Loneliness is my Comfort Zone

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Rocks and Wire

One of my friends recently asked me if I had met any cute guys in California I was interested in dating. No. My life has been dedicated to mostly work, figuring out long-term finances, and the big picture in the years to come. Am I afraid of getting hurt again? If I want to get my heart broken, all I have to do is call my parents with good news about anything in my life so they can remind me that it doesn’t matter because I need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – The second coming of Christ is around the corner and unless I’m prepared with Jesus the only thing that awaits me is suffering and a guaranteed entrance to hell. They’ll mention the apocalypse, the antichrist, the plagues and disasters that await the Earth, and the “mark of the beast.” My heart gets broken (and healed) often. My greatest fear is losing my autonomy.

The freedom to be able to make decisions for myself is my most treasured ability. As a kid, it wasn’t something that I got to exercise often, and once I got a taste when I started college at 17, I was determined to protect it at all costs. Even if that cost meant loneliness. Growing up, me having autonomy was a source of strife at home. I’m four years older than my younger sister so I had to experience all of this first. My father didn’t want me to have a car in high school because he wanted to know where I was at all times. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends outside of friends coming over and being under the visual supervision of my parents (aka no hanging out in my room). During Senior year of high school, in order to complete the advanced science classes, seniors had to go on a weekend trip to a nature reserve where they would develop a hypothesis, collect data, then analyze it to test the validity of the hypothesis. I spent the first three months of senior year trying to convince my father that I needed to go. All of my classmates would talk about the trip with excitement and I would often get sad because it was a source of conflict at home. Growing up,  I went to church almost every night with my parents. The church they go to has almost nightly services that have a start time with no end time. On Fridays, the church had Youth service for the young people of the church. After church the youth would often go out to a restaurant and/or an arcade with the church pastor. I was never allowed to go.

Why didn’t I try to “rebel”? I tried to rebel plenty. But expressing any sort of dissent was typically a catalyst for my father that led to physical destruction to some part of the house and beatings. I did find a loop hole though! I started to notice that my father was okay with my being away for extra curricular activities. I played french horn and trumpet since the 4th grade. My father was okay with band activities. I became heavily involved with a youth leadership program at my local Red Cross, which opened the door to a myriad of other opportunities in the community. My father was okay with my involvement with these organizations. One of my science and math teachers, started hosting after school office hours. My father was okay with me partaking in those office hours. I started working in science research as a paid research assistant my junior year of high school (and continue to work in clinical research today!). My father was okay with this. As long as one of my parents dropped me off and picked me up (they had to be able to visually confirm), it was okay for me to be involved in these activities. I became so involved in activities, that in my junior year of high school a local organization in the city of Rochester awarded me the Volunteer Youth Award. I graduated with a near perfect GPA and top 10% of my class. I obtained the International Baccalaureate Diploma , obtained a huge merit scholarship, and was admitted to both undergraduate and medical school (a combined BA-MD program) all by the age of 17. My classmates and the adults around me thought it was impressive. The reality was that academics, work, and extracurriculars were a way to escape home (and nightly church).

Where was my mom in all of this? She was as afraid as I was. Once my younger sister was born (when we were still living in Puerto Rico), my father had given her an ultimatum that she had to chose between her career and her children. My mother chose her children. To this day my mother has no friends and no hobbies. She works (my sister and I are adults!), she takes care of domestic matters, and she goes to church. She now lives in Rochester, NY, but her family is in Puerto Rico. My mother’s sole source of support is my father. That knowing, breaks my heart every day. My mother is an incredible angel that never found her voice. Having first hand lived this experience, I understand that it’s easier to agree with my father than to disagree with him. Do I think my dad is the “bad” guy? An awful person? Nah. I think my dad is deeply wounded. My dad was really abused as a kid. He was physically abused at home, he was called slow (as in “retarded”), he was bullied (once his family moved to Boston – they lived in a really bad part of town), and often assaulted for theft (ya’ll ever hear of a town called Dorchester, MA?). I talked to his brother and sisters, and his oldest sister told me that one time, my dad found a gun in their home at the age of 17 and they were trying to come up with a plan where one would kill the other and the other would kill themselves. Of course they never went through with it as my dad is here today.

To further humanize my father, I’d like to share two stories. It is true that the emotion I most remember my father expressing is anger (rage). Then, him acting out on his anger (rage) in a way that was hurtful to those around him. However, he too possesses good qualities. One one occasion, after Hurricane George (1998), my dad was one of the people in our community who had a pickup truck. After he made sure that things were fine at home, he went out into the community to help anyone he could with manual labor and his truck. On one of the days, I joined him on the passenger side. It was still pouring heavy rain and on the side of the road he saw some puppies with a run down sign that said “Gratis” (Free). He pulled over, put all puppies in his truck (they were goldens!) and took them to a shelter. “I don’t want them to drown in case of a flood.” He said. He was the one that instilled within me a love of travel, exploration, and adventure. He would hype up airports and airplanes. He would take me to different outdoor spaces and show me cool creatures either on land or sea as well as the wonders of varied terrain. My father wasn’t and isn’t evil. He’s wounded and complex. Like we all are. During my childhood, he simply lacked the tools to channel his frustration in a way that didn’t hurt others.

After I left home at 17, I experienced freedom for the first time – the freedom of agency. I tried anything and everything under the sun – whether legal or not. I even ended up hospitalized within 3 months after leaving home. I wanted to try it all. What happens to a wild animal after you open the door of its cage after 17 years? Once I tasted the sweetness of making my own decisions, I was determined to maintain it regardless of the cost. Sometimes this meant not having food for a minute or sleeping in less than favorable locations, but it was all in the name of my personal freedom, my freedom to choose.

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my friends and prior to hanging up he told me he was going to “do coke and dye his friends hair”. I told him to be safe and have fun. Another one of my friends thinks that I’m too lenient with people’s behavior. That might be true, but who the fuck am I to tell anyone what to do with their lives? I checked in on him the next day to make sure that he didn’t over do it and was safe, but what else was I to do? My childhood made something very clear: people are going to do what they want to do. You can’t control anyone outside of yourself even if intent is pure.

I’ve mentioned this on this blog before – I’ve been single since (May) 2016. And while sometimes I crave companionship, at the end of the day protecting my freedom and agency are my top priorities. My fears don’t lie in having my heart broken again – I have my heart broken often – even without romantic relationships! My fear is not being able to continue to be an individual. And besides that, I’m at a place in my life where I’m unwilling to make a romantic relationship a priority. I’ve said here that I travel for work 80% of the time. When I’m on the road, I’ve often been asked – by Uber drivers, hotel staff, folks sitting next to me on flights, to the site staff at the clinics I work at, about how I’m going to meet and maintain a romantic relationship given the nature of my work. I usually just say something cute along the lines of fate and destiny, but the truth is that it’s not my priority. If it mattered to me, I would make the time for it.  My current priority in life is being student debt free (I’ll be there by the end of 2022!!!) and giving myself a solid foundation for the rest of my existence. I literally spent the entirety of my Saturday organizing my finances and projecting for the years to come. After I’m debt-free, I have two other major (non-financial) goals to reach before I feel ready to give myself to a romantic relationship. And prior to any of you misinterpreting this – I’m not seeking to be perfect to then be in a relationship. That’s quite literally impossible because we’re all flawed creatures. I’m seeking to reach a series of personal goals that would make me feel safe to then open myself up to what I consider the bonuses/”cherries on top” in life. When I say this I’m often asked, what if you die in the process? If I die in the next few years, I will die with a lot of peace and serenity in my heart for spending my days working towards what I thought to be of importance. “Well, you’re going to be 30 this year. The clock is ticking.” The clock is ticking for what exactly? See article: 100 and 102-year old couple falls in love in nursing home, ties the knot.  (For those that are thinking children, I don’t want to have children.) Ya’ll have a lovely day.

MaTati
My saving grace. This is my maternal grandmother, Justina Ramos Laguerre Colon.  I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and did not move to the United States until 1999. The first 8 years of my life, I mostly spent with a caretaker, my maternal grandmother, and my maternal aunt. My mother’s side of the family is what my father calls secular (aka non-religious). They believe in a God of their own understanding, but they’re not dogmatic (or even worse – abusive) about their beliefs. This woman is the embodiment of compassion, empathy, love, understanding, and intelligence. She kicks ass in dominoes, is a sudoku lover (and whiz), and can finish a crossword puzzle (in Spanish) at what appears to be the speed of light. She’s a Taurus (don’t know the rest of her chart), an outstanding embroiderer, loves to read, is ridiculously charming (and good with people), an incredible cook, loves going on long walks, loves exploring other towns, and lives for intellectual conversations especially in regards to the state of political affairs in Puerto Rico (lots of diplomacy in her tone, but no shame). She’s one of the most knowledgable, intelligent, and wisest people I know although she only has a high school education. It was her (along with my late grandfather) priority to send her five children (including my mother) to college if that’s what they wanted. My mother graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico – UPRM – Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez in the 80s. Mami tells me that she received a lot of grants from the government and that my grandfather would work really long hours and send her money on a weekly basis. She graduated debt-free (back when that was possible). My abuela (grandma) truly lives the mantra of “Come as you are.” Last time I was in Puerto Rico, I hiked to the highest peak of El Yunque with my aunt’s fiancé. After we hiked back down, my grandma thought I needed something to refresh me and asked if I wanted to go hike down to the waterfall, La Mina. She wanted to come with me. You guys – it was in the 90s (Fahrenheit) that day with high humidity. She had just been told that she was in remission from (breast) cancer – so she was good to go. This woman hiked with me all the way to La Mina (and back) in jovial spirits (and then walked all the way back to the car). She’s in her 70s. She embodies everything I want to become. While the ages of 8-17 were really difficult for me, the ages of 0-8 were absolutely magical and gave me a strong foundation for the rest of my life.