By Aujinae Roberts-Fountain
I think about the man who works across the street from my house, a lot. I wonder whether he ever feels guilty for only being there to help direct me towards the right aisle whenever I can’t find something in the store on my own. The only conversations we ever have follows a similar pattern: “hey, did you find everything okay?” // “did you want your receipt in or outside the bag this time?” We never talk about anything else. More importantly we never talk about the reasons why we never talk about anything else.
My father is that man who works across the street from where I live. For a long time, I believed that if someone random were to ever ask him who I was, he’d probably just tell them that I was a loyal customer. Not once will he mention to that person that he is my father, that I am his daughter, that I spent my entire life developing a sense of self through only one of my parents, which is nowhere near teaching a human how to breathe when you have siblings.
My parents had three children—two boys and me--together before my dad chose to truly abandon us. While he was there for the moment, he was always ONLY there. He was like a mop in a house full of carpet, around but good for nothing. His absence made me hate myself. It loved to remind me that I didn't matter, that I was unworthy and that I would never amount to anything. Obviously, there must have been something so disgraceful about my existence that it caused my own flesh and blood to disown me.
On the other hand, there was my mom. Having known the sacrifices my mother made for us will always be the reason I forgive her for not being perfect. Because my mother had no real choice but to be our father too, she was forced to emotionally neglect her only daughter. At least I knew that her escape was never purposely done. She was always too busy making sure we ate that night, that the hot water would still be running in the morning and that we would never have to worry about the electricity powering out again. Everything was understood. She didn't have time to take my anxiety serious. All of her energy went towards substituting what was supposed to be my dad’s duties and hospital visits for my brothers. So because I believed my father hated me and I knew that I would never be my mother's only responsibility it was up to me to deal with those things, including not having that healthy attachment with anyone and navigating the experiences of childhood on my own.
An emotional connection between a child and her parents plays a huge role in that child’s self-development. As a child, I was extremely observant; I still am. Nevertheless, my self-esteem was below zero and negativity constantly raided my mind with demoralizing thoughts. The value of my life did the complete opposite of what property values in the District of Columbia (DC) have been doing for the past few years. My worth loved to play hide and seek with me--except I would never seek. Instead, I accepted a lot of nonsense. I missed out on several life changing opportunities multiple times because I never had anyone to pressure me into chasing them. All of this was once a huge part of who I thought I was. It wasn't much but it didn't matter because I was comfortable. My only friend at the time was preservation.
I do not remember the exact moment I realized it was safe to empty my struggles out on paper without anyone criticizing me. At that point, however, I began to write everything down. This was my way of making sense out of my misfortunes. I noticed I became a lot less stressed. Then, I was able to recognize what triggered me, and, for once, I finally had a voice that from that instance on would never be silenced. My words not only made me feel free, they gave me the strength I longed for to fight back against my demons.
It's true that the man who works across the street may not ever be father enough to celebrate who I am today, but that is what makes him human and why I promised myself to forgive him. Every trip to the grocery store is a constant reminder of all the obstacles I’ve faced. Literal steps I take to get there and back home provide opportunities for my mind to expand as attempt to fully understand why certain behaviors and decisions are what humanizes a person.
I am now a seventeen year old black girl, who has learned to embrace her struggles, who is grateful to have survived her trauma, who is able to speak her truth, and embed faith in other people, who is confident and secure with herself, determined to end toxic cycles and generational curses, to be bigger than life and to appreciates my father’s neglect. While it did not kill me, indeed, it makes me stronger every day.
Aujinae Roberts-Fountain is the 2nd Place winner of Discovering Me...Without You: The First Annual Essay Contest for Teen Girls Ages 14 through 17. The contest is a program of Esther Productions Inc.