This Little Light

| by Maya M.D. Spier Stiles North |

When I envision my first days, I see darkness. A vast, swallowing darkness that yawns on and on and on. I lie on my back in this darkness, devoured by it. It is memory. It is my first three weeks of life in the nursery in the home for unwed mothers, where I first learned I was unloved. The chasm of shadow that surrounded me invaded my heart, teaching a newborn to be sad and hopeless; this sense of dim infinity would plague me into my 30s — yawning, dizzying, empty, silent. It would terrorize me right before I fell asleep, a despair that felt like vertigo.

In the way, way back, when I was born, they had not yet grasped that babies will literally die if they are unloved. It’s likely they saw no consequence to leaving me unclaimed for so long — merely maintained. When they finally notified my adoptive parents that I was available, I had given up. I was a tiny to begin with – I had lost nearly a pound by the time they retrieved me –  thin to the point of frailty. Did they not even question it? 

My poor, terribly damaged adoptive parents had no idea that they had been landed with a fragile, sad, angry, innately depressed child. They tell us adopted babies are grieving for the mothers they knew from the womb. I think this is true. There has always been a hole in my heart that only widened as I grew older.  I would have been a challenge for the whole of heart. I was far beyond my adoptive parents’ abilities.

These days, my depression has warning signs. They’re quiet and vicious, but they sound as loud as the trumpets of evil angels announcing the arrival of grand and terrible personages. With one exception, they aren’t the words of my childhood. They’re what those words morphed into over time.

The first is “idiot” – spat out fast and mean – over and over with every mistake I make. They don’t have to be mistakes of great magnitude. Forget my motortrike key in the ignition and I am stomping back muttering “idiot” to the rhythm of every step. It’s what my father called me nearly every day of my life. The chain came off my bike – “idiot!” I couldn’t find what he sent me to look for – “idiot!”  Being stupid was the ultimate sign of worthlessness and I had it on good authority, reinforced continually.

The only good thing about that one is it’s so familiar and constant I can, after a moment, brush it off and walk past it as it stares and snarls at me.

It’s when my mother’s disdain creeps in that I know I have work to do. “The universe doesn’t much like you, does it?” “Look at you – you’ll always be uglier than everyone else.” “God uniquely values you less.” “A whole lifetime you’ve had to amount to something, but you’re really nothing, aren’t you?”  The rage rushes inward – a bitter tide swirling around the pools worn by constant battering, the spray searing and acidic. My father spewed his vitriol aloud, accompanied by vesuvial eruptions and spankings that felt like assaults. My mother, despite her habit of slapping me hard enough to leave 45 minute handprints, was subtler. Quiet disdain, pained endurance of this imperfect girlchild, the child’s defective nature set off all the more by the radiant perfection of the younger brother. My heart translated it all into the words of incoming depression, depression that first had me suicidal at age six.

I can’t always fight it immediately. There are days I am dissolved, a liquid grief and self loathing that has slow tears sliding in sheets down my cheeks. But fight it I do. Because even as a small child I knew that this wasn’t how you were supposed to treat a little kid. That it was mean and heartless and that no little kid deserves crap like that. That strong, stubborn child, her jaw set, knew better. Knew that the bullies at school, the disdainful family members who took their cues from her parents, all the people who looked her up and down and turned away – she knew that none of them – none of them were right. That she had value. That she wasn’t ugly. That she was capable of love and like all love, hers was treasure.

It was that child who saved me. That child who said “just keep on walking and you’ll get there.” So I went from abused child to street kid to juvenile instition, but I worked at a hippy counseling center when I was a street kid, helping people past suicide attempts because didn’t I just already understand that? I had a key to the school at the juvenile instition and my own music class, because didn’t I know that knowledge was empowerment? And on through a failed marriage – failed because I knew I deserved better.Single mom at 19, but working toward a bachelor’s degree. A degree in computer programming followed. And then becoming a power lifter so I could live well with my big body and got a red belt in mixed martial arts so I wouldn’t be afraid.  And became an artist and a crafter and a writer – a creative explosion – so all that was within my heart could bloom.

Then I lost the weight sorrow had laid on me and I found my voice at I found that the family I had created with my lovely imperfect man and our mutual children was a thing of such aching beauty that there was simply no way that any of it could have been created by an idiot. Someone ugly. Uniquely unloved by God and the universe.

Because, as it turns out, I am beautiful. And like all of us, I am worth everything.  In truth,I would have been that even if I had done nothing else at all.  

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