Now that you’re probably thoroughly confused and misled by the title of this blog, I’m going to attempt to conceptualize something that’s still ridiculously abstract in my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how words imprint themselves in our minds; how they create not only memories but something else. Something more powerful, more visceral, more primal, more alive.
This is the irony, at least for me. I am an English teacher. I’ve built my life on a foundation of words. Words were my favorite childhood companion. They were the anchor that kept me from being swept away in my teenage years. In adulthood, they became my mistress. The relentless lover, there as all of my human relationships formed and crumbled. But, while some words caress me, others leave me battered, bruised. They permeate, infiltrate every aspect of my me-ness. They take. Nothing like the words of my childhood, the ones that filled me with wonder and hope. Nor like the words of my teen years, that infused me with passion and power. No, these words are toxic.
This has been my relationship with language: complicated. So, complicated that it complicates my other relationships. The ones of a more human variety.
How Words Destroyed My(Self):
Words first destroyed my relationship with myself before moving on to others; though, to be fair, it probably was never the words but actually the mouths that uttered them. Regardless, the words were what lingered. I came to know myself as a “spoiled brat.” And as an extension of my indulgence in the pleasures of life, I was also deemed fat, mocked for my “cottage cheese thighs” despite the fact that I could count my ribs. These weren’t the only words that marred my infantile body: “so pretty”, “so soft”, “so pink.” Like I was a fucking flower to be plucked and petted. But there was apparently no use for my “mosquito bite” nipples.
I was told that I was “too much” in so many ways I can’t even count. Too needy. Too sensitive. So annoying. Why couldn’t I just entertain myself, leave people alone, stay out of it, make myself scarce. I just needed to “suck it up and get over it.” Emotions were a delicacy I was never afforded.
Neither was pride. I was good at softball but I was reminded that someone else was better. I was smart but someone else was smarter. I could write but someone else could write better. I worked for far too long trying to prove that I was good enough, that some day I wouldn’t be too much, that I wouldn’t be such an indulgent brat. That I could be skinny. That I could be beautiful. That I didn’t have to feel so much. That I could have real talent. That I only needed a little love, not too much. The day never came. But hate did.
And so did the silence and brutal letters. One might think spoken word is powerful but it doesn’t cut quite like the razor sharp edge of words withheld and of the carefully cultivated manifestation of hatred laid out on paper. I turned all that hate on myself, cut myself with more ferocity than words could ever conjure. This, too, was a problem, more evidence of my short-comings, my deficiency. A result of “demons”, something else I couldn’t do right, something to “pray away.” And when that didn’t work, well, then it must have been my fault too. I didn’t pray hard enough. I didn’t truly let Jesus into my heart. Because of course, there is no room left in my over-indulgent, emotion gorged heart. Not that it matters, I was already banished with words to Hell. Reminded daily of that destiny. So, what good were incantations to a zombie savior anyway?
I’ve decided Jesus never cared much for prayers, perhaps it’s the weight of “the word.” The demons raged with more fury. Words were revoked. As punishment for my corporeal crimes, I was sentenced to the silent treatment. Removed from school. Shut away in a dungeon of desolation. No one to talk to, no one to hug, no one to reassure me that I hadn’t gone completely mad. Just my own thoughts. And the muffled voices of disgruntled parents, stifling arguments about their problem child.
Loneliness swallowed me, so I swallowed all the pills I could find. No, not really. I was never so reckless. Words guided me in that endeavor as well. The Pill Book ferried me across that canyon: told me everything I needed to know about drug interactions and how to bring an end to the tsunami in my mind. I failed at that like I failed at everything else. Never good enough. Not even good enough to die right. Words were used to free me from my third floor sanctuary, the sterile hospital room with a constant frenzy of nurses and doctors. The antithesis of loneliness. But, that didn’t last. 24 hours and I was cast back into the tidal waves, now swollen with even more words.
Shortly after my release I received a letter, a declaration of my incompetence. A manifesto of my ability to disappoint. Verification that I was resented and hated by the very person who was supposed to love me without condition. But there were always conditions. And I would never be able to figure them out. Perhaps that’s why my life has become a quest to find the hidden meaning in words, maybe I’ll always be that girl, that teenager searching for some subtler, gentler message in the biting, angry words.
How Words Destroyed My Relationships with Others:
The story doesn’t end there though because that’s just how words devoured my sense of self-love. But, how could a broken girl traverse the world of adult relationships, carrying her bag of virulent vocables? I was reminded in relationships that I needed too much. I texted too much. I worried too much. I was too anxious. I was too paranoid. I was imagining things. In fact, I was not. I am sure that’s not the point. I added the messages to my bag and moved on. I found “crazy” along my journey. And then I found the worst words of all: “I’ll take care of her.”
I know what you’re thinking: weren’t those the words you always wanted? And they were, they really were. I just wanted to be cared about and cared for but that word, “care”, has so many dirty, disgusting connotations. The kind of care I received was not altruistic; it was vile, filthy, self-indulgent, crippling. Tore my soul into a million pieces. Irreparably small. He oozed “care” into every crevice. Branded me with words I had already added to my bag but not yet to my body: dirty, slut, whore, bad. No way to be rid of them now. I carry them into every relationship; they’re etched on my skin, a permanent reminder of why I don’t deserve to be loved, why I can never risk care again. Because “care” hurts. “Care” destroys. And so, through some cruel act of irony, I’ve been sentenced again to the desolate dungeon of my first demise. The scenery may have changed but the loneliness, the emptiness, the weight of silence, absence of words has stayed the same. Only this time… this time it was me that chose to lock myself away and throw away the key.