I just finished watching Freedom Writers with my 10 and 11-year-old daughters.
We had a great Saturday which started with cuddling in the morning in my bed with our puppy Willie Nelson sniffing and licking our faces. I asked them to help me tidy up the house and the patio to start the day off on the right note. A little work now would allow us (me) to relax and enjoy the day and they quickly agreed and did a great job.
I had my first tutoring session with a local tutor that I found on Wyzant to go over my online Discrete Mathematics class which had been stressing me and had me hitting a mental block. It’s one of three courses that I am taking this semester, my last at a community college before I wait to hear where I will attend as a transfer student for the Fall 2016 semester. I felt energized and motivated after the session, ready to revisit concepts that I had been struggling with.
For dinner we decided to walk over to P.F. Changs for lettuce wraps and egg noodles over lemonade, chatting non-stop the whole way. On the way back we stopped by Sprinkles for a treat and bought two cupcakes to share.
As we settled into the sofa we chose our Saturday night movie. We finished watching Freedom Writers after a lot of pausing to answer questions and to reflect on various scenes. As I swallowed back tears from the familiarity of the pain in those students’ lives I felt a mingling of bitter and sweet aftertaste in my mouth.
Part of me is incredibly grateful that my girls will never have to face the themes and struggles depicted in the movie. They won’t have to feel the ice cold fear of being chased down a street or beaten by someone who should love them or the desperation of knowing you can’t protect those you love. If someone in their circle dies, they won’t be numb to it or unable to grieve because of the repeated news of those losses. They won’t wonder if they will live to be in their 20’s. They are able to watch the movie and feel inspired by the strength of these children but remain untouched by the pain of real similar memories.
Part of me is still in disbelief that I am happy, healthy, and safe. I have a happy home filled with love, compassion and good. I have a career and am thriving as an evening student who is very close to achieving the milestone of transferring to a four year university. I am alive and my life has meaning and purpose.
But part of me looks at the crumbs of the $4 cupcake and can’t make the connection that this is my life. If only I could tell the teenager Susana that all of this was coming, living would have been so much easier.
I work hard to prove myself and succeed at work. I work hard to succeed in school. I throw myself head-on into my role of being a good and loving mother to these girls. I do everything wholeheartedly and with purpose because not doing so would mean that I am living just to live.
And that is survivor’s guilt. I could choose to wash it down with alcohol and find plenty of valid excuses to not try or succeed. I could lay down and give up and allow the wind to blow me in the direction of its choosing.
But I choose to stand firmly on this ground. I choose to carry some of the hurt in my heart to honor it, to recognize that I am not a victim to it, to celebrate that I did not and have not and will not succumb to it. And I choose to move forward in a meaningful manner so that the path that I take is a credit to those who believed in me and gave me a kind look or word or embrace when I needed it most.
I choose not to let guilt overpower the delicious red velvet cake that I shared with my girls because the sweetness of knowing that they appreciate it and that I can give it should trump any feeling of self-doubt.