Dear Katherine…

Photo by Huyen Pham on Unsplash

Since I started writing again several years ago, I’ve received comments on social media and blog posts, direct messages via social media, and even emails from my readers about how a particular piece of my writing impacted them, what thoughts my words inspired. I’ve been honored to be a safe place for several women who have told me about assaults or abuse in their pasts, my own story having encouraged them to share theirs for the very first time… sometimes decades after it happened.

I treasure each word, profoundly moved by evidence that taking my pain from the darkness of my soul and exposing it to the light has—and continues to—positively impact the lives of those around me, the lives of those who read what I write. My goal, my purpose, in writing is not for fame or bestseller status. I have no ambition toward becoming the next world-renowned and ultra-wealthy author.

No… the reason I write is to help others heal and to be a catalyst for positive change in the world. That’s it.

And it’s letters like the one below* that tell me I’m making that difference, one person at a time.

Dear Katherine,

When I read Finding Annie, I knew you were the kind of author that’s rare. I knew you were the kind of author I’d probably never find another of, because you’re the kind of author that speaks to pieces of my soul I didn’t even know existed. There are pieces that were broken by trauma—so like Annie’s in so many ways—and reading her story started me on a wondrous journey of healing.

Then, I read resilient. There’s a passage in your chapter “decking” that hit me profoundly. You wrote:

“Death sounded preferable to calling her and telling her that I needed help, admitting that I’d failed to succeed on my own. But it was the exact moment I had that thought cross my mind that I realized that if I didn’t call her, I would actually die. An early, miserable death that would occur inside well before my body gave out. The light at the top of the hole I’d found myself in was nearly gone and I had exactly one chance to stop it from disappearing altogether.”

For years, I’d lived in a place like that, but I never could quite put my finger on how to describe it. Once again, your words awakened a piece of me I didn’t know I had, and this piece screamed, “YES! THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY ALL THESE YEARS!”

My light was dying.

I’m not someone who does the feeling things “thing.” I prefer to examine the facts, look at the pieces I can hold and review and know to be true and then make a logical decision. I didn’t know why that was until recently: that if I make a decision from facts, I don’t have to face how I feel. Because sometimes, the things I’ve told myself I wouldn’t feel were so big that I knew if I felt them, I’d drown in them.

As I was reading your words, I had to take a break. I needed to finally admit something—a memory—I’d been trying to ignore for nearly seven years.

The week before I started college, which was two weeks before my nineteenth birthday, I attended an outdoor event in which my best friend performed. I went, but a thunderstorm stopped the show early. She said I could hang out at her apartment for a bit until she headed out to a party.

While I was there, I received a series of texts from my mother, saying she was in an altercation of some sort at home, and that it’d be wise for me to stay elsewhere because she’d probably be calling the police soon. So, I asked my best friend if I could stay with her.

She said no; she said she’d made plans to attend the party and wasn’t going to cancel them.

In that moment, the one person I thought would always be there for me—my best friend—let me down, and I realized I didn’t really have anyone in this world. She sat and explained how much she wanted to go to that party, how she couldn’t miss it, but how I couldn’t go because I (like her) was under 21 and the invitations said to wear running shoes because the cops usually got called to that party and she didn’t want me mixed up in that.

As she explained this, I sat there, realizing I’d have to sleep in my car. In the city, where there were murders every night. Rapes…like the thing I’d barely escaped only a few months prior. Then I thought, “What if I let myself get murdered? Save someone else who’d be mourned?” Realizing the darkness of my thought, I pondered further, “No one would miss me. She just proved that. I should just die.”

And that’s what I planned to do when I left the apartment. I was done. I’d asked as plainly as possible for her to show me some love that night, and she chose drinking and partying instead. I figured if the girl I called my best friend, my might-as-well-be sister, thought getting drunk was more important than my safety, then I didn’t matter too much to the world after all.

Before I left, though, she called a mutual friend of ours and he came to get me an hour later. He let me spend the night with him and I sobbed into his chest well past midnight.

After I read this passage about death of spirit in your book, I remembered what I felt that night. For years, I’d chosen to remember the facts, but reading your words forced me to remember the feelings.

I said things that night I’d never said to anyone else, and he told me, “It’s okay. Loving someone means being there for them, even when it’s inconvenient.” He said that after I apologized for interrupting something I knew was important to him. As you felt so many times throughout resilient, I felt like my true, legitimate, emergent need was something I should apologize for because it interrupted someone else’s plans.

Until I read your words, I hadn’t let myself remember how close I’d come that night to taking my life, how badly I’d wanted to die because I knew no one would miss me. How much I realized I didn’t matter to the people who mattered most to me.

His words that night put me on life support for the next nearly seven years now. His words shattered something in me that I wasn’t able to identify until I read Annie’s story, how she had to find herself. That was when I realized that’s what I’ve been trying to do all these years—after a lifetime of trauma, I’ve been trying to find who I was meant to be and who I am now, in the light of all the darkness in my past. His words told me it’s okay to take up space and want support, the same way Rob taught Annie it was okay to not be okay in front of others…and herself.

Three months later, I moved out of the house I could no longer call home with no plan. All I knew was that if someone I barely knew could offer me some love when it wasn’t convenient, I deserved more than what I was being given by my family. When I did, my boyfriend of three months—now husband—became my rock. When we got engaged seven months later, his family started to become my family—legally, at least. They employed a lot of the tactics you mention later in your book, how we’re supposed to give our abusers what they want even though they refuse to meet our most basic needs.

But as their verbal barrage continued, turning into new abuse, I kept having the same thought. To quote Elsa from Frozen, “Conceal, don’t feel.” I couldn’t let them know that a part of me was dying inside. Everyone had always praised me for being so strong, for beating cancer, even though I hardly remember having leukemia because I was only three to five years old. I couldn’t let them know the truth: that I had no fucking clue how I’d survived any of it, that I was only still breathing by some freak event of nature, that nature wouldn’t let me die when I should’ve because my life had only been full of more pain than the 36 needles I’d had in my spine with no anesthesia.

Even after my husband put up some barriers between his family and mine, I still couldn’t let anyone know I was withering…and, eventually, I had to hide that truth from myself, too, because if I acknowledged it, I thought it just might finally kill me. My mother hadn’t loved me because she didn’t know how to love herself. My father hadn’t loved me. My best friend hadn’t known me well enough, despite years of friendship, to know how much simple love I needed that night in August.

When I read about Annie, I realized that I did, in fact, have a lifetime of trauma. I had thoughts and feelings that were valid, despite what I’d heard: that my abusers were hurt more than I was, that I didn’t deserve to be in any pain at all. I finally acknowledged that, yes, I did have pain—I do have pain. Charlie had his issues, but that didn’t justify what he did to Annie…so maybe what my abusers were battling didn’t justify what they’d done to me, either.

But what to do with that realization?

That’s a journey I’ve been on for the last year and a half, since I first read your debut novel. And after reading your memoir, all I have to say is this:

You’ve done it.

resilient has told me that I am not alone in my trauma, my pain, my damage…and that I don’t have to be alone in my healing, either. resilient has told me that it’s okay to be messy, to not have it together at twenty-five, and it’s okay to be a little financially strapped as long as the life I provide for myself and my children isn’t poor in quality. When I see my friends with their fancy new phones and expensive cars and designer clothes and I’m still in the same threadbare sweats from high school, that’s okay, because my kids have what they need and I am working as hard as I can at being a mother and a professional while my husband works fifty-hour weeks. I am working to build a life that’s free from abuse. I could have all that stuff, like my friends and my family of origin, but it’d come at a price: my sanity. The innocence of my children.

Your memoir has told me exactly what you wanted it to tell someone—that I am not alone. I am not alone in my pain. I am not alone in my struggles to build a life anew after a lifetime of trauma. I am not alone in my mental health progress, just like I am not alone in my setbacks.

And I am not alone in my desire to believe what a friend told me almost a decade ago: that it’s okay to want people in my life who love me, even when it’s inconvenient.

Even when it’s messy.

Even when it’s confusing.

Even when I don’t have the foresight to know where I want to be, just that I don’t want to be “here” any longer.

I’ve been ignoring how I felt through the traumatic years for a long time, and your memoir made me face how I felt with every chapter. Thank you.

As I read your story, I relived my own story in a way I never have. I felt things I denied ever feeling. And I remembered, for the first time, how close I felt to not feeling anything ever again. Then I realized it was okay to tell the guy who’d unwittingly saved my life, and you, and anyone else how close I’d come, because I’m not alone in coming that close, either. We’ve survived so many things that tried to kill us—that have succeeded in killing others. You are not alone in your healing journey because I’m on one, too…which means I’m not alone, either.

We are resilient. We are pipe cleaners**. We are not scared to see who we are, who or where we’ve been. And we’re not alone in yet another thing: we don’t want anyone else to feel alone, either. We don’t want anyone else to feel like their life is an inconvenience.

I know I’m not the only life your memoir will save. In a way, I wonder how it showed you how alive you are now, after everything. Being told we’re resilient is nice, I suppose, the same way someone saying our new haircut is nice.

Being shown we’re not alone, though? That’s true comfort. That’s something that gives us peace, and courage.

Thank you for showing me.

Olivia

*posted with permission

**reference to a chapter in resilient


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Katherine Turner is an award-winning author, editor, and a life-long reader and writer. She grew up in foster care from the age of eight and is passionate about improving the world through literature, empathy, and understanding. In addition to writing books, Katherine blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society on her website www.kturnerwrites.com. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get a free copy of her book moments of extraordinary courage.

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