Sometimes I watch a stranger going about their life, and wonder what hides behind their smile. I have smiled without it passing my lips enough to know not everyone who smiles at me is happy with their life. I have walked with confidence I didn’t feel so many times I know some who appear to have it all together sob into their pillows at night.

When I was younger I envied everyone I saw. They had things I didn’t, whether it was a car or simply the freedom to be a teenager without the heavy burden of overly religious parents. I believed the facade I put up was the only mask worn. Being so separate from the rest of the world, I watched what I thought was honesty, and drew the conclusion everyone but me was, if not happy, in a better position in life, and more capable of becoming happy.

As stupid as this sounds, even the worst stories of abuse made me jealous. Physical abuse was limited in my relationships. I viewed those who received it as having more ability to request sympathy and help. Who would believe me if I said my parents/husband were abusive? They never left a bruise. Emotional and religious abuse are practically legal, if done correctly. I always thought if it was physically abusive someone could have realized and rescued me.

Those were the foolish notions of a lonely, hurting teenager with no real notion of the world outside the carefully maintained bubble she was forced to live within. People sometimes tell me it was my choice to stay. Perhaps. I was also a teenager kept purposefully ignorant of the world; my ignorance, along with paranoia and contempt, were cultivated as a guard against my ability to strike out on my own. I still don’t know how to connect with others well.

As a teenager, I kept a daily journal for years. Two pages a day, whether anything had happened or not. I had no friends, no one I could complain to about the good, bad, and interesting I encountered each day. My journal took that position, and fulfilled it faithfully. It was the only place I could share and know it wouldn’t betray me. Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t cry more.

My past haunts me, in its own way, appearing to remind me I don’t get to be like other people. Whether people are sharing anecdotes from prom or parties (I attended neither), funny stories from family vacations, or simply reminiscing about long time friends, I find myself reminded I have nothing to contribute to lighthearted conversations about personal histories. My own stories would simply kill the mood, and once it enters my mind, I find myself in a dark place of jealousy and regret.

Even with the positive changes in my life of late, the strength of desire for my teenage years to have been different is unabated. I mourn the loss of my youth more than anything else.

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