• Bella Dean Joyner

I Too Took the Road Less Traveled

Self-reflection is hard. It's even harder when for the majority of your life you've spent so much energy on being who everyone else wanted you to be that you lost sight of who you actually are. I haven't been sure if I'm critiquing something genuine about me or if I'm judging all of the fake fluff.

Fake. That isn't a word that I would ever used all of those times I was asked to describe myself in 6 words or less. I always considered myself genuine, at least I always strived to be. But you can't be genuine and real if you aren't being honest with yourself. What better time to be honest with myself than when I'm edging closer to 38 years old. I can make the latter half of my life real, true, and all me.

I have never done things the "right" way. I'm considered a disappointment to my family. I've known it for almost 20 years, but it still hurts a great deal to say it. I am a disappointment. I never got into drugs or alcohol. I never dropped out of high school. But I did not approach college as seriously as I should have. For me, it was an escape from the confinement of my life. It was an escape from being locked in a dark closet when my "mom" thought I was bad. It was an escape from being backhanded across the face in the car when I was looking out the window and blinking away the tears instead of looking at the person yelling at me. It was an escape from being called a slut and a whore, a dog in heat, when my "mom" heard my friends in the neighborhood calling my name. I was reclusive, introverted, and shy. I did not have many friends. Lunch time would put me into a panic because I didn't have a set group of people to sit with during my lunch hour. I always felt like a burden, or a third wheel, which was partly my fault because I didn't know how to make true connections with others around me. I felt awkward and unaccepted in my own skin. I suppose the other kids picked up on that, and it made them uncomfortable to be around me to.

When I went to college though, I was free. For once, I could be whoever I chose to be without being afraid. But that also meant that my focus wasn't on my school work. It was on experiencing the world and the relationships around me. I was an explorer. I was a drifter. I was irresponsible. My only concern was being free.

Freedom for me was moving from Tennessee to St. Louis to California to Illinois, visiting Ohio, North Dakota, Kentucky, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico. I did not stay long in one place. Inevitably I ended up pregnant, possibly early than I had wanted to be, but it was a blessing none the less. I found out that I was expecting twins. One eventually passed away and I was broken, but I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world in June 2009. I was 26 years old. Again, I was a disappointment. One of my uncles actually told my dad that he thought I was a bad influence on his girls who were still in high school at the time because I was an unwed mother and, let's face it, a college drop out at the time. I eventually married my daughter's father, had 3 more children, was a stay at home mom, a military wife. My oldest daughter is now almost 11 years old and I still don't have a relationship with most of my family. I used to think that it was because of my choices, but in reality it is because of their own narrowmindedness and judgments. I guess that's just how the cookie crumbles.

Not all of my family turned their backs on me. My grandma cared about me and favored me and my younger cousin Jesse until the day that she died. Jesse and I are intermittingly close. He had an equally rough upbringing, but he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He still hasn't made his way out of it but I try to let him know that I will always love and care about him every time he has a moment of clarity and reaches out. He remains my sole tie to my childhood, the moments of peace I felt at my grandparents' farm, blessed memories of my time with my grandma before dementia took her thoughts and sense of self.

I tried to get back into school to finish my degree when my oldest was a baby. We had to move to Texas because of a change in my husband's duty station though so those plans were put on hold. My son and two youngest daughters followed and my life became less centered around what I wanted and became devoted to them. I've supported my husband's career. I've traveled the world. I've seen some really beautiful places and met some really wonderful people. Slowly, I've started developing relationships with a few select people I've met along the way. These people have become my family. These people have become my tribe. These people have become my strength and my courage. They shined a light for me in the darkness and depression that formed even when everyone thought my life was perfect. They saw when I was falling apart and silently helped hold me together while I found my way.

They inspired me to find me, to reconnect with the things that used to make up the little bits of me that were familiar, the things that I held dear. They are the very reason that I can write again. They are also the reason why I have decided to continue my pursuit of higher education. I am proud to say that I have just completed my first semester back at Southern New Hampshire University as a second semester sophomore. I will be graduating in the spring of 2022 with not one, but TWO bachelors degrees. I decided to major in Psychology with a Concentration in Forensic Psychology but also decided to double major in Creative Writing with a Concentration in Fiction Writing. I am maintaining a 4.0 and am narrowing down my choices for what Masters program to continue my psychology studies with after my graduation.

I am also speaking into the universe my goal of getting into the Psi Chi Psychology Honors Society, the Sigma Tau Delta Honors Society (English and Creative Writing Honors Society), and am hoping to graduate Summa Cum Laude with distinction in both programs and am hoping to earn the Gold Key award, the highest academic achievement award at the school.

Finding yourself is possible, no matter your age, no matter what you have been through. I can honestly say that I am approaching this chapter of my life with the wisdom I would not have had at 18, the courage I would not have had at 25, and the strength I certainly did not have even at 30. It does not matter if you find your path at 20, 40, or even 60, just so long as you do. Your path does not have to parallel anyone else's path. You don't have to have the same achievements as everyone else. Learn your lessons, experience life, and be fearless even in the face of your own internal struggles and intense pains. You are worth fighting for. You are worth knowing. You are worth loving. You are amazing. Don't ever let anyone else tell you differently.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

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