I spent many years trying to silence you. Make you smaller to make others comfortable. Wear skin that did not suit me. You’d try to tell me how you felt sometimes. That lump in the back of my throat. The sleepless nights. That tight feeling in your left arm— you know the one. You never could get a handle on how you felt, could you? You always tried to escape them. The thoughts. The fears. The pain. You didn’t know why or when it started but you shoved it back inside. Threw some newspaper on top—even wrapped it with a satin bow. No one would dare think to look in there now— it was way too beautiful. Some days you’d leave the box at home. Forget it was even there. Other days that box sat on your chest like those paperweights at the Chinese spots. You didn’t want to feel that anymore. The pressure became unbearable, so you forgot how. You should’ve written it down, maybe then you would’ve remembered. But, I suppose you did, didn’t you? Filled journal pages with teen angst. Friendship drama and the stressors of the 8th grade. You should’ve sat in it. Allowed it to wash over you like one of those Neutrogena commercials. It came in waves, mostly. One moment you were going about your day—doing what teenagers do. The next? You felt nothing. Why couldn’t you feel anything? You tried to intellectualize. Compartmentalize. Sift through. You can’t do that with s**t like this though. What was real and what was not? You had lost touch. So you did what you had to do to feel once more. You carved love letters into your skin to relieve the pressure. This is why the caged bird sings.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
You did this for 5 years. 5 years of using your skin to tell the story your mouth simply could not. You had not quite learned how to use your words. The caged bird couldn’t sing. Its wings were clipped and its feet were tied. Every now and then you remember what this felt like. You run your index finger along your forearm just to remind yourself how far you’ve come. They never really teach you what to do when your mind starts to play tricks on you, do they? They tell you “it’s going to be okay,” but never quite lockdown what that “it” even is. “Love yourself,” they say, with no tools. No roadmap. No destination. So you're left to your own vices. Black women are meant to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Meant to suffer in silence. I suffered in silence.
Spent my days in the dark. Under the bed. In the basement of my mind. No one knew how much pain I held. Pain that did not belong to me. I thought maybe I wasn't supposed to experience love and joy. That I was meant to watch in awe as others found that for themselves. If I am being completely honest, I still struggle with processing my emotions. I’d spent so many years trying to avoid them that I now have to make sure that I let myself feel. With my whole being.
I’m no longer afraid of the dark, you know. I used to always sleep with the light on because sitting in darkness felt too heavy. But you learned how to feel again. The sadness came. The pain came. The struggles came. But so did the love. The joy. The peace. For without darkness, light has no meaning. No rooms to fill. Space to take up. Surfaces to bounce off of and power to absorb. Stop trying to run away from your feelings. The ugly ones. The dark ones. The ones that scare you. Stay with it. Let them pass. Start again.