The Opened Door: Writing It Down
“Cynthia, will you shut that baby up!” My father’s words to my mother. Also, some of the only words I can remember from the first meaningful bit of literature I wrote. I was thirteen. Not too dissimilar from my current objective, narrative in nature, it was my recollection of a traumatic event that would forever change me. While the event was responsible for much of my core development, it was not, surprisingly, the driving force behind this particular metamorphosis. By penning those unknowingly therapeutic words, I was inadvertently blessed with an epiphany: what writing truly meant to me.
I never saw myself as much of a writer. In fact, I still don’t. Up until that point, I had done a lot of “writing.” However, it was less original thought, and more transference of information from one page to another via my own hand. To her credit, my mother did her best to persuade me into keeping a journal, but it never really worked for me. There was something so seemingly unnatural about it to me. I never really talked about my feelings and I wasn’t much of a crier. However, in the wake of that aforementioned happening, what I came to understand is the impact writing had on how I processed trauma.
Throughout life’s difficulties, and Lord knows we had our fair share, writing became my outlet, my coping mechanism. When I found myself racked with grief, I picked up my pen, put it on the pad, and away it went. It was as if I could reach into my soul, pull out the aches, and lay them on the paper. It wasn’t a cure all, though. My worries didn’t just magically disappear, but I no longer felt like I had their entire weight on my shoulders. The effect was real, it was tangible. And tangible was exactly what I needed.
At an early age, I learned that, sometimes, “shit happens.” I grew up in a devout Christian household. We were taught that God will never let us suffer more than we can bear and, another I’m sure you’re familiar with, “When God closes one door, He opens another.” Unfortunately, the clarity of this adage came to me swiftly, definitively, and at great cost.
While most teenagers of thirteen years would frown at the thought of sharing a bedroom with their six-month-old baby brother, I welcomed the idea. I loved being a big brother. Even when his infantile cries woke me, I would lovingly rock him back to sleep. Except for that one night. That one night I was in a teenage funk. That one night I couldn’t be bothered to lovingly tend to his attempts to get my attention. That one night his cries were so loud it led my father to exclaim the words in the onset of this retelling. That one night that turned into that one morning he never woke up. The silence in the room as I stared at his lifeless body was soul crushingly loud. That was the sound of one of my doors closing.
As if being thirteen and losing your baby brother wasn’t hard enough, I lived with tremendous feelings of guilt. Why did I put my pillow over my head? Why didn’t I wake up and help him to sleep? If I had, wouldn’t he have been okay? Yes, he would still be alive, I’d tell myself. I didn’t sleep for weeks. When I closed my eyes, I could hear him crying. It was a lot for me to process, and I didn’t do that well because I didn’t know how to. Despite having all the support in the world from my family, it wasn’t enough for me.
Then, a door opened. I wrote it down.
From that cathartic release, I learned two things: First, even though the journal didn’t work for me, “Mother knows best.” Second, just like many youths, I learned the value of coping with life through writing. In the end, the very thing I had shied away from became my lifeline back to humanity.
Sometimes, I wonder how I would have turned out if I hadn’t written it down. Sometimes, still, I wonder if I would have bought him his first beer or taught him how to drive. It saddens me because I would rather have him here, but it doesn’t incapacitate me. Rather, it’s how I honor his memory. I stop. I smile. I take a moment and think about how I’ve gotten through it and everything life has thrown my way. And I realize, I’m so glad I wrote it down.