CW: Descriptions of childhood emotional abuse.
There will come a point in 2020 when I can officially say that I have lived longer outside the 9th Circle of Hell than I have within it.
I will not, unfortunately, be concurrently able to say that I have spent more time outside of Hell than I have within it, as I’ve been stuck returning there for too many months at a time throughout my adult life. Nor will I quite be able to say that my “permanent address” has been outside of Hell longer than it has been within it because colleges still consider a student’s “permanent address” to be their state of birth.
It will be even nicer when I can say all three of these things, but I feel like I should, at least, be jumping up and down and making a new personal anniversary of 2020 just for the fact that I will, at least, be able to say my “home” has been outside Hell longer than it has been inside it.
I absolutely will make a new anniversary of this year, but mostly because my brain still desperately needs to be convinced that living slightly-longer-than-half of my life outside of Hell truly means that that entire slightly-longer-than-half-my-life hasn’t been some kind of taunting dream that will, inevitably, end in utter catastrophe and being forced to return to Hell in shame someday.
Did I ever mention that, when I was a child, I once wrote a note that I fully intended at that moment to save for decades and eventually send to my family-of-origin at – oh, roughly the age I am now – that basically said “Hello from that girl you kept saying would never be a success from whatever awesome place I am in. I just wanted you to know that you were wrong about me. I’m none of the things you said I am. And, I got here despite you all.” I never got to send that note. Not because I lost it, but because one of my “family'” members found it soon after, read it out loud with commentary on why everything in it was so impossible as to be humorous, then ripped it up in front of me and proclaimed that they would enjoy when I came crawling back to the 9th Circle of Hell in abject failure as an adult all the more because I had the audacity to think I’d ever make it away from it.
That memory crystallized forever that – even in that halcyon future wherein by all possible definitions of “time spent,” I can truly say I’ve spent more time “away from” than “in” Hell – I will probably still subconsciously feel that the entire life I’ve built for myself is the dream. I will probably still subconsciously fell that crawling back to that place where people proclaimed how much they would enjoy tossing me out again just when I’m at my lowest will truly be how my story ends.
It won’t be. If I’m honest, I know how my story would end at that point. And, that’s why I’ve done anything and gone anywhere throughout my adult life to try to always stay “safe enough” and “normal enough” and “wanted” enough to never risk having to finally live out the ending to my note that was predicted for me. That’s why I’ve always said I’m open to never settling down, if only because never settling down ensures that I can’t be forced to “settle” in the one place that would break me forever if it was all I had left.
In 2018, when I most recently had to return to Hell for an entirely-too-long stretch without a salary (because of not-FMLA) to deal with yet-another-type-of-systemic-abuse, my brain at one point became so sufficiently convinced that prophesied day of complete failure might actually be at hand that I scared myself. At that time, my Partner flat out said that – while we both maintain the rule that 1,500 miles should be the minimum distance between us and our respective families for mental health – he’d even go to his family (or sleep in a cardboard box in a city we used to live in that we know is at least warm enough we wouldn’t freeze) before he’d allow me to return voluntarily to Hell. Because in either of those dire alternatives, as bad as they are, he’d “know there was at least a chance you could recover. You returning to Hell is when I would know that I was going to lose you forever.”
He wasn’t (isn’t) wrong, even though I felt like I must be very stupid or selfish that I couldn’t ever “suck it up” and handle living in Hell again if “the worst happened.” When he first said that, I actually felt ashamed that “of all my memories,” it was one as “stupid” as a “childish” note being ripped up that I think I would have to rank among my worst. I was ashamed that – because of that memory foremost among many – returning to Hell because I’d “failed” outside of it really would be the one thing that would ever break me.
Even if I had lived the entirety of my post-9th Circle of Hell existence in a single place, thanks to PTSD, I suspect I’d still think of the 9th Circle of Hell as the “real” and the rest of my life as the “dream.” Because that is what I was conditioned to believe.
It probably doesn’t help, though, that my post 9th Circle of Hell existence has been mostly lived for just a few years at a stretch in any given “place.” If you ask me how many “places” I’ve lived in, I’ll probably either say five or eight (depending upon how I feel like counting those “places” that I spent a cumulatively decent amount of time subletting in for work contracts over years, but not necessarily for more than a couple of months at a time.) My Partner will say about six – or maybe seven or eight given the same ambiguity about work contracts – with roughly 50% of his “places” overlapping with mine. We’ll both cover the major geographic regions of the U.S., and my Partner will have a claim to international as well. We define “places” we’ve lived as “moves that completely upset our entire routine, such that we had to make entirely new friends, find entirely new doctors, and learn entirely different regionalisms.”
If we defined “places” we’ve lived simply by the city name on our postal address – not whether that city was far enough to require a change in routine – I’d have at least thirteen. (Though I’d need to check my Amazon Prime to be sure. Only it truly remembers all my addresses anymore!) My Partner would have similar – again with only about 50% overlap. We do not count our move in October as a change of “place,” because it’s still considered within the same major commutable metropolitan region. It’s a change of city within the same “place.”
By the standards of other “places” that we’ve lived in, especially those that lack public transportation, it does apparently count as a substantial move. I posted some random pictures of a pretty walking trail near our new complex after our most recent Snowmaggedon-that-wasn’t on Facebook. I was treated to a flurry of “Lavender, where are you?” questions from a flurry of almost friends that will forever remain “almost friends” because I didn’t quite stay long enough in the same city with them to make it not weird to keep in touch with them in any meaningful way (like coming to visit them) after I moved.
To me, the answer was “the cheap part of town because the price of living on the East Coast is eventually adding commuter rails to your life.” To them, the geographic distance between my “current” city and my “old” city is sufficient for it to count as another example of, “Lavender sure moves a lot.” It’s a little lonely to realize that the vast majority of the people I know in the world just default assume that, after about three years of living in any one city, I really could be anywhere.
I’ve been willing to engage in some pretty frequent geographic relocation over the course of my professional career to ensure that, at the very least, no matter how many “places” I end up living in, I at least never have to “live in” the 9th Circle of Hell again. But, it has been lonely at times to always be in-city-curely attached.
It has been lonely that – because I’ve never stayed for long enough in any of those individual places to rival my cumulative time in Hell – I never quite know how to answer that first question asked in a new place: “Lavender, where do you come from?” None of those individual places that together will soon equal more than my total tenure in Hell have been long enough by themselves to feel like I could legitimately claim to be “from” any of them. When I’m traveling internationally, I do say that I’m “from” the East Coast, in the sense of, “That’s where my luggage will return to after this trip is over.”
But, I don’t quite feel like I can say that I’m “from” here in any permanent sense. It isn’t, after all, even the place I’ve actually lived in the second-longest after Hell. It would be a little odd to ever try to tell a person who moved here from the city I went to graduate school in (which is the city I’ve lived in the second-longest at this point in my life) that I’m “from” either the East Coast or even their city! It ends up feeling like I have to say I’m “from Hell” because what else would I say? That’s not great for a psyche that already lives with the memory of being told that I’ll inevitably wind up there again, broken and defeated…
Since 2018, I’ve tried to default to saying “I’ve lived all over but got married in X, so it holds a special place in my heart” to at least try to claim my “roots” lie with my family of choice. One time I met tourists from the 9th Circle of Hell, and they noted how surprisingly “helpful” I was (given that residents of my state literally are nicknamed as assholes). I was so overjoyed at being mistaken for a native that I genuinely forgot to tell them what I really thought of their state’s “friendliness” for just long enough not to despoil them of their newly found good opinion of East Coasters! (If you are wondering, no, I don’t have a discernable 9th Circle of Hell accent. That’s somewhat because I deliberately worked to shed it and somewhat because one “benefit” of living all over is that I have picked up enough colloquialisms from the various “places” I’ve lived – and some from places only my Partner has lived – that even the New York Times is clueless. It claims I’m from one of those rare cities in the U.S. that I’ve never even been to for a conference!)
But, it is still kind of lonely that I can’t quite claim any other city, including my current one, as my “own” with anywhere near the same longevity as Hell. Even if together they all are about to exceed my tenure there, none alone can come close. And, thus, it’s still kind of lonely when the first thing people ask about some random Facebook photos of my neighborhood is always, “Lavender, where are you?”
I’d hoped they’d remember, so my own brain can stop wondering as well.
It is, after all, kind of lonely to wonder if – even if I’m still on the East Coast enough years from now that my residence here by itself alone exceeds my time in the 9th Circle of Hell – I’ll ever finally feel able to truly claim I am “from here.” (Or just that I’m permanently “here.”) Or will, at that time, I still first have to remind myself that the answer to “Lavender, where are you?” is “”Not in Hell.” (Or worse, “Not yet in Hell…”)
I will absolutely, 100%, celebrate the official day that I can say that I have, at least, lived outside of Hell longer than I have lived within it. I will absolutely, 100%, continue to try to convince myself that that ripped up note from childhood was emotional abuse, not destiny. I will absolutely, 100%, try to convince anyone else who is too afraid to leave their own Hell because they, too, have been convinced that all that awaits them on the outside of it is abject failure and an inevitable return on hands and knees begging for scraps that they are strong enough to make it. I absolutely, 100%, will continue to try to convince myself that I am everything I claimed that I would eventually become in that long-ago note (even if I’ll never get an acknowledgment of that fact from anyone in Hell).
But, anyone who says that emotional abuse isn’t just as scarring as other kinds of abuse can go jump as far as I’m concerned. Because, ultimately, it wasn’t any of the other kinds of abuse that took away my ability to truly believe that the East Coast will ever actually be my home. It wasn’t any of those other kinds of abuse that taught me that I couldn’t trust myself or the sanctity of my own hopes and dreams for myself. It was a ripped up note and a gleeful promise that “Lavender, wherever you are, you will never be truly free from here…”
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms