accepted and protected me, despite my shortcomings. He stood with me on the other side of the wall. He introduced me to Alex.
Alex didn’t just walk into my life, he sprinted. It was madness from the beginning. His first line was a cheesy ass pick-up line. “Ditch the zero and get with the hero.” After that, he had me swooning over his every word. I never usually fell for the bullshit. Words meant nothing to me. But for whatever reason, everything he told me stuck. Maybe it was my vulnerability. In a way, his charm reminded me of my father. So, I let my wall down…
Over the next couple of years Alex and I were on and off several times. We split for junior prom, skipped senior prom (but totally went to the after party together), broke up right before graduation (I went to his anyway, of course), got back together during my graduation, went to church camp together, then broke up right after. And it was totally the FINAL straw. Like, for real. So, what did I do? I ran away to Maryland and spent the summer with my sister.
You heard me. I packed my shit up and drove nearly 11 hours at 17 years old and only told a hand full of people that I was leaving. I spent the summer connecting with my big sister, my 5 month old niece, Sophie, and my new brother-in-law, Nyles. It was a good summer.
I met some new friends…street raced around Ocean City, Maryland…spent nights drunk on cheap wine watching movies…celebrated my 18th birthday…watched my niece roll over for the first time…went with her on her first beach trip…spent every single dime I had ever saved. I was growing up, figuring shit out, and being myself. I was in the middle of patching up my broken wall when some stupid bullshit happened…
Alex texted me. And just like that, we were right back where we started.
On and off, on and off, on and off.
My first semester at King University was spent hiding out in Alex’s dorm room, eating Ramen noodles, and letting him and his friends copy all of my tests and homework. Although I was happy to have him back, something was changing. I was changing. My photography career was growing, I had plans to travel. I was a total badass in the classroom. College was amazing. And Alex was obsessed with soccer. We weren’t on the same page. I knew it wasn’t working out between us, but I kept fighting the feeling.
The beginning of January 2013 I finally decided enough was enough. I broke it off. I really thought it was the end. I felt free and happy.
Three weeks later two little pink lines appeared and my world was turned upside down.
Fast forward: October 3rd, 2013. I had a little human being standing with me on my side of the wall. Jackson Reed was born. Alex started coming around. Helping out. Being a great freaking dad. My heart was torn. The wall was being chipped down slowly.
Fast forward: February 2014. Alex proposed. In a temporary high, I said yes.
Fast forward: May 24th, 2014. Alex and I tied the knot. I was fucking scared to death. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about running. The next 6 months were filled with fighting, making up, and more fighting.
Fast forward: November 11th, 2014. Alex leaves for Air Force Boot Camp. If I’m being honest, I was slightly relieved. (I know, I’m a terrible person)
Fast forward: June 4, 2015. We move to Valdosta, GA. Home of Moody Air Force Base. The next 6 months were filled with fighting, fake making up, and more fighting. It got to the point where we could barely even look at each other. I hated being in the same room as him. His presence made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to take off. There were nights where I would pray to God to take me back to the day he proposed so I could change my answer. I knew from the beginning we shouldn’t have been together.
Fast forward: November 14th, 2015. I leave my husband. The wall was officially rebuilt.
Fast forward: March 16th, 2016. I move back home to Tennessee.
So, here I am. Freshly twenty-two and just 4 months away from being officially divorced. I’ve probably been on 10 or so dates. I had a Tinder at one point. It’s ridiculous the number of people you can meet on social media. It was an interesting experience and it was actually kind of fun. (One that I’ll never put myself through again, though.)
Date after date, I try tell myself this is a good thing. I want to date. I want to put myself out there and find my “person”. I want an emotional and physical connection with someone. Honestly, I just wanna find someone that will lay naked in bed with me, eat pizza, and watch Catfish. Is that too much to ask for?
Apparently it is, because my wall is blocking all that shit out. As hard as I try to tear it down and let myself connect with people, I can’t. My head is saying, “Tess, just fucking do it!!” My heart is saying, “Hahahahaha, no thank you.” ALL I WANT IS TO BE LOVED BUT I WON’T ALLOW IT. I am a walking contradiction.
Daddy issues? Got ’em. Mommy issues? Yup. Abandonment issues? Absolutely.
Should that be any reason to keep myself from being happy? Hell no. So, the question is: What do I do to change my situation? How do I allow myself to be happy?
Everyone tells me, it’s all within myself. I have to be happy with myself before I’ll ever be able to love anyone else. But what if that isn’t true? I love my son. I love my family and friends. I love other people. A part of me wants to believe that maybe when the right person will come along, and it’ll be like the wall never existed.
But is there really a “right” person? Life is all about choices, right? Will I just know? Will there be stars and angels singing and weird heavenly lights shining down when I meet him? Will he know when he meets me? Am I ever going to have normal feelings?
I have no idea where the hell this post is going and I’m kinda just pulling all my thoughts out of my ass right now. I’m feeling vulnerable.
I feel like this is a “To be continued…” kind of moment.