Kourtney Dunning

Love isn’t scary until it’s associated with violence

The first time I remember seeing blood I was 4 years old running down the hall to my mother who was vacuuming the tile floor of the kitchen. I trip and my face hits the cold tile, teeth first. I immediately cry from the overwhelming pain in my mouth and I see red liquid gushing out all over the floor. Blood isn’t scary until it’s associated with pain. I was supposed to be in my mom’s room taking a nap but I remember I couldn’t bare to be alone in there by myself. My tiny self, a little lump, lay under a blanket on a king sized bed elevated high off the floor. I remember my mom didn’t hug me and say I love you before shutting the door behind her and it scared me because what if I went to sleep and never saw her again? What if she didn’t love me because she forgot to tell me this time? I had to make sure that she still loved me so I ran as fast as I could down the hall to her and experienced blood for the first time. My two front teeth were blood stained from then until they fell out and were replaced by new ones in the second grade. It never bothered me or made me feel insecure, but it always reminded me of my own fragility.

I am staring at a blood splattered window of a parked mini van on the side of a dirt road called Val Vista. I don’t get out of the car I am in to investigate further. I sit and I shake and I am frozen cold. Minutes before pulling up to this mini van I sit in the passenger seat of my friend Jinger’s beat up emerald green car. She is swerving in and out of traffic while I frantically call Kayla, my best friend, over and over again. I never get an answer. 15 minutes before that I am begging Kayla to not get in her car and drive anywhere. I had seen a gun slipped in between the seats of her mom’s mini van. My jaw is still sore from where she punched me in the face for trying to stop her. I couldn’t help that I wanted to chase her anywhere she went because what if she didn’t know that people loved her? What if she didn’t know that I loved her? What if I never saw her again? I had to make sure that she knew that she was loved so I chased her down to the side of a dirt road. But I was too late. She shot and killed herself in her mom’s mini van with the gun that I saw. She didn’t feel loved. She didn’t believe that she could be loved. Blood isn’t scary until it’s associated with pain. My memory is blood stained from age 15 till forever. I have panic attacks when I am calling the phones of loved ones who refuse to answer, the sound of eternal ringing, the silence of no “hello”. It always reminds me of what ifs and the fragility inspired by the absence of feeling loved.

It’s spring again for the 23rd time. I fight off the demons that bloom with the flowers. The ones that open up wide to the sun and smell so good you think everything about them is real. But they are just pretty looking lies carefully crafted and creatively composed, cyclic in nature. My mind monsters are the most manipulative messy madness. But I believe them because their roots are thick and long and neatly coiled in my mind. Their seed grounded in the deep dark of me and I have watered them and tended to them since I was a baby child who could feel real and real evil all the same way, amplified, but could never tell them apart. What if I don’t love myself because I let myself fall into the borderline traps of my psyche that tell me that nobody loves me? What if I stop loving myself? What if I have never loved myself? What if I let my mind take over and it puts me to sleep and I never wake up again? What if nobody can ever love me because I always question everything they show me, because I don’t know how to be sure something is real? My mind tells me that being loved is not real, and for some reason I believe it. I never am sure of the difference between real, like love, and real evil, like my mind telling me that I cannot be loved.

Real was the pain that Kayla endured when homophobia poisoned the minds of her parents and stole their ability to show her unconditional love. It was the heartbreak of finding out that somebody chose to love someone else or something else in place of her, a cycle she was too used to. Cycles of trauma imbed themselves over love. Trauma can replace love and the real evil is when nobody can convince us enough that we deserve love. And when we are so sure that we will never have love then we are sure that we want to die and nobody can stop us.

My younger brother is laying on the carpet, his blue eyes crying and his nose bleeding everywhere. I just stomped his head into the ground three times. There is blood on his face and hands and the carpet near the armchair. I am not crying. I am standing over him, I am shaking, I am frozen cold. Minutes before I attacked him he was calling our other younger brother a “wetback”. The darker sibling that couldn’t be loved. I do not remember what happened between the slur and the blood. My teenage years are blood stained by blinding abusive physical rage often in reaction to a specific sibling who enacted racist and physically abusive cycles onto another younger sibling. And why did he do that? Because he needed to feel better and superior to feel loved. And why would I enact violence onto him? I think I would conflate violence and love, never knowing the difference between real and real insidious mental madness. We maintained and aimed the patterns of abuse at one another, the same ones that were modeled to us by our father. We were all battling against the fragility of not feeling loved, battling violently and abusively.

Why did none of us ever feel loved enough? What if this is because my mom had so many kids too close together in age and we never got held for long enough because our parents didn’t have enough arms or time to hold all these babies at the same time. All these babies that needed to be held so they could grow up secure believers in love. Love could be stained onto me like trauma, but it wasn’t. Trauma is engraved over love on my brain receptors and neurotransmitters. I know and believe in trauma because it’s blue printed all over my brain. Trauma is selfish like that. It leaves no space for love. I am still fragile in this way, growing weaker and blurrier in spring time.

    The violence we don’t talk about is the violence that we enact on ourselves. The other day a close friend told me that the internalized ways that we mistreat ourselves can be just as damaging to our mental emotional health like the ways violence is enacted on us from external forces. I internalize self hatred because of external trauma done to me, and I slip into the repetition of telling myself I am undeserving of love because I have such a hard time accepting it because I truly feel that I am bad. The ways I reject being loved can be abusive to myself and those around me. I will blame the people closest to me, the ones who show me the most authentic and desirable aspects of love, for my own inability to accept it as real. When my brain convinces me that nobody loves me I conflate it with those around me, as if they are the ones who are making me feel unloved. It isn’t true or real, it is just my own fragility combined with a mind racing with what ifs combined with a mental illness that never wants me to experience the love I deserve. It’s an insidious cycle that I need to learn more about before I push everyone away. If I push everyone away I will surely fall into a suicidal trap, enacting violence onto myself that cannot be undone. Blood stained into the afterlife, forever a piece of trauma imprinted onto the brains of those who love me. Blood is always scary because it’s always associated with pain created by or conflated with love.

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