The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Growing up, I was always told to use my words, but every time I opened my mouth, I was afraid the earth was going to swallow me whole. I was afraid of people telling me no–no, they didn’t want to play with me; no, they didn’t want to be my friend. No became the worse word somebody could tell me.
And then one day, no became the worse word I could say. With every no that came out of my mouth, they raped me harder, and at that moment, I wish the earth really would swallow me whole. But for once, the earth failed me.
I didn’t say much growing up; if I wanted something, I would pull someone by the arm and drag them, pointing to what I wanted. “Use your words, Kaleigh” became a common phrase my father said. He loves to tell those stories: stories of my childhood, when I was young and innocent, too shy to speak to anyone, to anxious to make any noise. Stories of when I didn’t know how to speak.
It didn’t help that I had a speech problem, r’s and ing’s tripped me up. Even now, I always have to pause, catching my breath before I say words like World and shoulder. Ironic, isn’t it? No one should have to shoulder the burdens the world puts on them.
I eventually learned how to speak, inspecting people’s shoes as I asked them questions, answered teachers in class. Still, my report cards read needs to participate more in class. I participated as much as I could.
My sixth-grade teacher was wearing black leather flats with a silver buckle across the toe the day she told me to “go out into the hall until I could get it together.” It was the day after my grandfather’s funeral. I never told her anything again, never raised my hand to answer a question, stopped telling people how I was feeling. Between that and being talked over every time I opened my mouth to say something, what was the point if I was going to be a burden?
There’s no feeling in the world like the soul-crushing disappointment of being told no.
Or so I thought.
There’s nothing worse than saying no and being raped any way. At that moment, the word loses all meaning. All words lose their meaning because how do you describe what happened? How do you say that you went from being “will you go out with me?” to a “slut that no one will ever love” in 15 minutes? How do you tell your English teacher the next day that the poem you’re reading perfectly describes your life at that moment as the guy who initiated everything breathes down your neck?
My life had stood–a loaded gun.
I reverted. I was fine. Everything was fine.
The kids at school? Double fine.
I learned to stop saying no because what was the point anyway?
Never talk to your guy friends again unless I’m standing there. Ok.
Is it ok if I touch you here? I am your boyfriend after all. Sure. Why not. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Touch it. It’s hard for you. Ok.
I know you’re texting me in a panic because of what they did to you, but imagine that it’s me touching you. I’m touching myself. Ok.
When all I wanted to do was scream, no. No. No. No. this is all wrong.
But I let it happen anyway–words had lost their meaning.
Words had lost their meaning, as I traced their words into my skin, cutting myself as I spelled out s-l-u-t, w-h-o-r-e, u-n-l-o-v-a-b-l-e.
Words had lost their meaning, so I began searching for meaning in empty stomachs and an abusive boyfriend. Maybe I’d find definition in the wrong places.
Somewhere along the way, I don’t remember how, I started writing–writing my thoughts, my feelings, my past. Letting my past define me because that’s all I thought I was worth.
Somewhere along the way, words started coming back–it started with a suicide letter and has progressed to this: me, asking for help, reaching out, no longer holding everything in.
This was the year I reclaimed no.
Because no means no means no. And I am worthy of saying no.
Words having meaning, words are powerful, and it’s taken me talking about my trauma to unlock their power.
No. I will not let you touch me.
I need help.
On a scale of 0-5, I’m at a 5.
No. I will not let you touch me.
I will not be silent any longer. I will write about my life: Prozac and faith– because silence makes my depression worse.
And life is for living.
Even though I need help from anti-depressants, God, and my words to help me do it. I’m here. I’m alive. And I have my words.
Kaleigh. Use your words.
I am, dad. I am.