By Dana Gornall
The me who is me is made up of so many fragmented pieces.
Looking back, images and stories gel together in one big picture, like puzzles pieces, only the edges are not quite as round and perfect but more jagged in places and fluid in others. I see the paths I have taken, when faced with one way or the other and how each one has changed and shaped me.
Some of these stories that have played out happened without much thinking on my part, but when we get down to it, there was always a choice—some part of me either allowed or didn’t, went along or stepped back.
Walking into the preschool that I had walked into many times before with my hand in my mother’s hand, it was like any other day. The leaves had begun to change from green to orange and yellow and red and the air was cooler but not quite cold. The table against the wall with windows had trays of what looked to be cookies—pumpkin shaped cutouts painted orange with googly eyes.
“We are going to make jack-o-lanterns,” my teacher said “and they look just like cookies but these are cookies we don’t eat. We just look at them and keep them.”
The thought crossed my four year old brain that this didn’t seem to be a very smart idea. Why would you make cookies that couldn’t be eaten? What was the fun in that?
Gripping my mother’s hand a little tighter and feeling a twinge of fear in my chest for—what reason I still don’t know—I didn’t want her to leave. I looked down at my feet, because this is something I did when I didn’t want to do something that I had to do, but my mother told me that I would have fun.
Being only four and it so long ago, the events are a little fuzzy from there. But what I do remember is not wanting to stay and not wanting her to go but her going anyway and me staying.
And then I began to cry.
Only it wasn’t a slow, quiet sliding tear kind of cry. It was a full blown sobbing can’t get your breath kind of cry that I just couldn’t stop. My face was hot and my body shook and I wanted to leave more than anything.
Taking my hand, my teacher with her long brown hair and green eyes, led me into the bathroom very slowly. Upon shutting the door she knelt down in front of me and I sobbed and I cried and thought maybe I would get a hug or a reassuring talking to or something like that.
Taking both of my shoulders into her hands, suddenly I felt the room spin and she was shaking me so hard and violently that all I could do was just stop.
The tears stopped. The sobbing stopped.
My face—numb and frozen in fear—and looking down once again at my feet.
“Stop it,” she said. “Stop crying right now. You are fine, and don’t be a baby. Now we are going out there and we are going to make cookies. Do you understand?”
Nodding, I did understand.
And so we left the bathroom—me with my face hot and numb and tight from the tears and her with her long brown hair and green eyes and sweet smile on her face.
And we sat down and made cookies that we didn’t eat, but rather kept, that were painted orange and had googly eyes.
It was here that a tiny little piece of me fell into place that still resides there today. A piece that says do not cry. Do not be a baby. Do the things that you maybe don’t want to do.
Sitting here now, I think back to that day when that tiny piece formed a new part of me. Broken and dark, with sharp jagged edges it fits somewhere deep in my heart and sheds gray light on days when I find myself unsure and questioning.
I can’t change that day or what happened or pretend that it hasn’t sat with me uneasy, rearing its head when left with a choice to go along or step back. The only thing left to change now is to make new choices from this point forward.
To step back. To walk away. To not go along when I don’t want to go along. To say that it’s okay to cry when we are not fine.
And maybe here I will make a new piece of me—fragmented, not smooth—but a piece that sheds light on the gray days when I find myself unsure and questioning.
And it will make up the me who is me.