As I said before, living in Knoxville was new and fun.
The condo we lived in at first had a pool, so I could swim whenever I wanted to. Which was great because when I first moved to Tennessee, I thought it super hot here. You would sweat sitting still. And it was hot at night. So there never seemed to be relief from the heat. Unless you were in a pool or sitting inside in the A/C and I hated A/C. So, it was nice to have a pool to cool off in.
The other thing that was great about Tennessee is that my professors thought I was brilliant here. It’s not that I made horrible grades at UB. My mind was largely distracted by other things there, achieving good grades and learning was a secondary focus of mine. Today, I realize that it was pretty incredible that I was able to graduate, considering my extreme mental illness at the time and my inability to process my past traumas appropriately. I know many other who hadn’t.
But then, as today, I did not consider myself to be exceptional. Although, I know that if I had me on my team – a focus, committed and supported me – that we’d always win the championship, because I know my abilities, i still carry those stupid doubts. But then, like now, I felt my intellectual capabilities were useless and no big deal.
It’s so odd that I fight those feelings. In my mind I know that I can go great things. But in my heart I hear that I am useless. That my talents are not wanted. I haven’t mastered figuring out how to overcome that yet. Constantly reminding myself that I am worthy is tiring.
Constantly seeing images and hearing stories that reinforce my feelings of worthlessness make this an even harder task. I repeatedly question why the world looks so harshly upon people of color when all I see around me is people of color working their fingers to the bone, under tremendous stress to never even fully make ends meet. But I digress…
At this point in time, in my life at age twenty- two, living in Knoxville, Tennessee studying Sociology, working on a Masters Thesis about the seasonality of church attendance, I was “happy”.
Which brings me back to these professors. They would submit my papers for conferences and take me there with some other students to present our papers. It was pretty cool. And I was told that I was a very good writer. Which made me happy. Because even though I had my sights on being an attorney, I loved writing. The lawyer dream was based solely around money and not around my love of the career. And to prove a point to the people who doubted me.
I have learned now that you can never satisfy those people. The doubters. They doubt their own life and their own abilities, so they project those feelings onto you and load you down with unrealistic expectations about your behavior. Whether it be your actions or your looks or your mannerisms, you will never satisfy them.
But back then I still cared. I cared a lot. But I was also enjoying this time, researching and studying sociology and writing papers. I had a lot of different friends at that time. Besides Jon , there was Eric and his wife Jackie- who we knew from Buffalo and who we had lived with for a year. Then there was Eric and his wife Carla. He worked at the Boys and Girls Clubs with he other Eric and was also in sociology classes with me at UT. Carla worked for the same human services agency as Jon. And there was Brad, who also worked at the Boys and Girls Club. And his wife at the time.
This group of us all hung out together and made dinner at each other houses and went out drinking together. We vacationed together or just took the day and went hiking in the mountains together. You know the things that couples in the their mid to late twenties do. Basically enjoy life. We spent Christmas with Eric and Carla at his parents’ house on year. I knew his meemaw and pappaw. Which was something I had never heard before I moved down south. But I liked it.
We all celebrated our birthdays and holidays and weddings together. We scoured the local festivals, or just went shopping looking for the best bargain together. We studied and took classes together. We were really like a family.
I remember being generally happy there. I don’t remember there being any real issues about Jon and I being an interracial couple. If there were issues, no one came to me with them, so it seemed ok. I think the biggest problem in our relationship is that we had really just settled with each other, we weren’t the passion or the love of each other’s lives. We had known each other for so long and were comfortable around each other. And yes, I think Jon was right, we loved each other, but were not “in love” with each other. So not a recipe for longevity in a relationship.
Had I been more mature and secure, I would have recognized that in our relationship, but I was young and thought I was “in love” and really didn’t care. I really loved Jon. He was a lot of fun to be around. He was a pretty funny guy, pretty light hearted guy. And as I said, he introduced me to a lot that I would not have been able to see if it weren’t for him.
But I am me. And I still have so many unresolved layers of hurt and frustration and trauma and confusion that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of at this point, so Jon became what everything else is for me, a distraction. Something to obsess about so I didn’t have to deal with the issues of me. He was also the person around me the most, so the one I tried to push away the most.
And so because I can be neurotic and crazy and evil. We would fight and argue. It was a volatile relationship. I am a volatile person if you have to deal with me on a regular basis. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to stay to myself.
But back to my time in Knoxville. It was wonderful. It was sunny and warm. People were nice. People appreciated my gifts. I had a great boyfriend who took me all kinds of great places and bought me all kinds of great stuff.
Then tragedy struck and it changed everything.