Rachel Choi, 131 TESS
It’s been a long time coming, but finally, in less than a week, I will start a new chapter in my life. However, before I can go, I need to address you and your role in my life.
You are not welcome.
For years, you used your games and tricks to multiply my self-doubts and self-hatred. I am no stranger to your haunting words and merciless taunts. You were there behind every choice, every mistake, every regret, and every failure, whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
You broke me.
Time and time again you broke my confidence and self-esteem, and from those broken pieces you built a wall to keep me prisoner. You gave me gifts of depression, anxiety, and even an eating disorder. You weaponized my doubts and hatred;
you had me hurt others in order to feel more secure about myself. You made me terrified to live. Thanks to you, I was afraid of taking chances and of making mistakes.
But we both know that’s a lie, right?
I have no one to blame but myself, because the one who opened the door and gave the key to a monster like you was me. The fact of the matter is, you have no power unless I choose to give you power. And I gave you so much power. Of my own free will I gave you the power to enable and belittle me all as an excuse so I could give up, hide away, and avoid answering for my mistakes. It took me time, but eventually I realized you were no friend, nothing but a parasite in disguise. Eventually I was able to pick up some broken pieces and piece myself back together. I learned how to take care of myself, how to depend on others who actually care about me, and eventually, how to care for others as they have cared for me. I was content with what I had now that you weren’t smudging everything with your foul hands.
Then I discovered Peace Corps, and through the application process, interview, invitation, even through my medical denial and appeal, I was okay. For the first time in so long, I was motivated and excited for the future. I was determined to make something better of myself, to see the world and to do something with my life. Things were so different by the time you returned. I had grown and reclaimed some confidence, though maybe too much because looking back now I can see I got complacent. You wriggled yourself back into my good graces; after all I had changed, wasn’t it possible that you had as well? You whispered sweet nothings into my ear – not like the ones before, and it became obvious you had changed as well. With my departure to Thailand coming closer and closer, the questions on the various group chats becoming less hypothetical and more realistic, the TEFL assignments and learning space modules multiplying, the nerves began to manifest. That’s when you saw your opening, wasn’t it?
I should have known better; so easily I was wrapped around your finger again, and just as easily as before you chipped away at my bravado and honed in on my doubts and insecurities. You attacked me for being selfish, leaving behind my family, running away halfway across the globe, and making them worry. And for what? To do some good in the world? What good could an inept, insecure coward like I do? How am I going to integrate myself into my cohort, into my community of two years, when I’ve never been good at making or maintaining friends?
When that didn’t work, you changed tactics. My life is good right now isn’t it? Why leave it behind? I don’t even know if I’ll like Thailand, if I’ll even survive PST. Why not stay in America, where my family, my sense of safety and comfort are? Why leave behind the kids I love tutoring so much? What about Thackery and Binx? I adopted them in secret and I’m going to pawn them off to my parents the first chance I get? Is that what I call responsibility? And what about Pepper? She’s an old dog, she could die while I’m in Thailand. If she goes, Songi will probably follow not long after. Will I be okay with that? Two years is a long time, am I ready to face what I’ll miss while I’m gone?
We were apart for so long, but I guess underneath all the veneer, I’m still that same anxiety-ridden pillbug you knew so well. Little by little, you managed to sour my excitement and made me dread every new message I got from the few friends I managed to make in my cohort. You sent my mind into overdrive, calculating every possibility, every scenario, every potential regret and mistake.
And I must confess, you almost won.
I was ready to give up, so very close to rescinding my invite and retreating into safety. I’m lucky you miscalculated. We both did.
You see, back then, I truly was alone. You made sure of it. But I’m not alone anymore. My family, my platonic soulmate and one true love, the girls in Gurlz Trip and K-POP Lovers, they all give me strength, hope, and a slap in the face to ground me when I need it. Of my own free will I give them the power to support me as I support them, to hold each other up and hold each other back, to see to it that we become the best possible versions of ourselves. I don’t need you here tearing me down and holding me back anymore. I never did.
And now, I make another choice.
I choose to live.
Life is too short to live in fear of not being good enough or of making mistakes. I’m done overthinking and nitpicking every decision in my past, present, and future. Instead of hiding in a corner, I’m going to confront my fears and work at them until my feet ache and my hands bleed. The walls you so graciously built for me I will break them down and rebuild a fortress. This time, those walls will keep you out, not trap me in. I will not give you the power to cloud my mind with doubt and my heart with fear as you’ve done countless times before. I am not a perfect person, and I probably never will be. I have harmed others and burned bridges, and those damages I will never be able to undo. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. I will become a better person, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter, a better teacher for myself and for those I love. This is the life I choose to live.
Though I will admit to you this: there is fear, oh god is there fear.
However that fear is so infinitesimally small compared to the love and support I’m receiving, to the excitement I’m feeling right now. And so in this moment in time, you are powerless. I acknowledge my growth and know I only have more to grow in the future. I have grown enough to know I will never give you that kind of power over me again. Unfortunately, I know this will not be the last time I see you. No, I have no doubt I will see you again in Thailand. Sooner or later, you’ll make sure we meet again. However, understand there is nothing left for you to take. You no longer hold any power over me.
If you have any rebuttals or complaints or whatever, I really don’t care. Right now, I have no time for you. I’m busy eating two years worth of my mom’s kimchi, bothering my cats, and spending the jolliest of holidays with my family.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” — Julius Caesar (II, ii. 32-37)