I don’t remember a time when I felt free to be who I really am. Does anyone? I was three years old, fearless and egoless, when I realized that my mother didn’t love me. I must have known before then. I must have had some idea that I was on my own.
I remember being caught in the act of defiance around that age. The scene, captured in a photograph, shows me smiling with one hand on my doll carriage, the other behind my back, as if bracing myself for the terror I surely faced. (Snap!) My brother’s chubby body plopped inside my doll carriage. (Snap!) My mother lifted my pink nightgown, slapping me on the bare ass with her palm. (Snap!) I flinched when my mother took that picture because I shuddered every time she walked inside the house, and because I had been warned never to put my baby brother inside my doll carriage again. But I wanted to take care of him, love him like I knew he needed.
I wanted to push him away, somewhere away from my mother’s punitive palm and the riveting screams, swelling and bursting, like fiery lava spewing from a volcano, clutching my heart until I was thirteen and learned how to move through the panic, embrace my secret Tough Girl persona conceived from the coalescence of fear and sheer tenacity, instinctual behavior provoked by the realization that I was on my own, had always been on my own, would always be the only one looking out for me.