Editor’s note: Students in Norfolk Academy’s Literacy Fellows program have paired up with Booker T. Washington students and published a book of essays, No One Can Change Me But Me.
Prince Books is having a reading and book signing for this publication today, June 8th, at 6pm.
The students were paired with each other and tasked to tell each other’s stories.
The following is Emma’s telling of Gabriel’s life.
All The Reasons Why: Gabriel’s Story
by Emma Somers
Sometimes I wonder if she really knows. And not just if she’s aware of it, but if she really understands. Because if she really understood all those nights I begged her not to leave, wide-eyed and burying my face into her pant leg as I clung to her calf, maybe things would be different.
I learned about my life—well, I learned about her life—through bits and pieces. Every time she would come to visit, every time she came through the door, full of the smiles I longed for every day, smiles that I needed, I would learn a little more about her. About who she was, and who she is. About why she wouldn’t stay. About why the visits became fewer and far between, why each span of time between her walking out and in the door became longer. About why she’s my mother, but she can’t be my mom, and why Georgia is a better place for her. But every trip, every visit, her knowledge of me seemed to shrink. Cracks of loneliness split apart, and the space between us seemed to fill with air; empty air, with no words to fill such a space. The tears dried, and I didn’t cry anymore when she left. The idea of my having a mother began to slowly drift, and blur, suddenly a mere illusion of childhood whims. Yes, she is my mother, and when she left I’d tell her, “I love you, Mom,” but all its definition and spirit, did I really have a mom at all?
Every time she walked out, whether driven by temptation or salvation, both of which I have had my share of, every time the door closed behind her, I learned something about myself, about who I should be and who I didn’t have to be. Through her mistakes I created my own guidance, the kind of guidance a mother teaches her son.
I learned patience from my father. Well, I learned a lot more than that. I learned kindness. I learned forgiveness, and support. All these things, all these lessons, all the echoes of his voice that swirl and bounce between my ears, stand beside me in every decision I make, all his guidance, and all his encouragement. I learned that every community is different, and I built mine around his influence.
I learned value from her. The truth, when all the lies, the “I’ll be back before you know it” moments became painfully clear. She didn’t understand I took her for her word every time. Like she didn’t understand I counted down the days until she walked through the door again, bags in hand, beaming at how much taller I’d grown. The value of community and support, when I found those I needed to trust and depend on, just as she found the support she needed to resist her tumultuous monopolies. The value of emotion, as wave by wave washed over me; first confusion and misunderstanding, then misconception and resentment of what inevitably became full anger, and finally, now, letting go. The value of a person, and being connected to someone, and taking their actions in the most positive light, for the necessity of my own peace.
I learned on my own, too. I learned that my life was not her life. I learned that I did not have to center my own existence around hers. I learned that she was a part of me, an influential, positive part of me. But she was not the only part people had to see. And I grew to love her, my mother. I grew to be proud of her. I stopped clinging to my idea of who I had needed her to be. I focused on accepting her mistakes, instead of trying to understand why I suffered for them. I can still feel the anger, the tension my voice carries towards her sometimes. I still feel the annoyance of her attempts to fulfill a role in my life that she had never taken the initiative to grasp, I still hold a piece of the person I was when she left me. However, I know in my heart I can move on. I know I am not defined by one story in a multitude of words and experiences.
I learned there is an art to making peace. My story has mistakes, my story has triumphs.
My story has tears, and screams. My story fills the room at times with that awkward silence that only comes from a person’s inability to relate, and therefore submission to pity. But my story is also filled with laughter. I mean the kind of laughter that makes your stomach ache, and plead for the happy convulsions to stop so that air may restore your aching lungs. My story includes a community I am grateful for, a community I can depend on. My story makes me so uniquely myself, a messy cavalcade of memories tied to feelings and explosions, good and bad, that shape who I am.