I hide behind words, sometimes.
I officially started describing myself as a writer when I took a graduate class in poetry writing. Then another writing class, this time in fiction. I wrote a poem entitled
Ode to a Dunkin Donuts Cashier No one
understands my words when to my boyfriend I say
“I think it’s over”
to my friends I say
Like the dunkin donuts cashier Who
When I say “light and sweet” Hands me coffee
With cream and sugar
Words are insufficient.
I use words insufficiently.
I have used words insufficiently, in the past. I suspect I will again. But not now. Now, I will tell you.
I remember. I can’t forget.
Stay with me, please. I’ll tell you why all that is true. And, I know you’ll understand, because sometimes you hurt too.
Stay with me, because there’s joy, too. And gratitude.
I hide behind words, sometimes.
So, when I was seven years old watching To Kill a Mockingbird with my dad, and Atticus Finch defended a man accused of rape, and I asked what “rape” was, and Dad said it’s when a girl says no and a boy forces her to have sex anyway, and I decided right then and there- I would never be raped. I would never say no. And I didn’t. Ever.
On my first date, I was safe. Imagine that. Not excited. Or nervous. Not thrilled. Safe. My sister and I were double dating. I don’t remember what we did or where we went. I just remember, in the back seat, I never said no. I turned my head away. My muscles froze. And my sister, in the front seat, didn’t have a reason to turn around.
I can, could, can twist words like a contortionist. I know the real definition of rape. But, my first definition and subsequent plan afforded me control. I told myself.
I hide behind my words, sometimes.
Later, when accepted Early Decision status at Boston College, I was excited. And, naive. And, once there, homesick. And lonely. So, I went to a frat party with my roommates. This is what I remember:
Being offered a drink from a red Solo cup. Seeing my roommates talking with others. A lot of people (40? more?).
Worn, mustard carpeting. The smell of beer and sweat.
Being taken by the elbows, a guy on each side, to a room. Thrown face down on the bed.
Face smothered by party-goers discarded coats. My underwear pulled down, my skirt pushed up. Someone entering my asshole.
Someone else calling others in.
Someone reassuring another, If you want in (the frat?), you gotta get in (me?).
Going away, but not leaving.
Waking up down a set of grey stairs, surrounded by Solo cups. And other party trash.
And, never (like a badge of honor) saying no. This is what I don’t remember:
How many frat pledges entered me.
How I got back to my dorm.
Why I didn’t go inside the campus security office, but cried outside its glass door. Why an officer didn’t come out?
I told my parents Boston College was not for me. That’s all. And when I transferred
to a small university in my home state and students there asked where I came from, I said
And, just like that, it never happened. Or, I became someone to whom it never happened. What I was, I was no longer. So, not really worth talking about any longer. But, it leaked out in my poetry decades ago. And I see it’s just further evidence: I hide behind my words, sometimes. But, it’s not all I am. I hide so much more.
I hide behind my words, sometimes. In college, I often heard my hunger pangs in my gut and drew the natural conclusion I was hungry. Then, as a sort of sick social experiment to demonstrate my own ability to control my body- Jesus, could I just control someone’s body?!- I trained my brain so that anytime I heard my stomach make a sound I excused myself to the bathroom and retched. I spent the entire summer after sophomore year of college this way. I’d meet friends, binge eat, and purge it all before
leaving the restaurant.
I was staying with my fiance, his brother, his mother and his drunken, verbally abusive correctional officer father. I worked as a cocktail waitress at a State Beach patio. Every once in a while, I’d dip into the cocktail condiments- lemon and lime
wedges, maraschino cherries. Before the shift ended, tourists’ grateful bills stuffed in my cargo shorts pockets, I’d purge. Clean slate.
I hide behind words, sometimes. When I said, “not guilty” to the judge what I meant was- yes, clearly I’m guilty. Was probably born guilty, Original Sin and all that. I was on camera in various locations of the mall, seen stuffing the inside pockets of my denim
jacket and my two shopping bags full of items I neither cared about or needed. I spent an overnight in holding. My parents were driving from Maine to Iowa to visit my dying grandmother in her nursing facility for patients with Alzheimer’s. It didn't seem the right time to bother them. So, I waited for the bail bondsman and wished I’d used the bathroom before stealing. More to the point, before getting caught.
I hide behind words, sometimes. Like, when I got married.
Not to the fiance mentioned previously. Twenty two pound weight loss, plenty of college guys to affirm the new size 1 me, and a trip to Aruba with my college roommate redirected that plan.
No. To this new guy- not the blonde my former fiance was, not the baseball player my former fiance was, not the basic neanderthal jock he was. This new guy- dark skinned, ponytail, artist. This new guy. Passion and pressure. Romance and rage. A stone I felt sure was a diamond waiting to burst forth.
When I said I do, I meant:
I do believe we’re a partnership.
I do believe we’re both responsible for income. We’re both responsible for expenses. I do believe, when we’re parents, we are both parents. We both need to act like role models. We both need to demonstrate responsibility, maturity and compassion.
When I said I do, I didn’t mean:
I do believe dishes are for throwing, walls are for punching, or voices are for yelling.
I do believe mornings are for his hangovers and my making excuses for his behavior. And I most certainly didn’t mean:
Daughter of mine, here is your example of a loving relationship. An example of how a husband treats a wife, or a father treats a daughter.
When I said I do, I meant: I don’t.
I hide behind my words, sometimes. More to the point. I misuse words. I lie. So, when my marriage ended, I left my job and I began to write. I began to excavate. To
recall. To sober up. To turn to my demons- to the me that life and trauma had created- and to hurt. A pain indescribable- this honest self-exploration thing. So, in one last cowardly comfortable move, I lied. I told all those around me I had breast cancer. In truth (as I interpret it)- I did have a scary mammogram result and was asked to return twice for ultrasound follow up. But, I didn’t have cancer. What I had were kind friends and a warped sense of worth. I just couldn’t allow myself kindness or compassion unless it had been earned, and was life-threatening.
Slowly, I’m hiding behind words less. And meaning my words more. And this is
where the real story begins. My love affair with words that don’t cover, conceal, contain. Words that instead meditate, muse and mend. So, to where I began. I grieve. I feel.
Pain. Joy and gratitude.