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  • Caleb R. Haynes

I am a Fragile Badass.

“Let everything happen to you; beauty and terror. Just keep going, no feeling is final.” — Rilke

It all started with a trampoline. I was six years old, and he was five. He was my neighbor and we bonded quickly in the way you do at that age. He would jump high enough to see over the privacy fence that separated our backyards and make silly faces at me. We would whisper secrets through the cracks in that same fence, before we graduated to climbing over it. When the Florida sun became a little too hot to bear, we’d race hot wheels across the shaded cement porch. He was my first friend. A portrait of youth as it were, in every sense…very normal.

But in an instant, he was gone. I was there when it happened, and my six-year-old eyes didn’t know how to process what I was seeing. I had never known anyone who died before, much less watch them be killed. Little did I know, I would remember every single excruciating detail for the rest of my life. This would be one of two traumatic events that I would endure that year.

Trauma impacts people in vastly different ways. For me, it mostly wrestled me in my dreams. I have had horrible nightmares for most of my life- and I can remember several nights when I was afraid to go to sleep because of them. It was like I was being forced to relive the very worst moments of my existence in graphic detail and the fear swept over me as though I was actually there. Even to this day I sometimes wake up completely disoriented. Terrified and unaware of where I am, feeling totally out of control of the situation as a result.

I went through countless therapists, medications, sleep studies & specialists and none of them could provide me with anything more than temporary relief. I hated myself for it. I spent a lot of time believing I was nothing more than the things that haunted me, as though our lives are that hollow. We live in a world where boys and young men are taught that feelings are inherently bad from such a young age. That being kind, soft, gentle, nurturing & delicate is a sign of weakness. I viewed myself as weak and incompetent and built a home inside of that shame.

But something it took me a long time to learn is that It’s OKAY if you need to feel everything. I wish someone would have told this to my 6-year-old self. My 3rd-grade self. My middle school self. My early twenties self. My last week self. It took an awful lot of bad years for me to figure out that I’m the only one who can show up for that terrified six-year-old boy who still lives inside of me. I’m the only one who can help him process this. I’m the only one who can guide him through the grief, and these things will carve a path to healing.

Trauma made my journey through life really difficult in a lot of ways, but I am learning that it also shaped me for the better in a lot of ways too. For example, I am a very empathetic person. I care about people and I love deeply. I am an emotionally invested person. I am not afraid to be vulnerable. I value genuine connections and conversations over small talk. I am kind, soft, gentle, delicate & strong. I am a fragile badass and I’m here to tell you: It’s OKAY if you need to feel everything.


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