CW: Through letters to herself, Bresha Meadows, 18, details her experiences with sexual violence, gaslighting and abuse at the hands of her father—whom she killed in self-defense in 2016, when she was 14 years old—and how those experiences caused her to harm herself and have suicidal thoughts. Bresha served in the Trumbull County, Ohio, Juvenile Detention Center for approximately one year before being transferred to a residential mental health facility, where she spent six months. Ultimately, this is a story of survival, healing and a young girl growing into the realization that the shame is not hers. Read more about Bresha’s story here.
Whispering Thoughts: Age 8
As his hands crept through my bedsheets, I lay here. Still. Quiet. Holding my breath as if my next one would be my final one. This is the third time this has happened, and I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s normal. All the other girls at my school must play this painful game, too. But why does he wait until night? And what does he mean by I’ll “be in trouble” if I told anyone? I wonder if my sister BreBre knows. She has to. It’s probably a growing-up thing, but why does it have to pinch like this? I take a sharp breath through gritted teeth as I felt it again. A tear slips and I look over at my closet, wishing I could run to it, curl into a ball and cry out loud. Instead, I lay here. Still. Quiet.
No, babygirl. What you’re going through is not normal. No matter what society says or ignores, it is not normal. Nevertheless, please, do not feel any less beautiful. Later in your life, you will think these moments have stolen your beauty, but listen when I say: Strength is beauty. The men in your life should not hurt you or defile you. Society failed you. The system failed you. You should have been defended and protected.
Silent Thoughts: Age 14
As I lay in my bed at Windsor Laurelwood Center for Behavioral Medicine, my roommate Alyssa next to me, I can’t stop thinking about the events that got me here. I’m here because I said I would kill myself if I had to leave my aunt’s and go home. I had already been cutting myself in that house; it’s only a matter of time before my thoughts drown me and I go further.
Wait, here goes my mind, fracturing again.
I keep trying to remember when things first started going wrong. I guess when I learned “our game” wasn’t a game. Or maybe it was when I started telling people but no one took me seriously. I wonder if it had something to do with when my mom got tired of him beating her ass and finally decided to leave. I told her I was ready, too—but we came back because he said he’d changed.
Maybe that’s what gave me the heart to run away in the 8th grade. Maybe it was because I told the police, Auntie Martina and Aunt Gena, but I still had to go back or we’d all be in trouble. Maybe it was when “our game” became, “You tell anyone and they won’t believe you, anyways.” Maybe it was when molestation turned to rape. Either way, Why me, God? Why do I have to go through things like this? Why am I so ready to take my own life rather than live my life? Was I the one who was wrong? Even when I ran away the second time, the cops and CSB only let me stay with my aunt for a couple days; then, as if things had miraculously changed, they sent me back and said they didn’t believe me. I was scared, and I was upset. So I would rather die than go back, and that’s what I said. So here I am—laying on my bed in Windsor Laurelwood, with my roommate Alyssa.
It is not your fault, young queen. You were neither defended nor protected. They failed you and let you down. They didn’t listen, because the system never does. It is not your fault. Do not hurt yourself. You have so much potential, and every ounce of pain you endure will be used to make you into a strong, beautiful woman. You may be scared, but don’t allow yourself to let fear overpower you. Your life matters. As you scream to God, wondering why you were given this life, just remember how Grandma taught you not to question His power. Things are the way they are for a reason; you have a reason. And you deserve to be defended and protected.
Life Contemplation: Age 15
I lay in my cell—cell 28, to be exact—contemplating suicide. Once again, I’m searching for reasons to live, but all I got are reasons to die. After going through molestation, watching mom get beat, new bruises every day, I couldn’t take it anymore. And I made the choice that led me here, sometimes too shook to say what happened in my own thoughts. I shot him. I killed my dad. Why didn’t someone just listen when I asked for help the first time? Why did it go this far? Why didn’t he just stop when I pleaded, when we all pleaded? I didn’t want to, but I felt like it was my last resort! I swear I tried everything else I could. Why did this have to be my life? So I’m sitting here contemplating suicide, in cell 28, searching for reasons to live.
Bresha, you are amazing. You endured so much pain, yet you’re still here. Do not let this situation drop you further. Build from it. You did what you felt was necessary in a time of fear. You spoke to everyone. Friends, family, teachers, counselors, police, CSB, mental facilities, everywhere! You had no other choice! You were only 14! No one defended or protected you; yet that’s all you craved—protection and safety. You are beautiful. Your eyes speak volumes, and you’ve endured years of tears. It’s time to STOP crying and lift your chin up high. You are worth it. You have such a bright future ahead. Do not ruin it by making a permanent decision.
Thoughts In My Mom’s Car: Age 16
As I make my way to Warren, Ohio, from JCB Bellefaire, I can’t help but wonder how life would be. I’m on probation, but I still feel more free not being in the facility anymore. After awaiting trial for almost a year, I was sentenced to a year in jail, followed up with 6 months in a mental facility to receive treatment. It’s actually helped. I’ve learned to calm down. I just wonder if things will stay like this. Will I be happy now? Will I be hurt again? Will my dad’s family ever talk to me again? I miss hanging with them at times. I miss my old friends and wonder if we’ll be friends still. It’s not like I have many to begin with, but I wonder. As we listen to the music, with my dog Penny in the backseat, I smile, slightly scared but ready for whatever is to come.
You’ve grown out of your shell, and you have a lot to live for. I’m here to say: You will endure a lot—a lot of backlash, a lot of teen drama, relationship problems, family arguing, friend problems, and you’ll even fall out with your closest of friends. But everything that happens in the negative will be followed up with positives, too. I promise. You’ll finish counseling. You’ll meet new people. You’ll learn new things. You’ll get your first apartment. You’ll have jobs. You’ll take trips. You’ll learn you want to be an advocate for Black girls. Baby girl, you’ll thrive. Even though I know it’s hard, do not let the negatives outweigh the good. Keep pushing, and keep your head up. You got this.
I love you.