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Poetic Justice

by Nicholle Michelle 4 months ago in art

chase your passion to your purpose

Poetic Justice
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

I remember feeling confused as a child when noticing the way people felt, versus how they behaved. It was rare that the two actually reflected one another. For me, it was more like if you expressed a feeling--any feeling--there would likely be hell to pay. If you were cowering in fear, small and quiet, you were safer, but not immune. I’m not trying to convince anyone of how bad it was because I lived it, and even I struggle with fully accepting it. Though some may be able to relate, no one else knows what it felt like being in my body. Seeing what I saw, feeling what I felt, hearing what I heard, living how I lived. Cause that's the thing, life is an experience that is different for every person, even if multiple people share the same exact circumstance. If I have pulled you into this truthful tale, then I have successfully shared my creative outlet with you. I’m a storyteller, and while I do enjoy writing of all sorts, I am a poet at heart.

Poetry gives me peace by helping me get my mind right. It is my sanctuary of expression, where I can be honest about how I feel and what I observe about myself, and humanity as a whole. I can lay down thoughts and feelings that I struggle with, dissect them, and rearrange them until I understand them deeper, clearer, and more meaningfully. It's also where I can gain control of, and safely release my emotions as a "dysregulated" person. The craft of writing has been both a lifesaver and a silent witness. From the first time I saw and fell in love with a typewriter, to the time I wasn’t allowed or able to write, all the way to the present as I work towards healing my Complex PTSD.

My love of writing certainly started in my tender years. I don’t remember how old I was, but my parents were still married, so I must have been no older than four or five. We had this loft area with a bookshelf of cinder blocks stacked on plywood, holding children’s books, a full set of encyclopedias, and old vinyl records. Next to the shelf, was a closet with games. I always hung out in the loft as my mother slept, she slept most of most days, while my father was at work. I typically focused on games like Spirograph, which was the only one I played properly until I was out of paper or the ink ran dry. There was also Tri-Ominos, regular dominos, Topple, and old school Scrabble with the wooden tiles and spinning board. I built Flinstone houses with regular dominos, and enjoyed digging my hand in the scrabble bag feeling all the tiles slip in and out around my fingers. I'd lay some on the board then try to spin it fast enough that they'd fly off, but I was never successful. Dropping the bag full of tiles made a satisfying sound that was somehow therapeutic, especially when catching it with my free hand. I occupied myself with these activities most times, throwing out the rules and just exploring. One day during my usual play, I noticed a suitcase type object. I chose to ignore it at first out of fear of my father. He was very short tempered and believed children should be seen and not heard. It called to me until my boredom could no longer be satisfied by triangle shaped dominoes and experimenting with how much could I stack on Topple before making an annoying mess that I wouldn’t want to clean afterwards. I caved to my curiosity and opened the case.

I was delighted to see this bulky contraption full of shiny black buttons with a letter of the alphabet printed on each one. When I touched the keys, I admired the smooth curvature that embraced my tiny fingertips. I pulled it out of its case, plugged it in, and turned it on. I still remember the amber light that glowed after flipping the ON/OFF switch, the gentle hum, heat, and smell of its mechanics, but best of all, the “CLACK!” of the keys and “DING!” of the carriage. It was glorious. I had no choice back then but to sit on the floor with it and school myself on how to navigate the ins and outs of the machine. Learning to line up paper was difficult, but dealing with the ribbon was the worst. These challenges didn’t stop the typewriter from being my obsession for some time, though. I typed every three letter word I knew, and figured out how to use the white out sheets for mistakes. It was mesmerizing watching each alphabetic hammer strike the page and leave it's mark. I honestly don’t recall what became of that typewriter, but trauma does attack memory. Some things I remember so vividly, and others I can barely recall at all.

I've had people bring up moments from my childhood that I don't remember. I have to sit with it a while, and only then, can I vaguely flesh out a recollection. But when I write, I can always remember exactly what I was dealing with in life. I can tell you what each of my poems are originally about, and why I wrote them, even when the story changes through growth and healing. I didn’t know I was a poet until some time after fourth grade, when I really began to recognize that I had a gift for writing. I believe the entire grade was entered into a writing contest as an assignment, and we had to tell a story about some jungle animals and a birthday party, I think. I just wrote what came to me, and was surprised to hear that I had been chosen to go to the next round. We met in the cafeteria and were given a new prompt which I don’t recall now, but I didn’t go any further in the contest. I was bummed, but I think that was when the lightbulb came on that I enjoyed writing and was good at it, despite being led to believe I was useless and worthless. That I’d never amount to anything.

I obviously had a lot of big feelings to digest in my childhood, mostly fear, pain, shame, and sadness. I remember there were times I couldn't sleep because I was wrestling with so much emotionally. I'd pull out paper in the dark, and rhymes would just start flowing faster than I could write them down, and that's when the poetry started. I even wrote the night my older brother got kicked out. It was a huge worry for a young girl, and should have been a parent’s job to be concerned about a child’s well being on the street. Although, to be truthful, I was also angry he’d left me alone with our father. I remember writing as I bawled my eyes out and ached in my throat. Sometime afterward, I wrote about not fitting in, and how popular kids were annoying, and nothing I'd ever aspire to be. I talked about how my dad would only ever accept me as the type of person that I despised, and that he probably wouldn’t miss me if I died. This would be closer to Jr High and High School, where it was difficult being different, and poetry began to fill the void of loneliness.

I was always a loner and nonconformist, even before I understood the labels. I knew I was different and would never fit in. So, to my father, I had quite unpopular opinions. Which was proven when he found my collection of writings, along with some Seventeen magazines, and presumed to shame me to the point of embarrassment about my thoughts and feelings. He was quite the master of these types of manipulative tactics. He confirmed that he did wish I cared more to fit in and be like everyone else, and that he would care if I died. He tried convincing me in anger that he really did love me, as he told me that writing was a waste of time, and I shouldn't be friends with girls who read those kinds of magazines. While there were no physical blows during this incident, I cannot find the words to properly convey how he ripped my heart out by throwing all my work away in front of me, as if my papers were nothing but garbage. I was truly shattered to watch him carelessly discard my most intimate thoughts and feelings because he didn't agree with who I was always meant to be. Of course, I didn't stop writing, I just became more secretive with it.

I would spill my feelings on paper in class instead of following along with the lessons. I always struggled with grades and felt like school was the true waste of time. It's not because I was stupid, as my father would likely assume, but it was honestly boring as hell. It was just another place to be tormented by teachers and peers who didn't understand the real life-altering situations I was already facing at home. The depth of my passion for writing put me in danger because of home. The fact that I continued writing, knowing it jeopardized my well being emotionally, mentally, and physically, really speaks volumes. I penned the poem Please two months before my seventeenth birthday, where I fantasized about leaving my childhood home. With no trace of me to find except the poem I left behind. There were a lot of times I didn’t know if I would actually get out alive, and I don’t say that lightly. When one witnesses a grown man fighting a boy like a man, swearing that it will take an ambulance to get them apart, you take threats seriously. When your dad throws all 115 pounds of you on the floor and says he’ll kill you before he’ll let you go to hell, you wonder how you’ve made it this far, and do you have enough inside yourself to make it through another day. One assault in particular helped secure my escape.

I’m not proud of lying, but it became a necessity when protecting oneself against constant violence and insults by a man who was easily triggered into abusive onslaughts. In this instance, money had been stolen out of my wallet in the breakroom at work, and my dad assumed I spent it on something frivolous. It was one of the times I was actually telling the truth, but he didn’t believe me. He backhanded me and I fell to the floor. Even though it felt crazy, something in me said, “stand back up”, and I did. He was waiting for me, with this hand in the air, ready to deliver another blow when he abruptly lowered his hand and walked out of my room. As he exited, he snarled that he was disgusted with me and that he couldn’t stand the sight of me. My legs buckled the minute he was out of sight and I dropped to the floor like a newborn fawn. I couldn’t even get up, so I crawled over to my full-length mirror and saw blood coming out of the corner of my mouth. He had busted my cheek against my braces and bruised my lip. Seeing the blood must have snapped him out of it, is all I can think. I wrote a poem about this incident that is still painful to read.

The next day at school, my best friend knew something was off, though she wasn’t unaware of the way I was treated at home. It seemed like she was the only one who really did know, despite how obvious it had to have been to others to some extent. She asked me what was wrong and I tried to say it was nothing instead of admitting it hurt to talk. I was pressed until I was truthful, and then she said we had to tell my brother. Even though he had been kicked out of our house, we still went to the same school. I didn’t want to tell my brother cause I knew he might flip out about it, but I was told if I didn’t tell him, that she would. My brother went home, called the police, then called me with them on site. We discussed making a report at school the next day, which turned out useless, because apparently this kind of thing has to be reported in the heat of the moment for any action to actually be taken. I did find out that where I live you were considered an adult at seventeen, so I guess really, Please was my way of saying goodbye. I had already made plans to live with my aunt on my mom’s side, and I was just waiting for school to wrap up after I became of legal age, but of course that's not how things went.

We were doing finals at school so we had half days, and I decided I wanted to just be a normal teenager for one day and hang out with friends before I left everything I knew behind when school was done. I was promised a ride by a friend of a friend that I vaguely knew. I typically got home off the bus around 4:15 in the afternoon, and my dad didn’t know we had half days, so I was just going to get to the bus stop by then and walk home like usual. My ride was supposed to show up an hour or so before taking me home, but called and said they were going to show up a little later, but would still take me. I started freaking out about what was going to happen to me at home if they bailed, I was pretty beside myself. My friends picked up on it and I started explaining things about me they didn’t know. There was discussion about being considered a runaway for being under eighteen if I didn’t go home. I felt pretty confident from the talk with the officer that I wouldn't be classified that way and hauled back home. When the ride fell through, a friend volunteered to take me home with her when her mom came, so that I could call my aunt. My aunt was supposed to be picking me up several days later, but I told her there was no way I could go back home. She drove all the way across the fourth largest city with my mom to come get me. My friend's mom gave me some clothes, and I waited nervously as I watched the clock, wondering how angry my dad must be that I wasn’t home.

When my aunt finally arrived it was getting dark. I was ready to get away from there, away from my dad, so I put what little stuff I had in her van and we left. When she started driving I noticed she seemed to be going in the direction of my house. I asked where she was going and she said the police station because she wanted to make sure taking me was legal. I didn’t want to go there, and some irrational part of me thought she was taking me back to my dad. I was literally thinking of jumping from a moving vehicle if she tried to take me home. We got to the police station and found out my dad had called the police and reported me as missing when I didn’t come home. I was so scared the whole time that I’d be taken back to my dad and he’d unload on me. I just kept saying, “I’m not going back home”. My father was informed by an officer at my house through radio that I was seventeen and afraid to go home that I would be going with my mother. I’ve never felt such relief wash over me, I thought, finally, I get to be free and normal! Little did I know, that’s not how trauma works.

Trauma is like a nightmare that you never get to wake from. You have flashbacks, and actual nightmares when you should be able to rest, you don’t take care of yourself, and all the things you love and live for, fall by the wayside. It makes relationships difficult because you have been trained that communication that's not yelling and arguing is impossible. Not to mention a propensity toward unhealthy relationships, especially romantically. I even stopped writing for a while because I didn’t realize it was a trigger for me. I would become so wrought with pain trying to write that I shelved it, and even telling myself that my dad had won by me not writing wasn’t enough to motivate me to pick it back up for several years. My aunt did her best to accommodate my condition, and to show me love and support. The sad thing is I was so wounded I didn’t know how to be open to the things I was clearly starving for. She put up with my crap for a few decades, the moodswings, defensiveness, negativity, and still cared for me like her own. It didn’t take long for me to consider her my mom. I know she tried her best to make up for all that I’d been though, even the stuff I’m not including in this story. She always encouraged me to write, saying my poems were good and that I should share them. I just never felt good enough to think anyone would enjoy reading what I write, and that she was just saying what people who care about you are supposed to say.

I lived with her off and on once I hit my late twenties, and in 2015 I ended up under her roof again. I was realizing something was not right with me, I was mean. I knew I had a lot of pain still, and therapy hadn’t worked great for me, it was just too painful. All I wanted to do was write but I’d go through cycles of feeling like I couldn't. I sat down with myself and decided I was finally dealing with this past that I had been unsuccessfully running from since I left in 1999. Trying to pretend it didn’t happen wasn’t working, I felt like I was going crazy, and I knew I had to face it head on. I promised myself I would do whatever it took to get better. It was true, but I couldn’t let go of the anger. I made some progress over the next few years, but I always struggled. Everything always felt harder than it seemed for most people. All I knew was that I was becoming the people I said I’d never be like, and now that I realized it, I had to do something about it. I went back to therapy and let them put me on medication because I was literally all over the place and had no handle on my emotions. I didn’t like the medicine, it had awful side effects, and didn’t seem to really be working. I didn’t know it then, but I was going through a spiritual awakening. There were some days it was so painful I just stayed in bed. I wasn’t great at my job, I was struggling.

Slowly, but surely, I started addressing the things I felt were wrong with me. I had just gotten into a new relationship, which I was hesitant about considering my history. Two years into the relationship as I felt my life was steadying out, my aunt passed unexpectedly. All the things I thought I had dealt with from my past came flooding back in like I had never even addressed them. I was devastated. I felt like the only person who ever really cared about me was gone. I became so concerned for my well being that I went back to therapy with a different therapist. I was again put on medication even though I was resistant. I hit a wall in therapy where I was told I couldn’t be helped anymore because of my anger about my past. I quit going but stayed on medication for about a year. It helped some, but I just kept wondering would this be my whole life? I didn’t want to keep having to do med checks and filling prescriptions when I knew this was treating the symptoms of a bigger problem.

I was still getting triggered by everything, and feeling like I had to speak on every social issue because I knew what it felt like to be treated poorly, as less than. I was creating even more anxiety for myself thinking I had to answer for all the injustice in the world. I started asking what could I truly do to help the world, and the answer was I’m the only thing I have control over. It took me learning to forgive myself for things I’d done to be able to start forgiving my parents. Being honest with myself lovingly. I had to start learning how to love myself and how to have compassion for myself. Things they always mentioned in therapy but never really helped me figure out how to do. I just started taking baby steps and correcting myself kindly. I was catching old messages in my thought patterns, picking them apart, asking if there was truth, or was it just the opinions of unwell people? I needed the memories of where I excelled in life, where I felt joy, and I knew that was writing. So I started writing more, because it felt wrong to be given this gift that I wasn’t sharing. I created a Facebook page where I shared my poems and did lives discussing them, because I wanted to say f#ck you to all the people that were unkind to me and doubted me. Even if no one ever watched, at least I did it.

When I write, I’m untouchable, and time doesn't exist until I realize it's been two hours since I started flowing into a poem. I have done a lot of writing about my past and overcoming depression. I have talked about things I have been learning through my healing journey, like blame and shame not changing anyone for the better. I even did an open mic just to say I have done it. It was bad, but I did it. My father might have thrown away my heart, but he’ll never stop it from beating. I write for me, and all people who have struggled with trauma. I don’t know who I’d be without poetry because it helps me uncover the real me. It helps me make peace with myself, knowing how other people think and feel has nothing to do with me. All that matters is that I chase my passion to my purpose and speak my truth and knowing that's enough to create justice for all I've been through.

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Nicholle Michelle

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