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To me, freedom is happiness and wholeness. It’s something to fight for; what wars have been fought for. But even today, there is an invisible chain that we wear. We have rights, we vote, we make decisions but many of us do not feel free. The wind is free. The ocean yields to no one and still women must yield in our society.

Photo by: Sam Van Dine

As a child, I was too young to see my mother’s chains – to see her branches curling around, attempting to grow toward the sun only to be clipped down into stubs, her blossoms retracting in the dark my father kept around her.

When my mother left my father, I was only three; I have no memories of the divorce or my father’s threats, but I do have memories of my mother and the toll it took on her. She has always been known as the family goof; rosy cheeks worry-free and eyes that crinkle at the corners. No one saw my father’s chains weighing down her brilliance with anxiety and fear. She had to grow her spine as thick as a tree to overcome him. Somewhere deep down I knew that my mom had fought for me to be free. Her divorce was a battle and it left scars.

My father; a man who could make pitch even darker with his odium looming above him like a swarm of flies. Even strangers dreaded his company and I could tell they pitied me for having to be around him. He was rarely happy and I found myself burdened to appease him for much of my childhood.

When father became sick, he feared being alone the most. I was the person closest to him, not by choice—he was a difficult person and I was the moth caught in his net. All I wanted was to escape. He tried to chain me to his gloom, tried to plummet me with the pity and guilt he had used to control us over the years.

Soon my spine grew from my back crooked and knobbed. It took me years to see my own freedom flitting above my head and waiting for me to reach out to it. There it was spinning around me waiting for me to find the courage to take control of myself. It took everything in me to walk away from my father, but like my mom had fought, I fought to be free. My father was left behind in his own gloom. Though it pained me, I knew he had made his own shadows and nothing could pull him from the dark. I had to be on my own.

I moved away from home and found a partner who is nothing like my father – he enjoys art, discussing his emotions and he’s loving. He believes in new ideas and craves change. We’re happy together.

Before my father died, I forgave him for bending me and tarnishing my childhood. When I saw him in his hospice bed for the last time, he was frail and so human. I knew he could see the wild that had been awakened in me. I was my own. It was him that I pitied then.

If you feel shackled by someone, even if you love them, I hope you find it in you to take control of your freedom and do what’s best for yourself. We are lucky enough in this generation to be born free to some extent and no one’s expectations of you should keep you away from that freedom. Take it in your hands and sew it into your chest, it’s yours forever. I took it and fashioned it to my growing spine; it’s deeply embedded in my marrow where I can never lose it again. The wind and the waves yield to no one, nor shall I.

I don’t have to be anything unless I will it. I am free to do and say as I please. I am free to be disliked by some people I meet and that does not make me unlikable. I am free to shed certain people who hold me down, and that doesn’t make me unkind. I’m free to be naked and open to the world or to be closed if I wish it. I am free to scowl when I walk down the street and wear my shorts too far up my butt. I’m free to love my body and to pleasure it too. I’m going to keep dreaming, keep growing and someday I’ll be my own beacon.

I’m free. No one can stop me; I am free.


By: Sam Van Dine

Sam is a photographer living in Los Angeles with her longtime partner and their chubby cat. She adores books, women’s rights and people who are making waves. You can usually find her reading a horror novel and sipping Earl Grey.

Catch up with Sam on Instagram.

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