You do not know my story.
Do not dare to soften my reality
to fit your comfortable limited view.
If I make you wince, good.
Is my honesty too much?
I spent years stuffing myself
Into silence for the comfort of others.
You will not use my truth as a tool
To advance your fiction.
I do not accept your rewriting of my experience.
I have come too far
To allow a fantasy
Composed by a stranger
To limit me.
I am my own.
You do not define me.
My truth is not yours to alter.
An image resides in my head.
I have never been able to shake it.
It is indelible.
A woman, her face obscured by her hair,
kneels at the edge of a hole.
Her arms scooped out tons of debris
which piles around her like ramparts.
Her defenses grow
with every attempt she makes
to deepen the hole.
The earth that does not join
the isolating wall falls back into the hole.
It is a task that can never be completed.
Nor can it be denied.
She is looking for something solid.
Trying to find herself and bedrock to stand upon.
As a child
silence was my haven.
I learned to be quiet,
talk quiet, walk quiet.
I knew every board beneath the carpet.
Those that would betray me
and those that would not.
I crept in the mornings past
my brother’s bedroom door.
Evening time I huddled close to the television.
Silent images flickered over the screen.
The idiot box and I were muted.
Silence meant safe.
When voices climbed violence gathered.
Shards of the silence were wielded like knives.
The spoken word was a weapon.
Shouted threats followed crashing doors.
The pounding of angry fists
echoed my pounding heart.
How do I explain the limits
that a child places on themselves
when faced with a certainty of
I tried to survive by becoming small.
I didn’t share the backseat with my brother.
I cringed in the corner between the seat and the door.
I curled into a knot.
Tighter, smaller so I presented less of a target to him.
Smaller still, curling in on myself
not allowing a hair, a thought
or an expression
to ripple the air around me.
Drawing in still tighter
I collapsed until nothing escaped,
becoming a single point
without boundary, mass or being.
With two words you have unmade me.
All my armor is stripped away,
my defenses lay at my feet.
You see me.
I would, I could… if I had any agency of my own.
But I am helpless.
As raw as the wounded child I am
at first I cannot breathe.
The past suffocates and
I struggle to draw in air.
Then my shattered senses make out your embrace.
You hold me as the storm rages.
You are the oak to my ivy, the shore to my wild oceans.
My haven. My husband.
“You’re safe. You’re safe.”
As a child my task
Was to conform myself to my confinement.
Before I could walk walls were in my way.
Unable to define myself I wandered aimlessly,
Only defined by the banks around me.
Parents placed their levees,
Each one diverting me to another goal.
Dividing me from myself.
I grew voiceless.
I grew small.
I surrendered pieces of myself,
Cutting them away.
Am I small enough?
Am I quiet enough?
In those days in that house
All was orderly, predictable, controlled.
No one sensed the coming storm.
Not me. Not them.
Until the rising flood swept everything aside.
Just is a word used to minimize and limit.
It saps verbs of their agency.
Just is short for “if I may” or “will you allow”.
If it’s ok with you, I just feel.
If you allow me, I just need.
If you agree, I just think.
Just is an apology before the action ever takes place.
I’m sorry I want.
I’m sorry I feel.
I’m sorry I think.
It implies “I can be smaller. I can be less.”
This word permeates me.
It is threaded through every fiber, down to my genes.
Thus I speak myself from the world.
You feel it,
the first tug pulling you down.
What was the trigger? A word? A thought?
Your thoughts race.
One mental hand
tries to bail while
the other pulls
in the futile
Your mind watches, detached, as you
draw closer, swirling, circling.
Whether you fight or you surrender,
you know you will drown.
Drawn down into those dark waters where
nothing escapes and no light penetrates,
where the monsters dwell.
“You won’t get it.”
That was my father’s response when I told him I was among the finalists for the Morehead Scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This was a big deal. The full ride, a four-year scholarship covering tuition, books, room and board.
It was proof.
I had done well.
I was worthy.
My excitement, my hope for some sign of my value to him collapsed on his response.
Not enough. Not I. Not ever.
He was right.
I didn’t win the scholarship.
I wasn’t enough.
Not for them. Not for him.
How do you explain a condition that can’t be seen?
With other trauma you can strip back your sleeves and say these are my scars.
When trauma happens early, before speech, before memory, what do you say?
How do you describe to people the way a glance or a laugh can curl you into a ball, hyperventilating, clutching at your ankles, knees pressed to your lips to stifle the cries.
How do you convey that the world is dangerous?
Not just in crime and betrayal, but love and touch and trust. The world comes to you wrapped in razor wire.