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Do Not Disturb - by Shontel Anestasia

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

I have been quiet for so long and it seems like nothing I learned in the last 11 years, can even come close to what I learned in my first 17 years. My mom got pregnant with me at 15 and my dad was 20 years old. Being the “Clarkes” we were a traditional West Indian family and a teenage pregnancy wasn’t something my grandma was proud of. My grandmother was a very hard worker and came to America in the 1970’s. She worked cleaning homes until she got her Green Card then began selling Avon Products. My father, “Lil Eddie” as they called him, was known in East Flatbush for his sense of humor and charm but he kept a strap on him at all times. In November, a few days after my 1st birthday, my father was breaking up a fight at the corner of Flatbush and Lenox Rd. He was shot several times, later passing on the way to the hospital. I never got to know my father but oddly I remember he had a baby powder smell and it puzzles my mother how I knew that.


Fast forward 7 years, I’m now in the 3rd grade. Back in the 90’s bullying didn’t exist and if you are being picked on you had to know how to defend yourself. I never got this memo but I quickly learned to listen to my surroundings over my eyes to survive. Little old me had allergies to almost everything and because of this, my skin wasn’t the most flattering to look at. Wearing my school uniform, I always covered my legs with knee high socks and long sleeve shirts, even in on the hottest summer days. Things didn’t work out at PS.91 and I was transferred to P.S. 6.


The only way to protect myself was if I became friends with tough girls at school which meant obeying them. They were allowed to have my lunch money and we had meetups in the bathroom at the Boys and Girls Club aftercare program. One day I was going to be accepted into the group however my test was that I had to fight another girl. I didn’t even know how to throw a punch but it was either be with them or become a target to every other bully in school. I accepted and met the girls in the bathroom. There’s always that weird feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something doesn’t feel right and I wish I had listened. It was a complete setup and I remember that day was the first and last time I got jumped because they never oddly bothered me after that day. I guess I won my rights…

Back at home, my grandma and mother were always arguing over something. My mom was working full time so I spent the weekdays with my grandma. Every morning my grandmother would walk me to school after we got my favorite Carribean breakfast, cornmeal porridge and bake n’ saltfish. I still remember her watching me eat it smiling but rushing me to hurry up. To make extra money, I sold things like yo-yos and candy in the school halls. During the summer, I had a ginger lemonade stand and sold old books and ornaments that my grandma hoarded in her home. My grandma was pretty bad at letting things go and I mean this literally. She kept old supermarket circulars months even years after they expired because she still wanted to see the sale. As I got older, it only got worse. At one point, the floors were covered with papers and she began collecting other things to a point my uncle (her son) had to create a space for her and I to walk. I didn’t know what was going on with her but she always put a smile on my face and she made me feel safe.


I started living with my mom full time in the 5th grade and this is when things started to change. My mom was the sweetest person but a broken umbrella would make her lid fly off. I learned to only speak to her when spoken to and the more invisible I made myself to her, the less anger she took out on me. I remember one night, my mom woke me up in the middle of the night and said there was a fire and I had to pack a bag. We left the house through the window and deep down I knew she was lying but I along went with it. I hopped into her burgundy Yukon truck and I threw my bag in the back seat while Sterling, my dog , was in the open trunk. I fell asleep and when I woke up it was daytime. I asked to go to the park and my mother kept telling me later. 6 hours passed and I was given every excuse why I couldn’t go to the park. 1 day in the truck turned into 3, then 8, next thing I know it was 3 weeks. We showered with a Poland spring bottles and wet wipes. I wore clothes from the school lost and found and ate when I got to school and had to skip dinner. To this day, I never got an explanation to why we lived out her car for 3 weeks. By the 4th week, we went to stay at my grandmother’s on Lenox road. The arguing started again and it never stopped. We got another apartment and kept moving every 6 months. I learned to never ask my mom questions and I pretended I didn’t know what was going on.


2003, my mom started locking herself in her room. One day when she left, I opened the door to find her room full of moving boxes. I lived the life of a true wanderer, we never stayed in one apartment for long, I wore clothes of my other classmates and never could have a friend more than a year. One day my mother told me we were moving to Jersey and my world flipped inside out. My grandmother was my lifeforce. I wore her powder to sleep because I loved her smell, I had her tee-shirts in my draw so I always felt her close and now I was being ripped away from her with no notice. 2 weeks later, we moved to Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. My mom dropped me in front of school on my first day and drove off. She was always cold, as I got older her hugs lessoned and I was more of a burden to her it seemed than her daughter. 2 years later we moved again and it was the same story. I got accustomed to never planting roots and I sort of liked the adventure of new places. I was horrible at making friends because I never really got the opportunity to make them and my skin didn’t make a good first impression.


As time went, my doctors visits lessened, my mother began to change and I began taking care of myself. At this time in my life, I was very much into reading the bible and the book of Psalms was my favorite. I would read the 23rd Psalm over and over “Ye do I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” My intention was to cleanse the evil that I thought possessed my mother. My mother would arrive home at around 7 on the nose and I had dinner cooked as well as the front door open for her arrival. As soon as she came home, she would have a look around the house to make sure it was clean then I ran up to my bedroom and closed the door. This was our routine for about 2 years then things took a detour. While in Miss Bolger's class at Edison Middle School, I was asked to go to the school counselor. When I arrived in the office there were 2 white women standing over my guidance counselor and there was a folder on her desk. My English teacher called DYFS and in that folder was years of reports from teachers over the course of 4 years. I didn’t even blink nor did I listen to what they were saying because I was in disbelief. I always had bruises on me but I always explained I fell. My case-workers knew I was lying by my stuttering and I wasn’t the best liar, to begin with. I never saw them again until Junior year Highschool. In between the abuse, there were vacations, sweet-tart pies from Juniors Cheese Cake Factory and trips to the mall so I wondered “was it really abuse?” “Maybe I deserved it..” “Maybe this is how all the other kids were raised..” But why did it hurt so much? Why was I was afraid of my mothers' wrath and why did she make me feel unloved? Why didn’t she love me like the other kids' moms in schools? Why did she hate me so much?


Gaslighting can take the smartest person on a ride. You’re left feeling that it’s your fault and if you were xyz way, it wouldn't have happened. You question your own sanity and you behave better so it won’t happen again. I was a track star and my mom was my number one fan. We had the perfect relationship and everyone knew me for having the “Hot” Mom. If she only hitting me once a week, is it really that bad? Bruises heal and that cake she bought me afterward really tasted good. This became our dance until the abandonment kicked in. Willowbrook mall, Fridays and Whittlesey Ave were all the places she would leave me if she got upset. I would sit and wait and eventually I will hear the muffler of her truck returning to pick me up. However one day, 15 min turned into 30 then into an hour. I became numb, an hour felt like an eternity. The mother that birthed me was no longer my mother. That day was my first suicidal attempt at only 15.


Freshman year of college couldn’t have come any quicker. After one final argument with my mother, I packed everything I could fit into one large suitcase while she was at work and I never returned to this day. A month later, I turned 18 and was an “Adult”. Life was going well up until the end of sophomore year. I was sexually assaulted by a “friend” and never reported it. My grades went downhill but it wasn’t worse than sleeping outside the park in a Yukon truck, my skin was as clear as day and DYFS disappeared so I just said eff it. I swept my problems under the rug but they found its way out the end of Junior Year. I began to relapse and those monsters that haunted my mind began to return. I was in and out of the school counselors office and I would have rather mopped the ocean than listen to a middle-aged white woman read textbook replies to my problems. How could I be so young yet so messed up? Why was this happening to me? I lost interest in everything and started missing my classes. I would sleep 14 hours and still be tired. I had no desire to run track or learn, all I wanted to do was sleep.


Senior year I walked across the stage only a few minutes after getting a text from my mother “I’m not coming”. My grandma was the only person that showed up and she traveled from Brooklyn to Red Bank, NJ just to see me. I returned in the fall to finish my last 12 credits, doing the bare minimum, left and never looked back. Back then, I didn’t know what depression was or know the term but it began to sink in something was wrong with me. I abandoned my family because I felt they abandoned me. I changed my phone number and detached from feeling emotions. I lost my first job out of college due to a huge misunderstanding and took the blame for my manager I was working under. I went to the bar industry and I became a waitress to then become a bartender. I was so obsessive about making money that almost got raped working a gig off craigslist at a Newark Bar. I was shorted cash and ended up running for my life to my car.


I felt like I was on top of the world again but then I got pregnant and we’re going to call this guy Jim. Jim was 4 years older than me and I thought we were the real thing. It ended in an induced miscarriage and I was right back in my own hell. My childhood began to sneak back into my life and it told me it was there to stay. Who would have thought, this athletic & attractive girl with a bright smile could hide such a dark life. It felt as though I was living a double life. I danced between hopelessness and bliss, despair and confidence, defeat and contentment. I was ready to throw the towel in but then I got another job outside of the bar scene and it saved me. I was back on top of the world and started making deeper friendships. As soon as I fell back into the groove of life everything from being jumped in the bathroom to left outside the malls to my abortion hit me all at once. My grandmother died and I had nothing to live for. September 2016, I relapsed and this time it was the real deal. I called my mother and told her I was sorry and I loved her. I wrote a suicide note and left it on top my TV stand and what happened that night will always be a blur. Between 15 and 24 I had now tried to commit suicide 4 times and failed. I laugh now because I couldn’t even do that right and I must have some purpose to fulfill if each try is unsuccessful.


Now almost 4 years later, I no longer run from my problems but I face them head-on. I still go through periods of depression but never thoughts of suicide. The only way for me to move past the self-harm was to face the beast within my mother. I had to understand that she was a child raising a child. I had to understand that I was a splitting image of my dad she was no longer with when I was born. I had to realize that she let her pain manifest into my own. At almost 28, I have hope for my future. Therapy and counseling have healed parts of me I couldn’t reach. Being vulnerable and being honest about my struggles made me stronger.

Mental health is a serious issue and the more of us who share our stories and speak up about it, the easier it is for the next person. The only shameful thing about mental health is the stigma tied to it. A lack of understanding when it comes to these disorders can leave sufferers feeling isolated and hopeless. Only 25 percent of people with mental health issues feel that people are caring and empathetic to their struggles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


A message to all….You can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside. Even I too lie about being sick sometimes, because people understand if you have a cold, but not if you have depression. Always check in on your strong friend because they may be the ones who need you most.


If you suffer from depression, anxiety and/or thoughts of suicide, please remember that your story is not finished yet. There will be days you can’t get out of bed and memories that haunt you but I am telling you to fight. It does get easier. If you are reading this right now, remember — you are a masterpiece. You may not feel like you are enough most times, you may feel unappreciated, you may feel like no one really sees you. But baby listen, you are seen, you are known, you are heard, you are loved & you are enough. And even though we haven’t met…..I am rooting for you.

Love always,

Puma


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