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I remember the exact moment that I learned to be embarrassed by my emotions. I was eight. I’d been going to public school for less than a week, and I had one friend. The school was still a strange place to me, and it was actually the first week I’d ever been away from either my mom or little sister. I’d gone to private school for pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade. It was really my first time feeling alone.

One day, I forgot my lunchbox on the school bus, and it was the first school bus. I had to take two to get home. I left the damn lunchbox on the bus that took me from the school to the bus stop, which meant that the bus that still held my missing lunchbox would soon be filling up with older kids that were also trying to get home.

Not only was I already worried that I’d have to walk among all the big kids, but I was terrified because all of the identical buses were lined up, one in front of the other. I couldn’t tell which bus I needed to get back to! I had only ever gotten off of that first bus; I’d never gotten on it.

I was almost crying at this point. I wasn’t an emotional child, but I knew how disappointed my mom would be if I didn’t come home with that lunchbox. Really, all I had to do was go ask my bus driver if he’d found my lunchbox, but for an eight year old in a whole new world, that was a terrifying task. I remember making the decision to get brave and go back for the lunchbox. I picked facing the scary big kids over making my mother mad.

I was petrified. I was holding back sobs, but I started walking. I was almost there when my only friend stepped in front of me, holding my lunchbox. I remember her saying, “You forgot your lunchbox” like it had happened 100 times before.

I was so excited to see that stupid lunchbox that I lost it. The tears came pouring out, and I threw my arms around my friend in the most sincere hug I think I’d ever given. And she didn’t hug me back. She didn’t hug me back, and everyone around us was staring. I remember, in that exact moment, being so ashamed at how worked up I had gotten. When I think about it now, I know that that moment is what made me so emotion-shy in my adolescence.

I don’t remember anything before this moment as clearly, so I can’t really say if I was a hugger or a lovey dovey kid. What I do know, is that after the Lunchbox Incident of 2000, I was not a hugger. Hugs made me so uncomfortable, and it didn’t matter who they came from. I didn’t want friends to hug me, I didn’t want family to hug me; I just didn’t want to be hugged. I was somewhat traumatized, but I never realized I was traumatized until I realized that this “incident” has been haunting me for almost twenty years.

I’ve come to terms with myself now – I feel all feelings very strongly. I don’t try to hide any emotions anymore, but it took a lot of brain training to get to this point. It took a lot of unexpected tears and belly-aching laughs; it took a lot of courage. I think there were a lot of what should have been emotional moments where my mom would have to say “Taylor, it’s okay to cry.” I never thought it was. I thought tears were a weakness, and I didn’t want anyone to see me broken.

What we don’t understand when we’re younger is this: Sometimes broken is more whole than anything. I never should have been ashamed of any feelings.

Feelings prove that we’re alive.

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