The smell of coffee is as pervasive as it is effective to wake me up in the morning. Early in life I learned to love it since Maxwell House has a huge factory in Jacksonville, not far from downtown where we lived. It is one of the reasons I love going to Jaguars games, when the wind blows just right, I can smell coffee while watching my Jags play, and I don’t think it gets any better than that!
Growing up in the largest city by landmass meant driving far to get anywhere. It is a city with 7 bridges, and a river that flows backwards. It is a Navy town, it boasts of beautiful beaches, phenomenal hospitals and a lot of people I love. It is my hometown. Hurricane Matthew recently struck Jacksonville, and while it could have been so much worse, it was hard to go back recently and see some of the devastation from the storm. I had knots in my stomach and my eyes welled up with tears because some of that which was destroyed can never be rebuilt. But the feelings evoked by seeing the damage was nothing compared to those I felt when, after leaving a recent Jaguars game, we drove by the corner of 1st and Main Street.
Rushton was taking me back to my car when the neighborhood became increasingly familiar. As much as it had changed, it had not really changed at all. I could sometimes visually see places where I was hurt in a variety of ways, some of those ways I have never uttered to another human being.
We got to my car and on my drive home, my mind went back to the 7 year old me all the way up to the 14 year old me; when somebody finally stepped in and saved me from my living hell. Although I saw a lot of places where we lived and visited, two of the places struck me the most and my watery eyes turned into full blown tears as I drove down 301 towards home.
Food was not always readily available in our house. We got fed at school, and qualified for free lunch and breakfast; but in the summer time, it was a lot of fending for ourselves, often times landing at friend’s houses, or buying our own food with money that we earned from odd jobs. But, there was a community center right down the street and they had a summer lunch program, they would hand out box lunches to kids like us. And then they would make us wait 30 minutes and open the community pool. It was then that I learned to love the water, a love that I have never lost; it always means I am safe; and it always calms me down. Rushton and I passed by that community center on the way to my car and the memories of soggy sandwiches, almost too ripe fruit and warm milk flooded my mind.
Those memories are attached to my mom, who was still asleep at home by the time the box lunches were given out; and, on this day, for once in my life, I felt some resentment in my heart.
I don’t know if it is because I am healing; but lately the forgiving part that has often times been so easy for me isn’t. Maybe it is how I see my friends treat their kids and I see moms in action, or maybe it’s because I have a maternal figure in my life– I don’t know, but I find myself grieving not having a mom even though for much of my life she was physically present. I have oftentimes wondered how I even stayed alive until I was old enough to take care of myself. And I wondered why she didn’t stop having children—2 of the 3 she had were taken from her. But she did have me, and just as that thought process was going through my mind Rushton and I stopped at the light of 1st and Main Street.
I turned my neck as far back as I could to get a good look at the building–the exact spot where my mom and dad met. I know this because it was a bar, and one she visited frequently after I was born.
I just starred at the building and realized that was the place that the God of the universe ordained two people that would connect to bring a child into the world that would be so harmed and so unwanted. This confuses me sometimes and it certainly confused me on my ride home that day. Wouldn’t it have just been easier for God to not bring me into this world? Why would He ordain my birth; I know He knew me before the foundations of the world; I know He knew who my parents were going to be; where they would meet and what kind of parents they would be. As it was getting dark and I was driving home I switched from my sunglasses to my regular glasses and my eyes were almost swollen shut because I had been crying for about 100 miles. It just seemed like random tears streaming down my face to me; but I knew there was something more.
Victims of any kind of abuse want to forget it; we want to run from it; we want to pretend it never happened. But the truth of the matter is, it never goes away. Trauma that is caused by these events is etched into our brains and the innermost parts of our souls. I have spent the totality of my life up until this point trying not to let it affect me; and on the majority of days it does not, but this day was not one of them.
You see, as I starred at that building that day, I also saw a door covered in plywood at the back of the building. I know very well what is behind that door, a dark smelly room filled with traumatic memories for me.
I was older by the time this predator got to me, so it was more confusing and really is one of the 7 that I struggle with the most. My eyes were fixed on that plywood door.
It was ragged, the nails were rusted, and it was somewhat crooked and not covering the entire open space. And as I got closer to home, I realized that the walls I’ve learned to build are very much like that door. All it would take is one too many storms, not unlike the one that hit Jacksonville just two weeks earlier, to blow it all to pieces, and everything behind that door would be exposed. That exposition would be dark, it would be ugly and it would be terrifying. The uncleanliness of it would no doubt make people sick.
And I realized, the exposition of my walls would be no different. And so I decided that the Main thing is to keep 1st things first and continue to get help- trust in the character and sovereignty of my living God. The priority and irony of such is not lost on me as that building of where my life began and where it was so harmed still stands today.
First & Main