In my early twenties, I rented a small room in Berkeley, California that was itself its own house. It had a tar roof, a front door, a window onto a courtyard, and access to a shared bathroom in the hall of the larger apartment building, behind which my unit was located. Across the courtyard from me in his tiny house was a concert violinist. We did not get along; he was too sane, perhaps. He wanted to be friends but did not honor boundaries. And boundaries—space—was what I needed. Lots of it.
There I began three years of crying, feeling the grief I would not allow myself to feel until then—the unfelt grief of twenty-six years of living. Those tears, along with writing, reading, and working with a beloved therapist, thawed me. From frozen, my blood began to flow and emotions cubed in ice rose to the surface.
The safety my therapist provided was key. It was there in that room, too that I began again to draw and paint.
There were many things to grieve, but the main one I want to discuss here is my infant surgery. I had been taught to forget it, taught that my parents suffered more than me, taught to think that I hadn’t felt a thing (due to anesthesia that I actually wasn’t given.) I felt betrayed—how could my body do me like that? A rotten beginning—major stomach surgery at twenty-six-days old. At age twenty-six, I faced this past. I seemed destined to be living alone in that room on Ellsworth Street; time to discover who I was, so that I might discard the me I was told I was. Time for tears to cleanse.
I became that baby who could finally cry—cry from pain, cry from having been cut, cry about a horrible beginning where I’d lost 2.5 pounds at the time I was finally operated on. I was taken from my family and isolated. I was on “death’s door” (mom’s words). I grieved my early time taken from me.
I was angry, furious really, and hadn’t known it until age twenty-six. The surgeon had fixed my stomach and upon discharge from the hospital, told my mother that “if she cries, she dies.” If my stitches burst, he told her, he couldn’t do the surgery again. Thus, my life in prison began. Imagine not being able to freely feel feelings as a baby. Now imagine twenty-six years of that.
So much to grieve. So much to rage over. So much to cry about. And I did. I wrote, tears streaming down my cheeks. I beat my pillow and felt the tears in my belly—deep crying, pouring out all that pent-up emotion and tears. I bawled. I felt the grief of not being the perfect child; of bearing an ugly scar; of putting my parents through agony; of feeling broken (though I recovered physically); of having been broken into.
Could I trust my body, my emotions? I needed to learn how. Crying was the medicine that enabled me to learn. Depression slowly lifted. I began to allow some love in, some compassion, relief. I felt some peace. Grieving invited my emotional self to move back in. And over time, I found home within.