Whenever my mother ends up talking about my childhood, either to myself or anybody else, she likes to tell this story about one of the few times that my cousin [redacted] spent the afternoon at our house. Her own mother had some poorly planned event to go to and needed child-care, so she came to my mom because she knew she would acquiesce. [redacted] and I were watching cartoons together and apparently she was doing something that I didn't like, and I told her that if she didn'tstop I was going to, quote, [redacted]. As the story goes I, being at least 80 pounds her junior, was ready to take her down because she was disturbing my viewing experience. When she tells that story, even though I don't remember saying anything like that, it never fails to warm my heart because I like being perceived as a scrapper and crusader for justice. I like the way the possibility of being someone with girth feels. “You were so small,” she says “But from that day I knew that you weren’t gonna take shit from nobody!”
From that day forward, my entire life has been centered around taking shit from everybody.
When I was in the fifth grade in [redacted] class, this horrible, ugly boy named [redacted] bullied me. He had huge eyes that bulged out of his head, and long fingernails. He would torment me every single day, and every single day I would fantasize about reciprocating. I drew pictures of him dead, I complained about him to my friends, and I meditated on how somebody that ugly couldn't possibly have anything to look forward to in life. Yet, the only thing I ever did as a means of direct retaliation was call him a, quote, “piece of scum”. I don't think it is possible to, in fact, be a “piece” of scum specifically. A ring, maybe, but not a piece. Anyway, the only thing that got [redacted] to leave me alone was my mother giving him a stern talking to on the bus ride home from the [redacted]. We were sitting in the same seat. She turned around and told him off while I sat stoically forward, gleeful that the odyssey was over and I had escaped.
I have thought about these two moments regularly over the years, trying to reconcile the girl I thought I was and the girl I had proven myself to be. I have come up with a couple of theories. My first theory is that, because of my Scorpio Mars and Libra Sun, I am destined to be at odds within myself. When I feel that I've been wronged by somebody that grudge burns hard and long, but I usually don't voice it because I want to maintain a superficially harmonious environment. I just file it away for future reference. I may forgive but I never forget. Perhaps I have learned how to pick my battles, and I have decided that every beef I have ever had was better off squashed in house. Or, I’ve gone chicken. Option #2 is my preferred solution because it says the most about my alleged character. I am benevolent, gracious even, so conscientious that I would rather sacrifice my own agenda than make a big deal out of something that is, admittedly, a big deal. My deference is a choice. When the time was right and it was truly worth it, I knew that I could become that little girl watching cartoons again and stand up for myself, not because I enjoy conflict (because I don't) but because I am worth one.
This, like many things, turned out not to be the case.
On [redacted], I went [redacted] for [redacted] and while I was there I [redacted] and got nothing. Once again I had [redacted] and let myself believe that [redacted] because yes, finally, I had done the impossible and silenced the voice in my head that told me I could never have things. I was that girl. [redacted]. And then in the blink of an eye, a [redacted], and a [redacted], I had all that taken away from me. After careful consideration I realized that I had stumbled upon the holy grail of traumatic interpersonal relations in life where there is no gray area. It was clear who was in which camp and I was angry about it, more angry than I had ever been. This was my moment. I planned out what I was going to say and what I was going to wear while I said it. I came up with an exit strategy. I had the perfect balance of silent fury and righteous indignation.
When I finally stood in front of him, with my prepared speech and straightened back, I found myself gutted, neutered, and debarked.
I live my life according to two noble yet self-corrosive philosophies. One, give others the love that you have not received and two, if you can help it, make sure that nobody experiences the kind of pain that you've gone through. With that in mind I looked him in the eyes, which I never used to do, and saw how much I [redacted] and how much I still [redacted]. That meant shielding him from me. I still wanted to fight and to this day I wish I had, but in that moment I found myself completely powerless. I simply and truly could not do it. This was the first time that I had looked at somebody and had an immediate, involuntary, thoroughly visceral reaction. I went cold from the outside in. I had nothing left – too many enemies – and I couldn't handle creating something else I was going to have to survive.
I said, [redacted], which is certainly not what I had set out to say. He said something back. I don’t remember what it was. He smiled and then he laughed without humor at whatever I said after he smiled. I smiled back. I left. I was certain I was radiating [redacted] and affection and desperation and pain. Feather pink fleshy bits popped off of me like fleas and I was afraid that if I stayed there any longer or dared to open my mouth, I would do something stupid like what was right. As I walked away, I remember thinking that this must be what being [redacted] is like. To continue to want more for someone else than you want for yourself. To take the knife from your own chest and tell them what a great job they did. I was still angry, am still, but that doesn't really matter.
This is some of what I've learned, because in situations like this you are supposed to learn something akin to a fundamental truth. One, [redacted] and that is not necessarily fine but it is a truth that you must quickly come to terms with. Two, what Anne Sexton said is true – a love and a cough cannot be concealed. Three, the things that you want in a moment very frequently turn out to be wrong, and you have to give yourself time to let that fact play out. In a fair amount of situations I can find a way to get what I want, but seldom what I need and never what I deserve. I needed action and deserved justice, but I settled for cessation. Earlier on I said that I had been trying to reconcile the images of two little girls. Now I realize that this is a moot point because I have only ever been one girl, even when I have been many. Which leads me to lesson number four:
I am still on that bus.
Lynnae submitted this in ENG 3750, "Advanced Writing Workshop." Like most of my courses this was a studio workshop where students experimented in a range of forms and genres: memoir, creative nonfiction, lyric essay, literary journalism, manifesto, photo essay, video, multimedia presentation, handmade chapbook, and so on. Lynnae's decision to engage in a bit of self-censoring--redacting words and phrases (and not always the ones one might assume should be redacted)--creates an interesting tension: the text appeals to an audience with its blunt honesty, but only up to a point; the gaps and concealments maintain distance, keeping the reader at a certain remove. -- Derek Owens