“Aren’t you a little…young…to have written a memoir?”
The older gentleman to whom I was being introduced was still holding my hand as his words fell sideways from his cocked, inquisitive head.
I responded in the arms length space between us, having never thought of the age-factor. My first book, DEEP DARK BLUE, a memoir about surviving the United States Air Force Academy, comes out on May 1st of this year, and I’d been asked a ton of things regarding its creation…except this. I felt his strong, calloused hand in mine, tracing the long history of his palm’s wear and tear scratching my younger—equally strong—counterpart within.
“Well, we all have our stories…right?” I smiled. “This is just one of mine.”
I lost my older—and only—sister when I was seven years old. And while in the throngs of unparalleled grief, I was given some of the best advice of my life. A kind, beautiful soul knelt beside my small, but lanky, child body and told me, “No one can take your joy.”
Even in the midst of my world having crumbled to the ground, I knew her words were magical.
Deep, resonant truth often is.
Despite my profound loss, I set my goals and dreams ahead of me, put one foot in front of the other, and walked through the emotional rubble of my childhood, towards my future. In high school, I went on to be recruited for three different collegiate sports at the Division I level, kept a near perfect GPA, National Honors society, and earned senatorial appointments to two United States Service Academies. The words “no one can take your joy” tattoo’d across my heart all the while, as intermittently difficult as it was.
I finally chose to attend, and play volleyball for, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, Co., after graduation. An opportunity of a lifetime. One that I had worked long and hard to achieve. One uniquely imbued with the most amazing training and opportunities, while surrounded by the cream of the crop. And, one that would write my ticket to the future of my dreams.
Until I let something take my joy.
And two others took my body.
The magical words, once tattoo’d across my heart, had been scuffed, scratched, scraped. They had had the blade of violence, sexual assault and betrayal run ragged over the precious muscle responsible for beating vital life blood through my body, my soul, my spirit. By the time I left, the magical words were barely visible under the layer of carnage that my first two years at USAFA had incited. It was either stay…or live.
I chose to live.
And in the years since, as my metaphorical heart pieced itself back together, I have come to realize that we don’t have to stay the victims of our own lives.
We all have an inner self, an inner voice. It talks to us from a place of deep, intimate knowing. It speaks from a place beyond instinct and survival, having been privy to everything we’ve declared we desire; everything and everyone that we want and love. It tag-teams the self that we take out into the world each day, though, unlike its counterpart, it doesn’t subscribe to social graces, Twitter followers, company hierarchies, or other people’s agendas. It’s sole purpose is to raise a red flag in the back of our minds at anything that is out of tune with what we know to be true, what we want more than anything, and what feels intrinsically good to us. The raw and real us. The pure and vaulted inner self inside of us, protecting, cultivating our hopes and dreams.
I missed many opportunities to listen to the little voice in the back of my mind while I was at the Academy and before. And each time I ignored it for the sake of not rocking the boat, not getting others in trouble, not being disruptive or a ‘troublemaker,’ or because I was afraid, it didn’t feel good. I let fear suffocate my inner voice, and I nearly died along with it. The loss, violence, deception, hurt and pain that I had endured in college persisted…until I tuned in and started listening, exclusively, to my own inner self.
I say this with no regret for having attended USAFA, for enduring what I had endured, for surviving what I had survived. Regret is wasted energy, anyway. For there is no going back. And most importantly, everything that has led up to the present has given me such incredible clarity as to what I want, and what I don’t want. It has allowed me to move my life and career in the direction of my highest excitement. It has allowed me to write, to act, to perform comedy in both New York City and Los Angeles. It has allowed me to connect with people in unique and inspiring ways. And it has allowed me to reach out to brilliant, compassionate, fierce and powerful women like YOU reading this. Right here, right now. And to let you know that we are all in this together.
We all have something that we really really want. At least one thing that lights us up inside, that sparks our curiosity, that ignites our passion, and that, ultimately, fans the flames of change.
The more we each plug in to our own inner selves, each of us listening to the voice we have guiding us toward only what we desire, the more opportunity we have to meet up with one another in a positive place, with our focus on what we want—both individually and collectively—not on fear, or scarcity, or crippling those supposedly in our way.
If hurt people, hurt people, then let us be the ones to heal and help. If hurt people, hurt people, then healed people, heal people. Whole people, help people. And all of us have the choice to get quiet, to look inward, to evaluate where we are, how we feel, and work on feeling better. Doing what it takes to cleanse our battle wounds, to heal our hurt. To become strong, healthy and whole autonomous beings, responsible for our own happiness. And therefore, loving, reliable, and powerful teammates to those around us. We as people, as women, have the opportunity to have our voices heard. Now more than ever before. We have the opportunity to learn from our past, and write our future.
We all have our stories.
And we all have a say as to how we cast ourselves within our ever-evolving narrative of our own living memoirs. We don’t have to stay the victim chapter after life’s chapter. Let the inner voice within each of us, guide us toward better feeling people, places, things; inspirations, desires, passions. Let our main character grow and change beyond the bounds that loss, violence, pain has inevitably type-casted into the earlier chapters of our autobiographies.
We don’t have to be victims anymore.
We can be the victors that our resilient inner beings have protected all this time. The inner selves that have resided in our hearts, waved red flags in warning, and whispered truths in the direction of our desires. The warriors inside each of us, carving their battle cries on the strongest, most magnificent muscle in our bodies; our hearts. No one can take our joy. No one can take our joy, without our consent. Let us not be victims anymore.
We are not victims.
We are victors.
- My new book DEEP DARK BLUE is now available for preorder. You can get your copy here: bit.ly/2E2BtmU
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]