I sat on the bathroom counter, criss-cross applesauce, as my mom twisted little pieces of my hair up into butterfly clips. It was picture day. My face was streaked with tears because I didn’t want to wear the shirt my mom had picked out. I had shoved the one I wanted to wear into my backpack, though, with plans to put it on when I went to school. I’d bring those pictures home in a few weeks and be in a lot of trouble for not listening.
I curled up in my toy box, that I had dumped all of the toys out of and lined with a blanket. I was reading my stuffed Winnie the Pooh a book when my mom came to get me to leave for Wednesday night church. She saw the disaster and scolded me for making a mess. After church, I had to clean up the mess before I could play.
I got in trouble at school for a library book that I had forgotten to turn in and was long overdue. As the fines wracked up, the book sat nestled in my very messy desk in my fifth grade classroom. I found it when the teacher made me stay inside at recess to clean out the disaster of a desk.
The first summer I was a teenager, a mousy and quietly rebellious 13 year old, I had my first boyfriend. His name was Tim and I loved him with all my heart. I stayed up all night secretly texting him. When I got busted, I had to leave my phone in the living room each night to charge so I couldn’t text him after 9 pm.
My mom called to check in one summer afternoon after my 16th birthday. I told her I was spending the night with my friend Rachel. Mom asked to talk to her to make sure I was with her, and my other friend Jane had to put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle as Rachel told my mom we were on our way to her church as we sat in her car on the way to grab dinner before a movie my mom would not have approved of me seeing.
I got grounded sometimes. I got detention. There was more than one instance where I found myself sitting in the principal's office. I broke rules and got into trouble. My teenage years had their fair share of shenanigans.
During each of these experiences, I was being trafficked.
The butterfly clips in my hair were strategically placed to hide where a man had pulled out a clump of my hair while assaulting me.
When I wasn’t reading to my stuffed animals in the toy box, I was hiding in it, pretending to be anywhere else.
My desk was in disarray because my mind was in disarray and I needed to move on to the next task in class so I didn’t make the teacher mad. This meant I didn’t have time to neatly place papers in folders and I certainly was not going to interrupt the lesson by getting up to throw something away.
I loved Tim because he was nice to me. He was different than anything I had ever experienced and I wanted to be told I was special and important every chance I got because no one else was saying those things to me.
I snuck out with Rachel and Jane because I wanted them to like me. I wanted to be cool. And hanging out with them was fun. It took my mind off all the other things I had to deal with, even if only for a little while.
When people looked at me, I was a normal child, a normal adolescent, a normal teenager, doing normal things. And that’s true. In those moments, I was normal. Because it was the only time I ever got to be.