When I was in the second grade, I had two best friends, Cheryl (pronounced: Sher-REL) and Nicole. Now, I don’t remember much from my childhood but I explicitly remember the second grade because of my friendship with those two girls. We were some of the only Black girls in Mrs. Churchill’s class. I remember that I used to think Mrs. Churchill was a witch because she was pale white with bleach blonde hair and red lipstick. She was skinny as a twig and wore a lot of Black. Cheryl, Nicole, and I loved when our assigned seats would sometimes be next to each other.
We played together at recess, sat in groups together in class, and shared secrets that only second graders share (whatever that was). Nicole, was the “popular” one out of our little group. She always felt that she was prettier and just an all around leader…even though, I was older than both of them. Neither I nor Cheryl ever argued with her, though. We were just happy that she was our friend. Nicole was our Regina George and we were her Karen Smith and Gretchen Weiners, before there were actual characters of the movie, Mean Girls. We did whatever she told us to do. When it was time to move from one part of the playground to the next, we followed. If she was done coloring, we moved on to the next activity.
Nicole was my first abusive relationship. As we know, abuse comes in many forms. Physical, emotional/verbal, sexual, financial, etc. Nicole was an emotional abuser as a second grader. Now, we didn’t know it at the time, and who would think to label a child an abuser. But that’s the only word I can think of that describes the next portion of this story.
Nicole would sometimes come to school and decide that she didn’t want to talk to me and Cheryl. She would ignore us no matter how hard we begged her attention. The day would go on and then she would start talking to only one of us while the other would sit and look miserable wondering why we were left out of the group. Nicole would convince us to not speak to the other. When Nicole deemed it appropriate to communicate with one of us again, she was initiate the reconciliation by not apologizing but talking to us again.
One day, it was my turn to be on “punishment” with Nicole. The whole class time, I sat in my desk in the corner and felt sad. I remember the pain in my heart vividly. I hated being left out. The principal came on over the intercom and announced the second place and winner of the school wide, Young Authors Contest. I entered that contest. The principal announced the person who won second place. I then heard “…winner is Tristen Johnson of Mrs. Churchill’s class.” I was very surprised I had won. I was sure that someone else wrote a better story or drew better pictures. But nope, I won. Mrs. Churchill told the class to congratulate me by clapping. Nicole then walks over to me and says, “I’m only talking to you now, not Cheryl”. I was more happy that Nicole was “my friend” again than I was winning Young Authors.
Fast forward to today (4-10-19), I had an anxiety attack. I usually have them from time to time, I chat with my therapist about them but this one didn’t happen until I was in a full conversation about how I was feeling while on the phone with my best friend Dominique. I was sharing with Dom about how confident I was to do my TEDTalk tomorrow (4-11-19) but not confident in the way I was going to look on camera. Dom, being the inquisitive person she is, began asking me questions to help me disset why I was feeling the way I was. After she instructed me to calm down by breathing and putting cold water on my face, I admitted to her that I was feeling inadequate and that I often felt this way about myself. I also told her that I feel like the people I care about don’t actually care about me. Dom, then, did what she does best, analyzed my situation and pointed out some things. She told me in so many words that in the past friendships I’ve had, most of them negatively ended with no reconciliation. But during those friendships, I was in a position where the people I cared about (“my friends”) were actually talking about me behind my back. She described friendships from high school to the beginning of my first-year of college.
I reflected on those past friendships as she spoke to me. During that reflection, those were the next emotionally and verbally abusive relationships I had. I allowed microaggressive comments about my skin complexion skate past me like they didn’t bother me. I went along with drama because I didn’t want to be left out. I started drama to fit in. The “leader” of our group would get mad at me for no reason and not speak to me. She would then threaten to send people to my house and say she would “beat my ass”. It was a hot mess. And I sat and took it all.
And of course, I was in a physical and emotional abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend when I was 19-years-old. That’s all I’m going to say about it because, I’ve spoken publicly about it twice but still can’t bring myself to write it down.
But those aren’t the only instances where I’ve allowed someone to treat me any kind of way. Dom helped me realize that the inadequacy I feel as an adult could stem from all of the times people made me feel that way. Many of the reasons why I doubt myself even though I’m flourishing.
I told Dominique that story of Nicole and she said, “You know, in all the years we’ve been friends, you’ve never told me that story.” And she’s right. I don’t think I have told anyone that. But I realized that experience has always been a trigger for me. I didn’t realize how that first situation really traumatized me as a child. It was the starting point of why I experienced many similar situations as I grew up. The fact that I don’t have negative people in my circle now as an adult, is foreign territory. I have no reason to feel small anymore because I am no longer the person who will allow myself to be treated with anything less than respect.
We all have times where we feel like we aren’t enough. Don’t stay in it too long. Because you are enough. One of my very first blog posts was about the importance of having a sister circle. I am thankful that the friends I have now are all ones who want to see me succeed. My friends now uplift me. They offer me the type of constructive criticism that is meant to encourage me, not belittle me. My friends now would never threaten me or talk negatively about me behind my back. In fact, most of my friends are my biggest supporters. It took me time to escape from those abusive relationships to find those who genuinely love me.
Thank you, Dom.
❤ Queen T