Dear Anyone Who Is Listening

By July Westhale

flickr/Katie Tegtmeyer

The Est. is collecting open letters on Sessions, familial separation and the current administration’s response to asylum seekers and immigrants — good grief our collective heart! — to publish on a dedicated landing page as a kind of evolving pastiche of opinions and concerns, anger and empathy. Resistance is vital.

400 words or less. We can pay $50 for every submission chosen. If you’ve got something to say, email us at getestablished@theestablishment.co. SUBJECT LINE: Open Borders

Thank you for everything you do.

Dear you,

When I was 4, my mom drew me a bath.

“Watch the water,” she said, “and come get me when it’s full.”

I’ve replayed this scene thousands of times — her piano fingers on the rusted faucet, the bathmat an inky-gray, like a fingerprinting. I remember the water filling, filling, the plastic toy boat rising victorious in the swells. I remember calling for her, and hearing only silence. I remember the water overflowing, soaking the mat, leaking down the hallway linoleum, past my sick and sleeping mother.

I don’t remember the moment the water reached our neighbor’s apartment next door, but I do remember that when Child Protective Services was called, I put my body between them and my mom.

“She was sleeping,” I said. “It’s my fault.”

I was taken to a children’s home and, screaming, dunked into a bathtub of ice water.

No one gave me information about what was happening. No one offered comfort. It seemed to me, even at the time, that those in charge thought that silence and isolation was a better solution than explanation and solace.

I live with CPTSD every day. It seeps into my relationships, my work, my writing, my mannerisms. I am who I am because of the way my childhood was cracked open. And I’m a white-presenting, able-bodied U.S. Citizen. I had the privilege of foster care (even though it was a harrowing experience), and a children’s home. I had caseworkers, and visits with my family (eventually). My story was ok-case-scenario. It was still the worst moment of my life.

I had it so so so much better than any of these children in the news.

I’m so proud of my community for standing up and staying compassionate and tender. Of the radical empathy you’re showing to each other and yourselves. I’m so proud of your hand-lettered signs and your fundraising and your yelling and your insistence on better behavior, a better world.

And your stories. I’m most proud of your stories.

For those of you scared to act, or feeling dissociated, or overwhelmed —

hear my story. Take it as a place that helps creates space for whatever you’re going through. That’s what narrative can do in times like these. Take it moment by moment. In this moment, you’re listening, and that’s massive.

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