Medically, there is no explanation for why I am alive.
Latinos are taught to keep it in the family. “What happens here, stays here” is a self-defeating motto that left me no escape from being exposed to drug addiction, abandonment, domestic maltreatment, and alcoholism very early on.
Before I made it through puberty, I questioned my reason to live. If my existence was so problematic, perhaps it was best I didn’t.
I missed my grandmother severely, but struggled with the reflection of her daughter. I looked back with the same face as someone who doesn’t want me. My internal dialogue reared its dejected head towards the largest bottle of pills in my house. A fresh count of 40, to be exact.
Medically, there is no explanation for why I am alive. My sophomore year of high school my mother found her painful mirror image overdosed and vomiting. I was not Cinderella, there was no fairy godmother coming to save me. Fading in and out of consciousness, I recall a doctor gagging me with thick, gritty, black charcoal, used to absorb the pills. Doctors were anxious around my tiny teenaged body in disbelief.
“She is so young,” someone yelled.
My abusive upbringing wasn’t conducive to mental wellness. Pain from anxiety, the exquisitely irrefutable anguish I know so well, left me hidden behind humiliation, and an irrational concept of loyalty, that was branded in my mind by elders.
Abuse was something my young mother expected me to overlook, because she herself is a product of it. Her mother once hung her halfway out a window for her disobedience. The generations before her were filled with copy and paste stories like hers: abusive teenaged mothers. Mercy was a luxury, and as a result, I own rhinoceros skin.
These skeletons became my chronic downheartedness, but I was my brother’s keeper. I felt obligated to protect my younger siblings, even when they resented my reactions to the burdens.
There were incessant arguments because my stepfather had no interest in forming a genuine bond with me. Many of my stepfathers’ relatives missed no opportunity to distinguish my Mercado name in the Gonzalez residence. Undeniably, I was an outsider in my own home. Eventually, physical altercations took place between my mother and stepfather.
The constant magnification of my otherness only fed the nemesis in my mind: “You’re just too different for them to ever love you.”
However, my teen years resembled paradise to outsiders looking in. Considering where my family came from, we “made it.” As Bronx natives, we were now suburban homeowners, white picket fence and pool included. We looked our best, but were emotionally wrecked. My pretty bedroom was a reflection of who my mother wanted me to be, opposite of my sturdy personality.
Coping with my depression, I pinned covers of Latina and VIBE, constantly beseeching inspiration. Musical expression and journaling became my salvage. But in turn, I was labeled antisocial for hiding in my bedroom.
Thoughts of self-harm surfaced with the gloomiest of days. My biological father initially followed me to Virginia — but in time, left to Las Vegas. He neglected his children to follow a passive girlfriend, without as much as a goodbye. This was another dagger. I felt I had no one to talk to, with the exception of my father’s brother — my sole confidante.
There was no use in feeling sorry for myself. I dreaded the harsh consequence of not conforming to physical abuse. This wasn’t typical discipline — it was black and blue.
After my suicide attempt, the four walls that surrounded me from that point on were shared with another 15-year-old girl, who was sexually abused.
We weren’t even permitted to shower privately without the therapist banging on the bathroom door — questioning if we were alive. I knew my roommate for maybe a week and felt like she understood me more than my family.
It had been some years, but my biological father visited me following my suicide attempt. To everyone’s surprise, the hospital’s psychiatrist heard about my life and understood my impulsive decision. I was by no means the perfect stepchild, but I was not crazy, either.
I wish I could write that this incident was the wake-up call which brought my family together. Conversely, in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t significantly change anything.
In time, my mother and her husband legally separated. We do not speak, yet, I made one distinct request — that my mother need and want for nothing. By the time I left for college, my siblings were in separate homes. Fortunately, they managed to maintain a relationship with my mother and her husband.
Now at 28, I've reached acceptance. The reconciliation attempts with my family failed. Still, excommunication gave me enough peace to prosper.
Years of stories remain buried in me. Ironically, I spent my young adulthood hell-bent on changing the dynamic of a family name that never believed in me. The runt became the family first for nearly everything.
No one ever knows how to say things like this out loud — if your heart is festering with depression and feel like no one understands, I do. I lived it and survived. They fled from pain and I stared mine in the face. Ultimately, I realized I was the light. Here at Latina, I expose one of my darkest chapters in hopes of saving a life much like my own.
Sometimes, you must learn to accept the apology you never received in order to live free. No matter your circumstance, you are capable of overcoming your torment or defying what other people deem as “delusional.” I didn’t always know but I’m living proof now.
Before I earned a B.A. in Journalism, I deserved a PhD in dysfunction. Still, today I sit at a desk I aspired for since childhood, the desk I was told wasn’t meant for me. Yes, I knew I’d write for Latina magazine. Perhaps with the purpose to ink encouragement for young women in need — to become the person I once searched for.
This article was originally published at Latina. Reprinted with permission from the author.