I can feel it inside of me. Its blanket of darkness covers me and holds me down until I can barely breathe. I push, kick and scream; I know I can’t win but I will never stop fighting it. I don’t know why. Others have the ability to see it too but I don’t want them to. If I am to survive, I must find a way to hide it from them.
Sometimes it’s so loud and clings to every part of my body, melting into the crevasses of my skin. We become one and it defines me. Other times, I am able to push it deep within me and it becomes quiet and obedient, it’s voice barely above the rustling of trees. But…it never leaves. It stays with me like an inoperable tumor; I just hope that it doesn’t kill me.
We moved when I was 9. Everything was supposed to better. Better house, better school, better people. I loved the trailer we lived in and the diverse group of people that surrounded us. I even loved my school and teachers. I couldn’t imagine a different kind of life but if there was one better than this then it must be fantastic.
What I came to find out was that better school meant wealthier and that better people were ones that were boring and all acted and looked the same. I discovered I was a little behind the curriculum and I struggled to keep up. My teacher didn’t want to waste her time on a nobody like me and the kids laughed at my hand me down clothes. I wasn’t accepted socially or academically.
It was the first time I realized I carried this burden of stupidity. Like a parent with a hormonal teenage, I didn’t know what to do with it at first. I wanted to get rid of it but I didn’t know how. By the time I realized I had it, I was already branded with it. I decided the best thing to do was to blend in and hide what was so easy to see, so I became quiet. I didn’t answer any questions in class out of fear of getting the wrong answer. I only spoke when spoken to, that is until I met Lorin half way throughout the year. My first friend! She was new like me and didn’t laugh at my clothes.
It felt like it had been so long since I’ve had a friend that I didn’t know what to say at first. We were at recess when she asked me if I wanted to play. Nervous on how to answer her, I thought of my words carefully, “What shall we play?” I thought the word “shall” sounded better than “should”. I wanted to impress my new friend. Nearby our teacher was watching us and I saw her roll her eyes at my response. My whole face burned and tingled, somewhere between a mix of fire and needles hitting me all at once. I told myself that I should be better and not say such stupid things. After that day, I stopped saying the word “shall”. But I still couldn’t hide what they all saw.
At a family dinner, we four cousins are placed at a table together. The “kid’s table” they still joke even though we are all teenagers now. I feel good, like I belong. Someone makes a joke and everyone laughs but me. I don’t get it and I make the mistake of telling them. My brother shakes his head and says, “God, you’re so stupid”. I stop talking the rest of the night. It’s the only way to hide it.
For the occasion, my mom, sister and I decide that we are going to paint garden pots together as a fun bonding craft. We’re having a wonderful day so far. Kyleigh and I made our mom breakfast and we each gave her a gift. Kyleigh’s is a homemade ornament of some sort while mine is a pair of earrings. She seems pleased and that makes me happy.
Feeling confident I ask, “Are you having a good Mother’s Day?”
She stopped painting to look up at me, her eyes focusing in on her target.
“What do you mean by that?” Her tone is hostile and defensive.
I don’t answer and glare at her wide eyed, preparing for the worst, as she starts to stand up. I must have been too happy or perhaps too pleased with myself. I just wanted my mom to say we did a good job and to know she is happy with me. Instead, I made it worse.
“Why would you even ask that? Doesn’t it look like I’m having fun?” She lectures me as she throws her paintbrush on the table.
Without another word, she trudges off into her bedroom and shuts the door. My sister un-phased by the situation remains painting.
What have I done? Is all I can think. I need to punish myself for such bad behavior.
I go to my usual spot-my upstairs bathroom. I lock the door and sit on the toilet. I need to be punished. I grab my arm, close to my elbow and squeeze. I don’t want to leave marks, nope, that means I’m looking for attention and looking for attention is a bad thing. It’s ok if bruise because it won’t leave any scars and no one will know what I am doing. My arm starts to pulse and turn red but it’s not enough so I squeeze harder digging my nails deep into my skin. I need it to hurt. I deserve to hurt.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid” I tell myself over and over again just loud enough for me to hear. Shit, I’m leaving marks on my arm. Time to switch to the other arm. I switch and study my damaged work; it looks as though I’ve been carrying a bird with sharp talons on my arm and I’m glad. I continue to do the same thing to the other arm.
I’m crying now but I’m enjoying the pain. It’s something that I’m good at. For twenty minutes I squeeze, dig my nails, cry and tell myself I should be better and to not be so stupid. I go until exhaustion persuades me to rest. Once I stop, I feel the sensation of relief. I got what I deserved and now it’s over. I feel calmer and I’m ready to go back downstairs.
I’m greeted by my mother who asks casually as if nothing has happened “Where were you?”
“Just in the bathroom” I answer quietly tugging at my sleeves to make sure my arms are covered. I wasn’t lying.
She seems better now. The anxiety of her being mad at me is gone and I can relax. As long as she’s not mad at me, I feel fine. We go about the rest of our day as normal and everyone is happy once again but I make a note to never ask that question again.
I’m adult now. I’ve learned to hide it a lot better these days. I’ve managed to get a job, husband, have three kids and I’m more social than I’ve ever been. It doesn’t define me as much anymore. I think there are some people that actually think I’m somewhat intelligent but I know it isn’t true. I’ve only fooled them. That’s ok, as long as it appears that I’m not stupid, that’s all I need to survive.