On Saturday, I was having a conversation with three other women whose ages range from their 30s to 70s. We were talking about life’s strange journeys. One of the women told us about an article she read regarding women who wrote letters to their young selves as they see the world now and the conversation wove itself into what kinds of things we would write to tell our young selves about life as we see it now based on the paths we took to get to this point. Well, let’s be honest. They talked about it and I sat quietly and listened. I didn’t know what to say because whatever I would have said would have been a lie. I thought about this on my way home and I’ve been thinking about it since. Each time I try to make a letter to the young me and I can’t because I don’t know her. I have no real frame of reference to her because I don’t have any memories of her as me when I was her as a young girl. I don’t know what she liked, what she thought, who she looked to, what she saw, what she feared, loved, hated, wanted or cared about. I don’t know anything about her except for what my parents tell me and even then, she isn’t real. She is a person I have no connection to but really want to know because she sounds like she was a nice person to share time with when she wasn’t sad or angry.
As I entered my adulthood, I knew that my lack of memory was my brain compartmentalizing traumatic events to keep me safe. At least that was my reasoning for not wanting to open the door into why I couldn’t remember. It boggled my mind to hear people talking about going to hypnotists and therapists to bring up childhood traumas to come to terms with them. I remember having a conversation with my roommate who was going to therapy to remember the loss of her sister who she only had recollections of in dreams. She was mad at her parents for not talking about it and how she wanted answers. I was so mad at her for wanting to do this because it meant having to relive something that could never be changed. I was mad at her for wanting to bring up memories for her parents and didn’t understand why she was so insistent on wanting cause herself so much sadness. As I was arguing my point, I was thinking about me. I was thinking about the recurring dream that haunts me still. I wanted her to stop so I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that my lack of memory was because I was afraid to know what happened around me until I was safe. I didn’t want to ask my parents to relive a time they didn’t want to remember and have to tell their daughter who feels lost in the world because she has no foundation to stand on. I was mad at her for doing what I knew I had to but wouldn’t. I kept going without wanting to open the doors to my past.
The brain is a funny thing. It’s my belief that the brain protects the person from itself. I know that things were safely stored from me in my brain because I wasn’t safe and ready to know. But those days are now coming to an end. In the last few years, maybe since I turned 40, little bits and pieces of images are popping out of my brain of a little girl in the strangest and most unhappy places. I am starting to hear and see moments that I know are real but I don’t know how much of it is real and how much is cushioned from years of telling myself not to think about it. After having a very disturbing dream a few months ago I did the thing I never wanted to do. I asked my parents what happened before we move to the US. I knew this would bring up concern in my mother who wants to constantly protect us even now. I knew that it would bring things up that no one has thought about for 30 years. I knew that when I asked, it would also mean that I would have to find a way to bring it out from inside me and work toward finding some peace in what happened and maybe become familiar with the little girl I don’t know who became me.
I few weeks later, I got an email from my dad. I printed out the 4 pages of my life which he titled “Houry’s timeline through Semerdjian saga”. I read and reread it. I could hear him telling it like a story with his sense of humor, his accent, his accuracy. I could also hear my mother telling him to remember little details only my mother would remember. There it was in ink. All that was hidden in my brain was out, as told to me by the two people who did everything they could to protect me from the insane world we lived in. Their courage in the middle of madness to find a safe place for us, going from one country to another with three kids (one still an infant) in tow. I asked my dad what kept him going in taking risks instead of settling for what he had. I remember his face getting very serious for a second and responding with “I knew there had to be a civilized place to raise a family”.
The email talks of a happy childhood with lots of love and wonderful people around us. It goes from that to wars and being uprooted from country to country. It talks about times of hope and despair. It talks of risks with no guarantees and it talks about me as a little girl. It’s hard to read it but I do every so often, trying to find the link that is going to bring me a connection to her so I can tell her that eventually she is going to find peace in her world, with a wonderful little family, friends who she will love and enjoy, and a little son who is probably just like her who is me.
So if I were to write the letter I would probably say..
I am you when you are older. I don’t speak your language but you will learn to speak mine when you turn 8 years old. It’s going to be a strange and scary time when you finally get here because you will have to learn to speak, behave, think and be like people you have never been around but don’t worry, you will play the part and no one will ever know that you don’t really feel like you fit in. You will be good at keeping what you really think inside strong enough to even trick yourself into a comfortable place. You will make a lot of mistakes, some so ridiculous, you will be laughing about it while sitting by yourself at a coffee shop when you are 40 years old. Some mistakes will hurt you for years and years but you will not have any physical scars from them. You will never fit in but that’s okay because I have come to learn that most people you will know will never feel like they fit in because everyone has something broken.
There is going to be a time in your life when you are going to be asked to take a real risk. You are going to be asked to let go of everything you know to be real and move your life from your comfort zone. This request is going to come from a specific man who is going to be the only person who will make you know that you belong. When he enters your life, you will KNOW it’s real and you are not alone. Take the risk. When you do, you will finally be safe and you and I will be me now.