When I was 7, I stood in the middle of a busy D.C. street and screamed, “HELP!!!” so loudly, that people came running. A woman was trying to kidnap my friend’s baby brother, and as we stood there shouting for assistance, people listened and responded. I even ran to a friend’s house, and screamed so ferociously her father raced over with a hammer (… a tool everyone should have in case of emergency; first, because it makes a great weapon, and second, if held properly, will make anyone the spitting image of Thor).
So because we shouted so loudly, and ran so fast to get help, my friend and I received two awards: a Teddy Ruxpin bear, and one hell of a life lesson. In one ceremonious day, we walked away with a new favorite toy, and the total assurance that voices can do things: they count. Our voices mattered. On that day, I saw that hands down, and for sure – voices can change the course of history, and even save lives.
But at some point, years later, I somehow misplaced that shockingly loud voice of mine. Perhaps it fell through a crack, or got left behind someplace. I can’t quite remember where it disappeared to, or when, but at some sad stage, that bold little voice of mine forgot how to speak up and protect itself… and others…and their bears.
Voices became less about protection and kindness, and more about anger and rage. I saw words used like knives, and other sharp things. I saw them move people and circumstances like chess pieces in a long, drawn out game. Some words dripped heavy with guilt, while others crushed people’s spirits as they walked past.
Out of those words came a strange life-less haze; where living became hard, and harsh; enlightened, yet terrifying. I learned how to navigate dark waters, flowing with manipulation, and sleepless nights filled with fear. I became well versed in the strategies of avoidance and tact. And I learned that while silence held virtue, it also had disgust and self-loathing deep within its walls.
So I grew up fast, and somehow guided myself though progress. The progression of age, and body, and what that does to people. While some people get jealous, others have unwanted, and terrifying thoughts – and then do things about them. In either case, feelings became clear and home became that much more unsafe. I began to waiver in my own authority; becoming different, quiet, and complacent. In essence, I felt like someone else entirely, and not at all me. At some point, some part of me realized that if I wanted to survive, I had to find a way to hide my truer, more authentic self.
So I decided to build myself a vessel; secured walls around my sweet little, life-filled pieces, and fortified that ferocious voice of mine. In one single act of self-preservation, I swore allegiance to silence. That silent vow quickly became the key to all my answers, but without even realizing it, at some point, it also became my cage.
Even amidst all this – storms raging around me, cages crashing into tattered walls; even without that vibrant little voice of mine, and the truest little me; even within the silence, and the chaos and the fear – I still knew I still had dreams hidden within me.
So I sought ways to feel alive and find meaning; which, I just so happened to discover outside. I literally ‘took to the trees’, and used those loving green places to recover and to cope. If there was a clover patch nearby, I’d be in it. If there were mountains we traveled past, I couldn’t sleep. If we were visiting family near the ocean, I could barely concentrate. No matter where we were, I wanted to be outside, with that world, all the time. To me, the natural world became my respite, my reprieve, and my saving grace. It was the only place I felt free.
But I had to find other ways, and indoor things, to sustain me as well. In essence, I had to find a way ‘out’, within. So I got curious. I made friends with creativity and my imagination: asking questions, and listening to their answers. Luckily, we always played well together, so together we got by. A few years later, I feel in love with learning, and logic and dreams don’t always mix. But we did our best to co-exist and through all the ups and downs, and those four steadfast companions became the tools in the toolbelt of my existence.
Too many of us have sailed similarly rough waters, and have sung that somber song of despair. We know how it hurts to feel ‘other’ or afraid. How words become knives, and rip holes in our existence. We know our own death chants, and can pay homage to lost voices and the forgotten pieces of ourselves. We know the ways we learn to build protection – those wretched cage bars – and we can also recall how we learned to cope.
And because of it all, we now know our own strength. Within all that terror, I found what fortified my soul, and kept my essence in tact. In silence, I learned to watch, to listen and to observe. I learned the majesty and maliciousness of the world; and how I will always choose the former. I found my most steadfast companions – who still live glued to my hips, and will forever be my protectors (and make me look like a superhero), even in the scariest of times.
So I’m here to breathe life into old bones, and give rise to new meaning. From all those burnt ashes, and all these years later, I have a different perspective on things. Not just a more ‘adult’ one, but one that feels more true. And from there I will write. Here, in building these words and fortifying these pages, I break my silence. Today, with you, I resolve myself of my vows, am busting out of the cage, and declare myself free.