Water Under the Bridge: Writing This Story a Thousand Times

me with dad and mom

me in blue Shannon Cerny
Going through old boxes, random pieces of a life once lived now stacked away in a dark dry part of my basement. There it was, hidden in time and busy perpetual motion, in a box that came from my childhood home to college, then apartment to apartment to my married home, now divorced.

An unassuming orange hairbrush. The detangling agent of the wily beast that has always been my knotty long dark brown hair. But it was more… my weapon of choice.

I always felt responsible for my father dying. This is not sane or logical or fact-based. Have the coroner’s report. Know it wasn’t really my fault and yet my heart hangs heavy just thinking of him.

He was, as I have been told, bigger than life. As a toddler, his first daughter, only living daughter – my father was my world. He was both sunshine and writhing storm in one man.

Growing up looking like him, and not knowing him, but always feeling that losing him was mine to carry. And so my relationship with hating myself began. I can remember the first time I hurt myself. I was angry, I had made a mistake and was furious – hitting myself in the face with that orange hairbrush until my skin was red and hurt and all of me crying. Just a kid. Inconsolable.

It became a thing. There was no cutting… at least it wasn’t known to me. But when I made a mistake, when bad things happened – I paid. When my mom was sad. When a glass dropped. When a test went poorly. When none of the kids invited came to my birthday party. I always paid. And it grew.

I was perpetually sorry. At times I still am sorry when it isn’t my fault. There have been moments in my life where I blamed myself for everything and held tight to the rafters of my heart as the storm of self-hatred, doubt, shame, and rage tore through me. This is the other side of the sword, the belly of the driving force that has propelled me forward my whole life. A belief that I am unlovable. Unworthy.

The mountain most people see is built upon my own drive to prove myself and the need to give the kindness to others I have struggled to find in scraps for myself. This is my work, found in a box in the basement. An unassuming orange hairbrush. A story I have written a thousand times but said to almost no one.

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