When I was a kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, wolves, and phoenixes. I drew dinosaurs and wolves every day. I didn’t draw phoenixes, but the symbolism of the bird stood out to me when I first learned about it from a Big Bird in China movie. The whole plot of the movie was to find the mysterious and magical phoenix. I loved the beautiful meaning behind the bird, rising from the ashes, because even at a young age, I could relate. There is something about the transformation, and the courage that always felt like so much depth. That always felt like part of my story. Pain, transformed into something hopeful and fiery and empowering.

A lot of things happened around 8 years old. I got the chicken pox and developed keloid scars, ugly remnants of the most itchiest spots.

“Yeah, that’s ugly,” the dermatologist said matter-of-factly when he took a look at my back. My mom pushed me to see the doctor, like she always did, and stood right next to me, not saying a word in defense while I burst into tears. I could feel his stern gaze piercing on my back, judging me, objectifying me. I’d never been so humiliated in my life. As I choked through sobs, he robotically did his routine, never emphasizing or acting remorseful for making an 8-year-old cry.

To this day, I hate seeing doctors.

For a long time, I thought no one would ever love me. My scars were ugly. Even the doctor told me so. I’ve been pining for a future boyfriend since I was 8 years old, feeling so pathetic, and I sincerely thought no one would accept me. No man would ever love me, and I could never be naked in front of any man. Too horrifying.

After the doctor visit, I knew I didn’t want to go back ever again. I didn’t want my scars removed. I was already branded and I figured I had to deal with it on my own. My scars would show me how to love myself. I would learn how to accept myself just the way I am, no matter how long it took. My scars would protect me from anyone too shallow to see my true beauty. Even as a kid, I tried to see the silver lining in everything, and I tried to see the lesson.

I started to act out around the same age. I said I was talking to spirits. To the devil, and that I was seeing things. Miniature saints. Shadows and daemons. I started getting night terrors, and woke up breaking in sweats. Really, it was another attempt to be loved and accepted, and divulge my overactive imagination, but when I got a reaction from my parents they took me to the mental hospital. I was dubbed crazy by Western medicine, and ugly by a Western doctor. I acted out and I was shut out, locked inside a drab brick building.

I still remember the night they took me in. How they packed my things in a small suitcase, not saying a word. No explanation. I knew right away something was different because we were leaving at night time, and they only packed one suitcase, but when my mom sat with me in the back of the car instead of the passenger’s seat like she normally did, I knew for sure something was wrong. The smell of nicotine in the tan upholstery pervaded my senses. I hated that smell and I hated the silent ride taking me to nowhere.

When we got to our destination, the place seemed eerily familiar. I had dreamt about the building, the people I met who took care of me, and snapshots of some events that later happened. I never told anyone that I’d seen all this before. They would add it to my crazy file, I’m sure.

To this day, my mom remains silent about what happened. Nothing was ever explained to me. I learned not to ask. It was a topic off-topic. Just as off-topic as who my biological dad is. I still don’t know, and I still wonder who decided to abandon me.

I must have been at the hospital for at least a month. For years, my story has always been: I went crazy. I genuinely thought I had gone insane because that was the general consensus around me.

It wasn’t until my then-boyfriend reasoned with me, that Western medicine is often faulty, and that it was my parents who merely overreacted to my cries for love and attention, that I finally began to accept a different story. I wasn’t crazy.

The irony is that my ex later wrote that he was living with someone else’s mental illness, after the demise of our relationship and the foreclosure of our home.

It was still my cries for love and attention, and I still wasn’t crazy.

Throughout the five years together, I would never let him see my back. I had scars on my chest and shoulders but the scar on my back was the one I hated most. The one I could still feel piercing eyes on. I tried to be in angles where he could never be in a place to pierce me down with his stare. I didn’t want to be in a position where I could be silently judged. We explored sexually and did a lot of positions, but reverse cowgirl was completely off the table.

It’s taken me over twenty years to finally truly love and accept myself. I no longer cry for love and attention because the source–my self–is getting stronger. It’s only within the past year that I’ve felt comfortable wearing tank tops in public, and being naked in front of men, even strangers, is no longer traumatic. Each lover has been one step closer into comfort, as I, in turn, got one step closer into being comfortable in my skin.

There were lovers who kissed my back scar, letting me know that they accepted me.

Each lover has been a whirlwind of emotions, with a letdown in the end.

Part of me wants to be done with the rinse-cycle-repeat of relationship after relationship. Too much drama. Too much hurt. Certainly, not worth it for hook-ups without any feelings or emotions involved, but worth it for all the meaningful connections I’ve had.

I ruminate on whether or not I’ll deny myself completely until I can feel, with some confidence, that I’m in it for the long haul, or whether I should loosen up and have fun. By “loosening up” am I allowing the wrong kind of energy to flow, and blocking what I really want instead? Or am I simply indulging in pleasures for pleasure’s sake? Where do I stand?

The phoenix rises. Rinse-cycle-repeat. As hard as it can be, I must try again. The rinse-cycle-repeat may wear and tear, but overall, it cleanses me. Makes me better. I am made anew. The rise and fall, and rise again. Fall seven times, stand up eight. It is in the rising strong where beauty and tenacity live. Where life feels like LIVING. In matters of the heart, I must try again, and again and again. If that’s what it takes. If that’s all there is. It would all have been worth it.

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