Jan 10
emily.hess's picture

Empathy: A Cautionary Tale

My best friend needed a place to live,
so as if they were a lost puppy,
i asked my parents if we could keep them.
and my parents signed the papers.

then they used my outstretched arms like rubber bands--
twisted, tied, and shot them back at my face.

I watched my household go from a four to seven person home,
we turned four bedrooms into six,
and for my entire high school career i almost never had my own,
it always seemed like my parents had a revolving door,
but somehow it got slammed far too many times to count.

My mother taught me how to take care of everybody.
I learned random acts of kindness, and empathy,
I remembered to keep extra of anything in my bag: tissues, granola bars, ibuprofen, hugs, forgiveness.

Forgiveness and some more forgiveness.

For as far as my memory reaches back i had been led to believe that my purpose on this damned planet was to serve others,
to walk around with a donation of my listening ears turned on and a shoulder ready for tears.

By the time i was fourteen, my baggage was everyone else's i had ever met.

So when they needed my help,
I carried their packed bags for them up my porch steps.

But as they moved into my mind, and became the world for which i revolved around,
my everything began to not be good enough.

My everything began getting me into trouble,
awarding me silent treatments,
or worse; the verbal takedowns and beatings,
being cornered in the room i had given up for them and being told i was better off dead.

And the one person mom never told me to take care of was myself,
and so i didn't.

I wasn't good enough for them as a human,
so i became clay--
ready to be molded into whatever they needed from me.

I looked over,
failed classes and missing assignments,
breakdowns and panic attacks,
weight loss and gain,
any goddamned thing as long as they felt taken care of.

And mom didn’t warn me that caring for others could be a form of self harm.

Then,
they left.

Did my best to become their perfect mold,
and they left me to be dried out,
to crack.

Because they were never looking for me,
they were reaching out--
searching for me to fill a space,
they were too small to fill themselves.

Now i sit in my own bedroom,
in a space i was once made out to feel unworthy of sharing,
in a world i was told would be better off without me.

And mom never taught me how to treat the cuts and bruises you can’t see,
but i think it’s about time i start teaching myself a thing or two.