My mouth used to get me in so much trouble. It’s funny though, because i never said the things that most needed saying. You know, like, Help me, or Someone get me outta here.
Nah. I told a couple of friends in high school. They probably half didn’t believe me and half didn’t want to hear it even if it were true. They couldn’t have done anything about it. Besides, i only had to make it through high school and i’d be free. Told my favourite teacher, my last year. We were working on something together and i blurted why i’d left home, was working full time, and living with my best friend. My confession was followed by one of the most excruciatingly painful silences i’ve ever endured. And then we resumed our work as if i hadn’t spoken at all.
It had to be obvious i wasn’t all right. I mean, other students knew it. In every class in every grade in every school i ever attended. My clothes and lack of participation in any activity that required money made it clear that my family was about as poor as it gets in my country. Perhaps my mouth overshadowed everything else. I could be loud and obnoxious, which made me an easier and more frequent target than i would have been had i just been fat and poor. And as is the case with so many abused children, i lied. A LOT. I exaggerated every detail or just flat out told a bullshit story. It was all for attention, and of course it worked, but not the way i wanted.
I’m sure i frustrated teachers, some to the point where they’d call in my parents for a meeting. Maybe they were even sizing up my parents, looking for signs that they might be the problem. I don’t know if anyone even picked up on my situation, let alone cared. To be fair, my parents were highly intelligent people who could make you believe just about anything… for a while. When the mask finally slipped and people started asking questions, we simply moved.
I remember one time i was going home on the bus, and i realised the kids were laughing and whispering and making faces at me because my hygiene was terrible. (Super embarrassing, but true.) I made up the most ridiculous lie. Like in the history of lies it was the one that wouldn’t even fool your little sister when she was 4 and you told her chocolate milk came from brown cows.
I didn’t tell them my clothes were always dirty because my mother rarely did laundry, and if i tried to do it myself i’d sometimes get beaten for doing it wrong. I also didn’t tell them that a lifetime of sexual abuse had made me hate my body so much i could barely stand to touch myself. The bathroom was also a place where i was extremely vulnerable. I was terrified to be naked at all, and baths and showers were done in a panic, and not with any regularity.
I didn’t consciously know the truth, so i couldn’t have told them why i smelled like an old boot filled with cheese. I just knew i was gross and bad and i had to make it someone else’s fault so they didn’t hate me.
I tried to be anyone but myself, and i used words to try to be funny, cool, smart, even tragic (oh, the irony), but i only ever came off as strange and awkward and annoying. I tried too hard and it made the decent kids uncomfortable while the bullies could barely contain their glee. I was scorned by crappy humans and pitied by the rest. Still, i kept talking. I lacked the self-awareness to manage what i said. I blurted, i leaked, i was a constant stream of words. My mouth was the bleed valve that eased the persistent pressure in my head. I tried so hard to be interesting. They either disliked me or wanted to like me, but i made it difficult.
I carried that into my adulthood, and it’s only been in the last year i’ve been learning to rein in my mouth. Not to stifle things i want or need to say, but to check my intent and consider the cost. Balance is tough for me, but i try. I used to obsess over everything i said. I’d rehearse it in my head a bunch of times before i said the thing i wanted to say. But that was different because my intention was wrong. I was seeking approval, acceptance, and affection at any price. Now my intention is to be genuinely myself.
I’ve spent this last year not saying much of anything. I’ve been around other people a few times, but there was still not enough control. This last 6 months i’ve not been around very many people except my family. I don’t know if i’ll ever be much of a social person again, but i’m weirdly unconcerned. I’m learning who i am and how to be myself. The only place i feel truly safe is my home, and the only people i fully trust is my family. It’s sort of like dress rehearsals for a show that may never open.
IMAGE: Ivan Dostál