My Blissful Escape: How I Defied Terrible Odds


1. Cross-posted from Postmodern Woman.

2.For all of you too afraid to share yesterday’s post or those who simply don’t understand it, fret not. Today’s post isn’t about race but about humanity. And maybe it’ll provide you with the context you need to translate my other posts this week. Thank you for reading.

I should be dead.

I should have been killed. Or I should have killed myself. People have died for so much less. I never should have made it out. I should be a complete wreck. I came so close…

The others didn’t make it. The others died. They imploded. They gave up. They couldn’t see better. They never envisioned that life could change. The choices set before them were all the wrong ones. The ones that aren’t actually choices at all. They sold off their lives and their souls in bits and pieces, letting the world chew them up until they’d been masticated into particles.

I am the exception.

I wondered why. How. What was it about me or my upbringing?

I was dirt poor like them: how many nights did I spend awake because of a growling belly or various insects and pests crawling over my body? I had nightmares for months afterward about the roaches, the spiders, the silverfish, the bed bugs. How many times was I raped and hit on? I can’t even remember. How many was I beaten? Too many to ever count.

I was alienated, completely alone. I was ill. Healthcare was terrible and nonexistent. I bore the pain without ever knowing the cause. All the while people sought to tear me down, even my own mother.

She always said I was smart. That was my only redeeming value to her. My intelligence. I was her good girl. My older sister bore the brunt of her vicious anger and belittlement. Our younger sister was the favorite. Our brother was the substitution for the husband who’d left. And me: the quiet, smart one.

I didn’t give a shit about being smart. School bored the ever-loving shit out of me so I did my own research and lived in my own world. I enjoyed it every time we moved to a new neighborhood or a new school. I never played the drama game with my mother or others. I have never spoken disrespectfully to her and I have only raised my voice to her for a fraction of a second one time. I was nobody’s victim, even if they did their best to break me. They worked so hard to insert their voices into my head. They’d wriggle in but I would shut my eyes and scream silently, a scream so loud it never made a sound. I brought other voices into my head to combat them in the form of my fiction.

But even that wasn’t it. No, that’s not what saved me.

Weirdly enough, as abusive and neglectful as she was, my mother taught me about humanity. To always put humanity first. The same went for my workaholic and ever-distant father. In their own ways they each instilled in the Neal children the ability to see beyond the surface and to treat people like human beings first and foremost.

People nowadays say they’re gay first or black first. Then what is the point of fighting for their humanity? As long as the label comes first, you can never be human. Because you’ve already divided yourself.

But that’s a discussion for another day. My parents showed me the diversity of humanity and we learned to embrace it in all its forms. We never understood what everyone else was always bickering about: straight against gay, white against colored, popular vs geek, healthy vs sick and on and on and on. We giggled over the lines people were drawing all over the place like they could never be crossed. Like they were the end-all and be-all.

See, we grew up knowing people of all races and classes. We had rich friends. We had poor friends. Our mother taught us about different religions. We were brought up Christian but she incorporated many elements of Judaism into our practice (I never fully believed, and officially branched off to do my own religious research at age 12, but I did enjoy celebrating Shabbat). We knew deaf people, mentally ill people, mentally retarded people, people with physical handicaps.

My father instilled in us a deep desire and hunger for knowledge and science. He showed us horror movies and science fiction movies, which opened our minds to aliens, technology, and rationality. My mother worked cleaning homes, had us doing chores from a young age, and worked in group homes with mentally disabled people. We had family members who had mental illnesses and we’d go and keep them company. We spent time with the eldery, both our living great-grandparents and grandparents and with elderly neighbors whose families no longer visited.

We lived lives in service to those less fortunate, even if we had less than them. We cooked and brought food to new neighbors, played with the kids, and babysat often. We learned how to care for children of all ages. Sharing was never an issue in a house with so many people cycling through throughout the years. We were taught table manners, proper speech, and etiquette from a very young age. We sang and danced together. During really bad storms we prayed and ate fish and bread together. We’d have regular days for giving one another massages and washing each others’ feet. We planted vegetables together, cared for animals, and did skits and radio shows.

That’s how we survived. It was far from perfect. It wasn’t the healthiest dynamic in a lot of ways. For many years I suppressed the reality of who I was and only expressed it in my stories. Life for me was already unsafe enough as it was; I didn’t need additional reasons for people to beat, rape, and try to kill me. My mother never wanted to see who I was and I don’t believe she ever really will. That’s okay. My father seems more like a good friend than a dad and that’s okay, too. At least he accepts my weirdness and awful health, even if he doesn’t understand it.

But they gave me gold. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, even if some of it was abusive and terrible. Even if they didn’t protect me from rapists and assholes. Even if they could never afford to buy clothes that fit or enough food to keep me going.

See-even as my body turned against me and my hormones and circumstances induced years of a suicidal depression that only began to lift when I found a doctor who listened to me and found out what was causing it-my core had been protected. My parents had already shone a light through and I was hatching. They had shown me the height and the depths of humanity in a way that most people die never ever seeing.

Most people rarely encounter, work closely with, or date people who are dissimilar from themselves. They live in enclosed bubbles and are unaware of the ways in which we differ. They cannot empathize with or even conceptualize different experiences. They can’t walk in anyone else’s shoes.

But I have encountered many cultures, many races, many sexes, many diverse minds and paths. We embraced people as they came to us, for exactly who they were. We listened to their stories, assisted them when we could, and sent them on their way.

The homeless, the ridiculously rich, the barely conscious, the dying, the newly born, the beautiful, the hideous, the uplifted, the degraded, the monsters, the angels-I’ve met them all.

So if you ever wonder why I’m not quite impressed when people applaud the typical or fawn over something in the media or worship some wise person, this is why. It’s because I’ve seen so much more. I’ve been exposed to the different worlds that humans inhabit.

I’ve always been on the outside and so can better see the gaping holes thought leaders miss. I came to all of the conclusions it takes them decades to figure out within months in my early teens. There is so much further to go and so much our communities are missing.

We’ve moved around, year after year, and refreshed ourselves. We’re used to starting over from scratch. We’re all highly creative and intelligent.

And as mismatched as our parents were (and as grateful as I am that they never got back together; unlike most CODs I never wanted them to remarry) I am able to unfurl my wings and fly today because of what they nurtured in me from day one.

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