My earliest memories are of being a small child sitting on the marble floor of our Greenwich Village apartment. There was something comforting in the coolness of that floor, in its immovability, in its seeming lack of opinion or judgment. It was a respite from the complexities of life in a large city with multiple families living in upstairs apartments under one roof. All my difficulties felt as if they could be put aside for a few moments in that little corner, next to the refrigerator. I could take comfort in the simple, repetitive task of sorting and stacking colorful blocks, ignoring the struggles in the wider world around me.
I remember my crib, white railings with balloons painted on an acrylic headboard, with a tattered stuffed animal watching over me from atop its quilted mattress. I remember being in that crib, looking out into a bright white world of possibility. I had a stuffed animal I named Frog, who only had one beady eye to suggest dreams beyond my imagination, as the family dog chewed off the other eye. I remember feeling a sense of safety and love in those moments, my parents around me but just out of reach, holding me in an intangible way.
As I got older, that crib became my cage. But, as I grew, I soon learned how to climb out of my crib and explore the apartment. It was mostly up to me to figure out how life worked. For me, life has always been a journey of transformation and self-discovery. Though teachers may have hated me, and family members may have misunderstood me, I took solace in knowing that I don’t need anyone’s approval to be myself. My worth comes from within, and I can be just as beautiful as I am unique. But, it took me decades to learn this.
I still remember visits to the pediatrician, and the doctor telling my parents that I was, “a gifted child who would grow up and be different.” At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but I always felt something inside me was different.
I have always felt like an outsider, a misfit in a world I never asked for. People look at me with judgemental eyes, attaching labels and placing me into boxes of their own choosing, the majority of which I never wanted to be a part. My heart still feels the weight of their stares, and my soul continues to ache from their disapproving glares.
The world I was born into has changed so much in the years since I was young. When I was a child, I worried about school and making friends, but now I worry about how the world I came into has gotten too scary.
The overwhelming pressure to succeed from my parents eventually took a toll on me, leaving me feeling anxious and inadequate. I began to feel that I had to constantly prove my worth and measure up, as if to gain acceptance. High school seemed like nothing more than a life-postponing milestone that I had to make it through as quickly as possible in order to escape the competitive environment.
From college admissions to job opportunities, the rat race has become an unavoidable part of life. I graduated high school without any accolades, or awards. I was given only a diploma to signify that I had fulfilled some irrelevant standard. I had to constantly remind myself that my worth was not determined by titles and awards, but rather by how I choose to love and care for myself and the world around me.
After a few years of working unrelated jobs, I finally landed my first job was as an Emergency Medical Technician and Firefighter. My career in the fire department lasted a total of twenty-two years. For two decades, I saw humanity at both its best and its worst.
I saw the harm that people inflict on each other on a daily basis, but I also witnessed hope. I saw people horrifically mutilate and dismember their own children, yet I also helped deliver babies to loving parents who were struggling to have a child of their own for so long. I saw entire families lost in a single moment of unimaginable tragedy, and the joy on children’s faces when they came to the fire just to look at the fire trucks.
I saw convalescence and athleticism, people holding grudges, and others giving forgiveness. I have seen the beginning and the end of everything, and everything in between. I saw the worst things in life that nobody should ever see, along with beautiful things that everyone wishes they could see.
I was eventually promoted to Lieutenant in the Fire Department. In that role, I saw the world becoming increasingly more volatile, a place where justice is rarely served and cruelty is normalized. Hatred and inequality seemed to grow every day. Where I once could at least see fleeting hopes and possibilities, I began to only see a world full of suffering, disappointment, and anguish. When it all simply got too dark to bear, I simply turned in my resignation, and left to pursue creative endeavors.
One day, I simply got into my car, and drove away from my New York home. I drove to Boston to meet Amelia, and we took a road trip together. I felt safe in her presence, and she radiated with light and hope. I sought solace in nature, finding comfort in the simple beauty in the mountain views of Maine, feeling the warmth of her gentle hand against my skin. I connected with her almost immediately, and discovered a new found strength I thought was forever lost to the ravages of the many traumas I endured during the course of my career.
I felt blessed to find companionship in someone who shared similar experiences and understood exactly what I was going through. We laughed together, and cried together, bonding over our pain as we shared stories of our struggles and victories. She provided me with an anchor when life seemed too overwhelming, giving me love and support that buoyed me up and kept me going. It wasn’t easy to return from our temporary refuge and face the harshness of the world once again, letting go of all our loose ends from the life we left behind.
I bought an old farm in Vermont as a way to find our peace, and to make good on the promise to myself that one day I would settle down. Amelia and I moved in together, and after a few months, I asked her if she would marry me and be my love in the hills, valleys, and streams of Vermont. In the summer we explore the landscapes and get lost in the mountains and rivers, marveling at the beauty of nature. And every morning the sun rises early, painting the sky in an array of orange and pink hues. When the sun sets, the sky is painted in hues of yellow and purple, and when the sun goes to bed, the stars and moon light up the night sky.
I’m constantly reminded that aside from our loving relationship, we are alone. Everyone I once knew wanted something different out of life, and Amelia and I lost all of our friends when we married. It seems that people oftentimes don’t understand us. I am totally in love, and lost in admiration, and yet, I cannot let go of the beauty of being part of a larger whole—the joys of having lifelong friendships, sharing good times and bad, until finally my friends drifted away and are now lost forever.
Being different is oftentimes isolating and alienating; everyone is different in some way. Amelia and I are perhaps different in every way. But, as long as we keep each other close and remember that we don’t need anyone else to make us complete, we will be okay, even in the scariest times. We make a strong unit, made stronger by our love and courage. We can face any storm and make it through; together we can be powerful, always, and forever, no matter what.
This post was inspired by a bad day; and a follow-up to a post about abandoning social media, for good. The image used in this post is titled, Well, Hello.
Summer Comes For Everyone | Lost In The Pages | Now Is The Time To Let Go | From Ties That Bind To Freedom: How I Escaped The Cycle Of Codependency | I’ve Lived A Life Less Ordinary | Friendship And The Life I Left Behind | In Another Set Of Chances, I’d Take The Ones I Missed | Only The Moon Understands The Beauty Of Love | A Little Ghost For The Offering