2012 ISV Magazine Scholarship Finalist: Karen Zamora

“This is quite a painful process, ” I said to my parents while they watch me cry through their computer screen. “You will recover,” my dad said, “remember that it always gets darker before the sunrise.”

Before you continue reading, please watch Karen’s introduction video to her essay.

Although the following piece might look like a love story, it is way more complicated. This story is about struggle, hope, nostalgia, codependency, and strength.  When I decided to pursue a college education in the United States I was prepared to face all kinds of challenges, however, I never thought that love would alter my life the way it did.

When I was born, Guadalajara, Mexico welcomed me with the particular melody of the mariachis and the beautiful view of the agave fields. Where I come from, family is everyone’s priority and any Mexican dish is a good excuse to gather around to eat, dance, and sing. My childhood was healthy, happy, and carefree. My younger sister and I enjoyed playing outside in the afternoons and watching movies with our parents. I was raised catholic and attended a private catholic school for fifteen years. I was a strong leader, top of the class student, had a great group of friends and a high self-esteem. Despite all my commodities, I was convinced that life in Mexico was too simple and trivial for me and after graduating high school, I decided to pursue a college education in the United States.

When he was born, the war had just started all over the Balkans and instead of the melody of the mariachis, Bruno was welcomed by the sound of the war airplanes and constant bombings. Where he comes from, families struggled to stay together while they witnessed the fall of the former Yugoslavia. After eighteen years of surviving horrible living conditions, hunger, and trauma, Bruno’s life changed when he was given the opportunity to pursue a college education in the United States.

Guadalajara, Mexico welcomed me with the particular melody of the mariachis and the beautiful view of the agave fields.

Bruno and I met in a classroom at a small state college in Florida. It was our first class of the semester and since the moment I saw him, I felt trapped by him. Bruno had a strong personality, piercing blue eyes and most importantly, he was an international student, like me. My attraction for Bruno was complicated. On one hand, I loved everything about him. I loved his confidence, his social skills, his great dedication to school, even his violent character; however, his political, social and religious views were completely opposite of mine. My fascination for Bruno grew when he told me that he came from Croatia. As an international relations major with a focus on transitional justice, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia has been my favorite topic since I was in high school and the combination of Bruno’s testimonies and his background intrigued me.

After a few months of daily interaction, I realized that Bruno had developed strong resentment and deep complexes against people that had had the opportunity of growing up without such struggles, people like me. In response to his bitterness towards me, I spent all my waking hours looking for his approval, his recognition and respect. I wanted to prove him that I was worth of his interest even though I came from what he called “an easy life.”  Unaware of the power I was giving to my new boyfriend, I became the co-author of a conflicted, painful and codependent relationship.

Besides studying, I gave up on any social interaction and dedicated my time to beg Bruno for attention. In response to my obsessive behavior, Bruno became arrogant, irascible and manipulative. In addition, Bruno’s resentments became a part of my daily life. I felt guilty from being who I was. I resented my background and my past.  Moreover, my self-esteem decreased significantly and before I knew, I reached a point in which I had already lost myself.

After a year of an emotional rollercoaster, Bruno and I decided to transfer to bigger universities to pursue our degrees. Although we agreed to apply to the same schools, I secretly applied to a women’s college that I had fantasized with attending my whole life. The following months were full of uncertainty and every time a new admission or rejection letter came in the mail, Bruno and I would open it together, however, when my admission from Mount Holyoke College came, not a single word was said.

Not only had MHC accepted me, but also I was awarded with an incredible scholarship that was able to cover full tuition fees. Despite the great news, I was not happy; on the contrary, I was extremely depressed. Codependency spread its toxin again and convinced me that the idea of celebrating the news of moving thousands of miles away from Bruno was repulsive.

Forced by my parents and mentors, I accepted my admission to MHC and after a couple of rough days of packing and goodbyes; I left my heart in Florida to pursue my educational goals in Massachusetts. Although the first few months of the fall semester were good, I learned that new things lose their charm fast, especially since my mind was stuck in Florida. Even though I had many dreams about my life in Mount Holyoke, my reality was sad and pathetic.  I managed to survive my days by keeping myself busy with classes, work-study and wishing for the night to come so I could tell Bruno all about my day, however, it was obvious that he resented my acceptance and blamed me for our separation.

As I look back on it I can remember that I spend a lot of time in my room, one whole year in fact. Given that I spent all my strength and sanity thinking about my Bruno, my emotional stability declined faster than I expected to and I developed a chronic state of social anxiety and depression. However, despite all the odds, I managed to survive the first year holding on to the possibility of Bruno transferring to a school in Massachusetts, but life had a different plan.

No only the possibility of Bruno transferring was gone, but also his family was unable to keep paying his tuition, and as a consequence, Bruno had to move back to Croatia before Christmas. When I first heard the news I reached such state of desperation that I still remember my heart’s rapid pumping, the cold perspiration in my forehead and a scary feeling of depersonalization. My mouth and throat became dry when I realized that Bruno was going to be abducted from my life by life itself and that without him, I was nothing.

As a consequence of such state of anxiety, I was prescribed strong anti-depressants for the first time. I reached the saddest point in my life in which I was physically and emotionally destroyed. My family and friends suffered when they witnessed that my ambition to finish my Bachelor’s degree was a dream from the past and that I wanted to drop everything and follow Bruno to Croatia, and I did.

After spending a month in Croatia, I realized that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I saw a reality in which I was destined to fail in every aspect. I imagined my potential and talent wasted. I though about all the sacrifices that I had made to be where I was and how unfair it was to drop everything for an obsession. I remembered how my family and friends supported me for the past three years and how much they had suffered with my decisions. I missed being happy and strong, and most importantly, I missed being myself. Suddenly, and after experiencing the worst pain of my life, I decided to go back to school.

Today, I am aware that my success in life and my happiness depend exclusively on me.

The first months back in MHC were though, but soon, I realized how my twisted idea of a relationship took over my life and became my one and only priority. After extensive hours of family and professional therapy, I realized that I had to rise from my own ashes, despite the painful withdraw from my relationship.

I was shocked to see that I went from being a strong, independent and happy woman to a reduced shadow of myself that depended on her partner to survive. I could not believed how much I had ostracized myself into a hostile world of unconditional love and how I almost abandoned the only thing that once made me happy, my academic achievements.

I realized that I am able to survive losses and I have developed tolerance for my mistakes. Furthermore, I recognize my contribution to the community as I help other victims of codependency to overcome their problems. In addition, as I recover from this experience I have learned that I am a unique and important member of our world that does not need the approval of others to feel good about myself.

Today, I am aware that my success in life and my happiness depend exclusively on me. I realize that love does not ask for sacrifices and that in order to love a person we must learn to love, respect and appreciate ourselves first. I recognize that my career is my first priority. This experience gave me an extraordinary amount of strength and audacity that I never thought I could regain. I celebrate that I am graduating from MHC next spring and that I plan to attend law school next fall. Moreover, I am happy that Bruno is starting medical school in Croatia and that he is extremely focused on his career.

Beyond question, without this experience I would have never been able to comprehend the importance of healthy love, self-respect, the pursuit of individual happiness and most importantly, to never grant my happiness to anyone else, but me. Even though, the irrational and overwhelming state of a codependent relationship left scars that I am still trying to erase, these past events made me the confident, cheerful, dedicated and independent woman that I am today. In the end, my relationship with Bruno contributed to create the person who I am today since it managed to destroy me and build me up again.

Karen Zamora is an international student from Mexico studying pre-law at Mount Holyoke College. She was one of the ten finalists for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship sponsored by International Student Protection. 

View the winner and the list of the 10 finalists

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