I have never fully been myself with anyone. I learned from a young age that some stories are not meant to be told. When I was nine, before my father died from an accidental drug overdose, my sister got pregnant at 16. My mother, a devoted Christian and churchgoer, confided in her pastor and was asked to leave the congregation.
Before then, we were always in church. Bible studies, youth nights, choir practices, Sunday mornings turned to afternoons. We were a part of every play, every event, for every occasion. And overnight, in a time when we needed our community of faith the most, we were shunned. Shame is a learned thing.
Years later, when we were allowed to return, we had lost the community and trust we had built. Conversations were superficial, invitations were obligatory or forced. We were surrounded and alone. I fell asleep during sermons and sat silently in my seat, until my mother finished leading worship and left the pulpit when the service ended.
Anyone curious about my sister or our lives outside the walls of the church would be directed to my mother. I was not to answer any questions.That did it, I think. It struck a chord. I had learned that when people ask, you don’t tell.
Telling is still my greatest struggle. When someone I love asks, “How are you?”, “Good”, like a reflex, spills out of me. I change the subject, pay attention to responses, redirect questions, anything to avert attentive ears.
In part, I’ve convinced myself that those who ask how I am don’t want to know. So accustomed to not being seen that any attempts to scratch beyond the surface are blocked. How is it, that they cannot read my mind? How are they not aware of the damage that's been done to me? Damage I've done to myself. Don't they hear the timbre of my voice rise when we talk about love and families and future lives?
When I say, I cannot see myself in 5 years, or 2, or 1, or 6 months from now, how can they not see that I don't always want to be here? I've built walls. And now, I am surrounded. Entombed by my desire to never, ever, be seen. Except, that there has been, for quite some time now, the desire to tell, to speak up.
To be seen is to feel discomfort, to expose yourself to the possibility of rejection just for being who you are. But denying yourself that opportunity invalidates your experience. It says that something that is a part of you doesn't exist, that the things you've done, that have been done to you, never happened.
And if we are the stories we tell ourselves, we ought to tell the truth.