I debated whether or not to share this piece. Like John Green says in Paper Towns, "It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined." These words may only assist in your, "misimagining" of me, but bottling words seems to ensure misinterpretation. And none of us can live fully if our behaviors hinge solely on what people will make of them. We have to make something of ourselves.
Writing these words has helped me and perhaps sharing them will help you.
She could hear the words spilling across the back of the room, snaking around and into the people seated against the walls. It was a pattern she had grown to recognize. Mean words, whispered quietly at first, became a steady rumble and undulated towards the front of the classroom, toward her. She pictured the words hitting her head and then clattering to the floor, only to rise again, angry and determined.
She was a dartboard and their aim was excellent.
She willed her face to remain blank. She did not want them to know that she heard. That she internalized every. Last. Word. She did not want them to know that their words twisted her stomach. She did not want them to know that their words surrounded her like a heavy coat, that they followed her out of the classroom and through the halls.
Her pen scrawled furiously. She had never looked more attentive, more utterly invested in the words of her teacher.
His words, of course, did not stick.
After a lifetime of fighting words, the bell would ring and she would rise quickly. Head down, she walked the halls. The trick was to look just past people. Never at.
When she’d reach her car she’d let out a long, shaky breath and start the ignition. She usually made it two blocks before the tears would demand release.
She stood shivering on the cold tile, turning the knob, hotter, hotter, letting the steam build. She rubbed her arms and glanced over her shoulder at the cloudy mirror. Her eyes registered a girl, brown hair, tall; her eyes registered a girl, but registering is one thing and seeing is another.
Stepping into the stream of hot water, she sucked in her breath and turned to let the water envelop her. She tilted her face up, and the water hit her eyelids, her nose, her mouth. Her breathing started to quicken. Soon small sobs escaped and she slid against the wall, down to the shower floor. Pouring water muffled her cries and she sat there, knees against her chest, as the minutes passed.
Mixed with soapy water were the tears of a girl who felt unknown.
She wasn’t sure when the unknowing started exactly. Was it with the whispers, the darting eyes? Or with the I love you despites. I love you anyways.
Despite. Anyway. Words that break the unbroken. Words that negate the, “I love you”s.
The whispers, she thought. They came from the mouths of strangers and acquaintances. They came from the lips of people about whom she cared very little. And yet. There was something in the whispers that chipped away at the her of her. The whispers said I don’t know you and never will.
She was a symbol no one understood. She was a word whose definition had been forgotten.
When the water started to cool, she reached her hand above her head and turned the knob. She grabbed a towel and, moving from a closed space to an open one, wondered at the ability to feel choked by thoughts rather than spaces. She was suffocating in the open air.
On a Saturday night in mid July, she locked the store doors and walked toward her car. The sputter of nearby sprinklers soothed her and she paused outside her red ford. She inhaled the warm night air and felt herself fill up with summer. She turned slowly around, looking at the empty parking lot and surrounding verdure.
Listening to an instinct she mostly ignored in her adult state, she slipped off her sandals and walked to where the asphalt met grass. She stepped onto the wet blades and stood still, looking up at the stars.
She thought of the customers she had helped hours before. The difference between the people who saw her for the first time and who saw her for the hundredth.
People who met her as she was now, noticed her smile and quick laugh. They noticed her bright eyes and willingness to help. The people who had known her then saw only the broken edges they imagined she had. They saw cracks that didn’t exist and smiled sadly at her. They had to believe she was broken because she had shed the things they loved. If she wasn’t broken, maybe they were.
The sad smiles had replaced mean words and she didn’t know that she liked them any better.
She thought she could live with them, though. She could live with their sad smiles because her smile had gained a bit of light.
With a sigh, she turned from the grass and walked barefoot to her car.
She sat on her mother’s bed and smiled through teary eyes.
“I’m only sad,” her mother was saying, “...because I know that the world may not treat you kindly. I am only sad because the world doesn’t know how proud they should be of you.”
“I know,” the girl whispered. “I know.”
She felt something inside of her shift slightly. She had known that questioning the world could be lonely. She was learning that questioning the world could feel good, too.
She lay on her side, listening to the rustle of the wind through the open window and to the gentle snores of her husband. She thought about her life and the beliefs her experiences had challenged. She thought about the well-meaning sadness emanating from people who thought they knew best.
Mostly she thought about the unfettered way she now walked through the world.
She thought about the way her guilt and anxiety had eased to make space for love and laugher.
She knew then that her mind was her own.
And with that, she became me and I stepped into myself once again.