Suddenly an image comes up: a young girl, 8 years old, on a queen sized unmade bed. She’s sitting, heart pounding, muscles tense, shoulders raised, hot tightness searing down between the blades – like mine are now. She’s restless, keeps moving closer to the dark wood laminate paneled walls. She focuses on the details – the way the joints of the panels aren’t quite lined up, the gaps between the edges, the slight bowing where the cheap glue is giving out. She almost reaches out to feel the texture, but stops herself. None of this is hers.
Her eyes glance around the room. There is the tall dresser against the wall with the top drawer where they once found a nest of baby mice nestled among her dad’s black socks. And there is the open door to the bathroom where she once snuck away to try blue eyeshadow and then felt the hot shame when her mom found out. And over there, the door to this bedroom is closed. It is just she and her mom. It is meant to feel safe. It doesn’t.
She folds herself inside: stay small, tight, closed. Don’t take up too much space.
The girl can hear the words being said. She’s already smart beyond her years. She’s spent hours retreating into books, she’s practiced her vocabulary, she reads the dictionary when she runs out. She has a daily practice of speed reading words to the beat of a metronome under the proud gaze of her dad. She consumes language like it’s nutrition. Words are what she has to try to understand; to be understood. Words are her Great Love. For now.
But as the questions are asked, she is paralyzed. She wants to respond, but it must be done correctly. There must be purity in her words. No one can be harmed by her answers. Her gut is a fist – like mine is now. She focuses on the pace, the cadence, the rhythm of the inquiry to provide more information. There is a controlled panic, a sense of fragility in the air. As though breath is being held. As if in short bursts, the air is being inhaled, filling up the lungs, filling up the body, teeth clenching, biting down on tongue, but there is no exhale. It is up to her to preserve it. She must provide the exhale. The relief.
The unthinkable is happening. She doesn’t have the words. Everything – all of it – is felt. None of it can be said.
She presses herself up against corner, the rough texture of the paneling catching on her sweater. She finds a small voice. She says the simplest thing. The thing that will make all of this less. She really has no choice because the words aren’t there, but even in the moment there is a sense that this will remain with her; that she is swallowing something for someone else. Something that wasn’t hers. Something she never wanted. Didn’t ask for. Couldn’t say no to.
Has her heart stopped for just a moment? Will that heat in her core ever go away? How does she get out of that room? She doesn’t know how this ends.