Emotion was a complicated entity in my household growing up, an entity I could never truly understand.
I have always felt everything, both joy and sadness, deeply and with every drop of passion in my body for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of me crying or throwing tantrums that were intense to say the least. My next door neighbor, Miss Fran, and I would frequently spend time together when my parents were out of the house. I can recall throwing a fit, over what I don’t remember. She witnessed it with patience and a heart swelling with sympathy for my overreaction. I begged her not to tell my mom. She promised that she wouldn't.
My parents were not as understanding about my “temper.” I was often scolded, grounded, and otherwise punished for my emotional episodes. I remember hearing the word “cry baby” a lot. I remember a day, I might have been four or five, when I was sitting under my mother’s antique coffee table, sobbing uncontrollably. I remember my mother defeatedly telling me how I never go a day without crying, and up until the present day, her words are etched into my memory. I remember thinking at that moment, “wow, it’s true,” and made a conscious effort to go more than one day without tears.
Before they separated when I was seven, my parents always fought. I remember my sister woke me up one night during one of their fights and the two of us stowed away across our backyard and into Miss Fran’s house. She was in the shower when we got there. She got out without washing the soap out of her hair.
My father had a raging temper that no one ever talked about. My childhood was spent walking on eggshells, never knowing what would set him off. Six-foot-four and over 200 pounds, my father's untamable rage was more terrifying than the T-Rex that I used to think lived under my bed. Emotion was never predictable in my household. It was trial and error. It was crying for attention. It was yelling to feel heard. It was the secret, repressed love-hate relationship I had with the voices that I knew only I could hear. It was absorbing all the pains of the world into my five-year-old heart without a single crumb to lead me down my path of emotional literacy.