Stand Up. ch1
Every time I hear the song Stand Up by Hindi Zahra, a wave of horror, dread, sadness, and fear washes over me. I can see in front of me, without closing my eyes, the hospital parking lot I sat in when I wanted to be alone. It’s the first song of a playlist my dad shared with me when I was living in Taiwan. Those songs that made me feel so safe when I was there are now triggers of my ptsd.
I don’t believe any one particular thing has to be the cause of trauma. I also want to note that I know some people will disagree with what I have to say. They will think that I am being ungrateful and that nothing “that bad” actually happened for me to feel this way. That my ptsd isn’t valid. But I just want to express what happens to me whenever I encounter the word Taiwan, read Taiwan topping a list of having the world’s friendliest people, see a 2000 model of the Volkswagen Golf GL in dark color, or hear one of the 117 songs that got me through those six months.
I lived in Yilan, Taiwan as an exchange student starting in August of 2015. I am not yet ready to share everything, but I know that as I begin to write my story I will begin to feel better. For the last few months over Facebook, I have started leaving small notes in long posts on how this experience affected me. But as it is September 1st, 2016 — the first day of Never Afraid Again, my personal competition against myself to get over my fears — I am going to write chapter one of my story.
It’s 8, and the sky is dark. The pavement on the street is damp from the rain that has just stopped. Some of the houses on the street have lights on inside, their reflections on the puddles making the pavement glow. I am wearing my headphones, and I am performing my ritual. I start walking away…as far away as I dare go. I reach the hospital. Across the rice fields, like large shallow pools sparkling eerily in the moonlight, I can see the house. The ground here is damp too, but the benches are damper. I sit down, legs crossed. I pull my notebook from my bag and a pen from my pocket. Looking up I see the moon, it’s familiar face calms me slightly.
I pull the pen across the paper, creating dark lines and shapes. I draw everything I am feeling, everything around me. I allow the playlist to seep through me, washing off the day’s memories and allowing them to pool on the parchment. The teacher abusing the student, the three hour assembly of standing, the twelve hours sitting in a desk feeling useless…I allowed the moon to pull the memories off me like it drags the tides in the ocean.
There is no one around. There is no one walking past. There are no cars. A single white heron stands in the rice field before taking flight. I envied that bird.
Standing, I walked the second half of the loop so familiar to me I could walk it with my eyes closed. The loop that walked from the house to the bus station to the hospital to the busier street then back down past the dry cleaners. This wasn’t because I had walked this path a million times. It was because it was this circle, this lone journey through the dark, was the only time I could be alone.
This was my one source of peace. In a life where I felt so consumed by loneliness, I just needed to be alone.
In Taiwan, I became depressed. I became artistic and wrote poetry and stories and drew a million empty eyes. I felt the darkest I had ever felt in my life. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe there was already a crack in my conscious. But it was there that the crack became a hole then an abyss.
My one moment of calm sitting there on the wet pavement in the dark, with the moon as my company, was a gift.
In Taiwan I learned to be grateful I am for everything that I got. I mean this not like food, but freedom. I was so grateful to get to leave for just thirty minutes to write and draw alone outside in the dark, because I hadn’t been allowed to be anywhere by myself for the last four months. I was grateful to be granted permission to go outside to find peace. And I still had to be back before curfew.
When I hear the lyrics of Stand Up, I remember how I felt in Taiwan like the cold sweats of waking up from a nightmare. But it’s lyrics are what remind me that it is what I did, and what I must do. I must stand up. I don’t hate Taiwan. But I hate the way that I felt…and I want to make sure I never do (and no one I love) feels that way ever again.