Millennials: We lost the genetic lottery. We graduated high school into terrorist attacks and wars. We graduated college into a recession and mounds of debt. We will never acquire the financial cushion, employment stability, and material possessions of our parents. We are often more educated, experienced, informed, and digitally fluent than prior generations, yet are constantly haunted by the trauma of coming of age during the detonation of the societal structure we were born into. But perhaps we are overlooking the silver lining. We will have less money to buy the material possessions that entrap us. We will have more compassion and empathy because our struggles have taught us that even the most privileged can fall from grace. We will have the courage to pursue our dreams because we have absolutely nothing to lose. We will experience the world through backpacking, couch surfing, and carrying on interesting conversations with adventurers in hostels because our bank accounts can't supply the Americanized resorts. Our hardships will obligate us to develop spiritual and intellectual substance. Maybe having roommates and buying our clothes at thrift stores isn't so horrible as long as we are making a point to pursue genuine happiness.
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Carl's abuse isn't obvious. It's not something one can even notice while it's happening. Carl doesn't do you the favor of punching you in the face and sending you to school with a black eye so that you have a fighting chance of being rescued. Carl doesn't hit, scream, or molest, allowing you to know you're being mistreated.
An eerie aspect of social media is the way the dead's account lingers in digital space as a floating memorial. Friends post emotional farewells as if the departed will read them. But we all know that those words are for the rest of the world as if to flaunt their bond with the deceased like a new car or engagement ring. Just like any material possession that ceases production, a person's value amplifies when they are dead. They have no future. They have no present. Their past becomes a limited resource that everyone is desperate to snag a piece of.
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I'm pretty sure Number 1 wasn't even aware that he was using a man's deadliest weapon against women. He exposed his vulnerability. Over the years, I would repeat a pattern of chronically caving to that same behavior. It didn't matter whether or not I liked or respected him. Every time he dared to let his guard down and unveil some of his ugliest, grittiest faces, I whole-heartedly believed I was the only person on earth being let in on a secret. It was a mirage of a connection. Despite his faults and my prior resistance, I felt an obligation to uphold that bond. No matter what kind of person he was or how toxic he could have been, I saw beauty in that fleeting defenselessness as if he were an infant, innocent and untainted by the evils of the world. I always fell in love with that face in every man. I clutched that memory tightly, despite the fact that its weight wore my arms and drug my pace. I was so focused on remembering their moment of weakness that I was blind to who they normally were.
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From my first stab at second base, I became obsessively concerned for my vaginal upkeep. I began shaving the day after I felt my first tongue down my throat. The first buzz was a disaster, causing horrifically itchy dull razor breakout that made me look like I made love to a poison ivy bush. Whenever I thought there was a chance of unveiling my privates, I smothered every breakout with the same foundation I used for the occasional teenage acne face breakouts.
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Men, you say you want a strong, intelligent, truly independent woman who wants you rather than needs you, who inspires you, who pushes you towards being yourself, who can stick by you through the hardest times, and who can be your rock through life's obstacles. But you need to know that a truly strong, independent woman does not walk through life with her heart wide open. She has had to put up walls to block toxicity to obtain her strength. She is skeptical and always on alert from a lifetime of defense against predators. She is going to be a bit jaded, a little cynical, and a little scary because those qualities come with the struggle of obtaining that strength that gravitates you. She is going to doubt and question your good intentions because it has become her adaptability instincts that have allowed her to thrive. She is not a ball of sunshine. She has flaws. She has a past. She has her demons. She knows better than to just let down her barriers for you simply because you voice a desire to enter. You have to prove your right of entrance. She will assume the worst of you because the worst has happened. If you want her to see otherwise, prove her wrong.
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Number 23 had plenty of redeeming qualities that made falling for him a justifiable accident. But our connection had nothing to do with our similarities, our differences, our aesthetic attractions, or our emotional and physical needs. When we spoke, he was truly with me. Our egos, our personas, expected social cues, the facades that everyone builds around them that are supposed to sculpt the way the world sees us, were stripped with Number 23 and I. He was immediately my best friend, familiar and safe - an epiphany that I had been spending my life alone in crowded rooms. Our souls were naked. We initially curled into the warmth of that connection. But once we knew how real it was, we felt exposed, vulnerable, and raw. While his defense was his fearful recoil, mine was dictation.
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I would take them a few times, feel my emotions and sense of reality fuzz, and look at my mother who had been doped up on them since we moved to Chattanooga. I would see her blank, hazel eyes, and her bright, but empty, smile with chronic, artificial, exaggerated cheer, and become scared. I often wondered if she was buried under layers upon layers of southern sugar. I would make bitchy, inappropriate statements and look for her. I would say something, anything to shake her and look into her eyes for something real. I saw it when she was upset or afraid. I saw it when she'd spot me exiting my bathroom, hair tied back, knowing what I'd done. I saw it when she found out I was raped. I saw it when I told her about the drugs I used. I saw flickers of a real person, but she quickly disappeared within herself once she gathered composure. I decided not to be like her. Even if it meant embracing my demons, I wanted to be real. After a couple doses, I would toss the meds in the garbage.
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I fell in love with a sniper - a man whose basic training instills psychopathic tendencies. I loved a professional dehumanizer. I loved a man who lived in a world where empathy was suicide. I loved a man who had to be ready to put a bullet through a toddler's skull if necessary. I loved a man highly skilled in burying his emotions, resurrecting them if and when he chose. I loved a man who saw me as his enemy. I loved a man I was disposable to.
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We can deeply love our poison. We can love the taste of it, the scent of it, the comforting weight of it in our belly and find ourselves woken in the night with stabbing cramps, arms around porcelain toilet bowls, hurling every last bit until collapsing on bathroom tile, limp from dehydration. Sometimes parting with love is essential for survival. I've found the most tragic aspect of losing loved ones wasn't the big boom of the fallout, but realizing later how much healthier I was without them.
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As a woman, I've had to choose between ignoring the full effect of my carnal instincts and exploring them with a man who will abandon me. Both result in emotional isolation. It wasn't until tapping into the forbidden grounds of the male anatomy that I realized that men are locked in their own prison. Their vulnerability frightens them as much as my confidence.
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Abusive relationships exist because they provide enough rations of warmth, laughter, and affection to clutch onto like a security blanket in the heap of degradation. The good times are the initial euphoria that keeps addicts draining their wallets for toxic substances to inject into their veins. Scraps of love are food for an abusive relationship.
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It wasn't really a loud-mouthed, hyperactive little pig-tailed blonde that made Carl cringe. It was what I represented. While his upbringing was battered humiliation, I was spoiled, doted on, and spoon-fed by the world. I don't think he was even aware of his intentions to reduce that child to his own state of self-loathing, but he was truly brilliant at it.
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