I didn’t know I had a lisp. Not until I was 15 and a boy I liked teased me about it. Once he pointed it out, I stopped talking as much. I immediately asked my parents about it. They said they knew it was there, but didn’t think it was a big deal. They thought I would outgrow it. This was, actually, one of the great things about my parents. They shrugged off what other people saw as deficiencies in me. Or fiercely protected me against a system they knew cared nothing about the promise of a young black girl. They knew when to stand down, and they knew when to barrel in metaphorical guns a-blazing. I appreciate that they didn’t make me feel self-conscious or afraid to speak.
I learned my fear of speaking somewhere else. Not from the mechanics of speech, but from the emotional fall out of voicing my feelings. The more traditional side of my parents held fast to the idea that children should be seen and not heard when in adult company. They encouraged academic ideas and critical thinking of text, history and culture. But they did not value my feelings about my experiences. I clearly understood the verbal lashing I would invoke if I shared what was going on inside of me. So I didn’t talk about it. I wrote about it. The page didn’t judge me. My journal opened up to every emotion I had. It welcomed and embraced the quietest, angriest, saddest, most confused parts of my life.
When my ex-boyfriend read my journals hours (or was it minutes?) before he raped me, I lost the sanctuary of the page. I lost the place that held me, unclothed unashamed and accepted. I learned to journal again – but never as freely. I write always with a sense that someone is reading over my shoulder.
So this calling to speak and to write is achingly beautiful. I fear the emotional fall out. I fear that someone will judge me, hurt me, and push me away because of what I have to say. I fear that they will use all the energy I’ve taken to be vulnerable and try to take away something I value. I am not paranoid. This fear is legitimate. I’ve lost relationships because I told the truth about the complexity of my family. I have been threatened from extrapolations of what I’ve written. I’ve been held hostage to another’s geography. These things threaten how I relate to my child, my mother, and my ability to make a good life for us all. And I, like the best of my parents, went into protective mode. I lit some guns up, but I mostly stood down.
I stopped. I stopped speaking. I stopped writing. I stopped traveling. I held these things in my heart. They seeped out of my eyes. The threats and losses changed me, but I still don’t know how. I don’t know who I am now. I am not sure how or when or what to speak. I am … afraid. I silenced myself.
But this is my calling. To talk and write about what is silenced. I’ve known that for the last twenty-five years, and I’ve resisted it every time I heard it. Because I didn’t know what was next. Because I didn’t know what I would have to give up. I still shudder in the face of God’s ask.
I do not, however, fear God. Me and God, we’re cool. And whenever I rail back at God asking why and how, the response is always the same: “Because you can.”
I can. I repeat this to myself. I can. I can learn new things. I can trust again. I can manage the challenges. I can speak again. I can.
Ancestor Audre Lorde reminds us that “we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.” I, like so many other mamas and black women before me, know how to work when tired. I can learn to work and speak while being afraid.
I asked my parents for speech therapy and I learned a new way of talking. My best friend held up flashcards with “S” words while I tried to put my tongue behind my teeth rather than through it: Jesus, desire, sandwich. To avoid surgery in my early twenties, I learned to walk a new way. Years after I was raped, I learned to trust in new ways.
I can learn to work and speak while being afraid.
So I’m going to start fearful writing. And sharing the narrative of my new under-construction self. Which means I’ll probably talk about the loss. And the ancestors. And the minutiae of my daily life (vegan parenting hacks anyone?). And the small faithful group of people who walk with me. There will be no resolutions or closures. I’m living in the ellipses …