I press my boot into the snow, the print crisp. The wind slices against my cheeks, sweeping through my coat to penetrate deep into my bones. I step into the cold when I want answers. It’s unavoidable in winter, where the cold seeps into every layer of my body; even in the warmth of a heated house, I find my fingers or toes cold, too cold. What is it about the cold that provides such a sharp clarity? I can’t hide in the cold; it strips me bare, forcing me to face myself.
Often in my life, I would go outside to face myself. Heated moments at the parents, where the tears clogged my nose and gargled my throat. Such pain etched across my heart led me far from the heated house into the dark park, the pinpricks of light above, so cold and distant. The lake near my parents’ house often froze in the winter, and I’d step past the rocks, testing the ice’s strength. There, at the edge of the lake, I sang. Salty tears stung my eyes, and I sang, the nonsense syllables forming words, until my very body throbbed with this agony to be heard.
Stars as my guide, I walked those shores, unleashing the torrent of emotion. It was there that I begged God for relief from the pain. Where I questioned God’s role in my life. It was there, in that dark, cold air, that I wrestled with my faith. I’d seen horrors in my day, moments I never wanted to relive, but on those dark shores, I wrestled with their existence in my life; the fact that my faith couldn’t explain why I suffered; why God felt the need to put me through these trials, these agonies, and provide me with little to no resources. How many times had I tried to share my tale and I wasn’t believed? How many times had I explained my confusion with my sexuality and gender, and I wasn’t heard, only rebuffed and told to fix it, that it wasn’t appropriate to mention? I spent my childhood on the periphery of life, and here, in adulthood, I sang out my pain, fear, and trauma to the stars and the icy lake, where only the trees and the geese could hear me.
Until one day, I stood at the edge of that lake and looked back at my parents’ house. The glow of the windows a sharp contrast to the darkness that obscured everything. It was 2008, and I’d spent three years of my life lost in life, where I wandered from state to state, only to come back to this lake and my parents’ house after each attempt. How many steps did I have to walk before I realized the truth?
I walked away from my faith that day. I left it beside that lake and slammed the door in God’s face. I was done; I just couldn’t take the pain anymore. I had to leave and put up stringent boundaries. Instead of a lake, I found myself alone at the university, and there, through therapy and my classes, I struggled to understand boundaries and how to enforce them. How many times had I tried to put up boundaries with the family, only for them to smash them like brittle glass? It wasn’t just family but also friends and classmates. I had to be firm; there was just some arenas of life where people could no longer go, where I’d cease to follow. Fear clouded each step I took, for this was uncharted territory.
For three years, I navigated dark and painful waters, all the while stepping carefully around my loved ones. I had to learn what topics weren’t healthy to share with friends or family. I fumbled about as I struggled to express my new found opinions, my new awareness of the world — especially my discoveries in science, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and how interconnected we all are, truths I’d been blind to for so long. I listened more and more, and spoke less and less. Over time, I began to recognize what battles were worth fighting, and which ones I should walk away from, like I did, that night at the lake, where I ceased to wrestle with God and my faith.
I’ve messed up a lot on this journey. Times where I’ve said things I wish I could take back, and times were I should have spoken up instead of staying silent. I remember one day, at my third university attempt, when my father visited me. He sat on the couch in the living room of the apartment, and I sat behind my computer. Dad spoke directly about the pain that lay between us; the times I tried to share past trauma with the family, only for them to call it a dream, the disbelief too painful to be palatable. He asked for forgiveness. I didn’t know what to say. So I stayed silent when I needed to speak the most.
I remember when I was a freshman at my first university attempt; I was a fervent Catholic then, and I fought hard for my faith to the point that I neglected my own identity. It was another dark night with no clouds, the stars dim against the city lights. I remember walking into the Catholic church, where the youth group met, and as I sat there, listening, I felt this rise of panic. The topic briefly touched about gay people, and I couldn’t stay. I slid out of my chair, and quietly exited the building. My hands shook, and I wanted to puke. I can’t let them see. I started to run, back toward my dorm, back to the reality I knew: silence. My friends found me in my room in tears, unable to even explain why. The fear bound me tightly.
If I could name one thing I remember the most from childhood, it’d be the desire to be connected, loved, apart of something bigger than myself. I tried over and over again as a child, but no matter how hard I tried to befriend my classmates, to try to be the loyal and kind sister, the dutiful daughter, I found myself on the periphery of everything. The expectations my family, teachers, and classmates all held for me were too high; I could never reach them, worse I could never be that person. I knew, from a young age, that I was different, odd, an outcast, but I didn’t understand why until that night at the lake, when I turned my back on my past. Where I learned to put up boundaries and place my heart in a cage, far from prying eyes.
There’s no room for a gay person, confused by their gender identity, in my former life. By all counts, the Church, and many of my Christian friends, decried such a lifestyle, all the while forgetting that I never chose it. I couldn’t choose it, because it had always been apart of me. I simply ran from it; tried hard to ignore it, and tried to kill that part of myself, but no matter where I ran, no matter what I did, I could not escape me. If there was one person in the universe that I had to learn to live with, it was myself, and to do that, I had to let go of my past. To let go of the expectations from my family and friends and teachers and priests.
I had to go my own way.