"God, it feels good to speak like this to the world," I wrote in my journal. "I'm mad and I'm sad and I'm glad." emphatically, I stamped the period onto the page; after years of therapy I proudly expressed myself.
Suddenly billowing gusts of wind slapped against the house, the windows shook, and the gale squeezed underneath the front door, scattering my stacks of paper from the desk. Tossing the pen down, I threw my chest and forearms on top of the ruffling papers. The wind poured in wave after wave until THUD. What in God's name? A knock at the door.
"Hello?" The wind calmed, soared back overhead. Timidly I stood. No one visited for months.
"Who goes there?" No response. My heart sped up.
I leaned to the door's peephole. On the other side, standing 3-feet tall, a boy. I froze in terror. His chin lowered to his chest, his eyes flicked up at me, while he rested his middle finger on his mouth saying “Fuck You”. He looked so innocent in his tie-dye shorts, batman tee, and a head full of blond hair, but it was clear inside him hell throbbed. I recognized this boy.
My eyes closed, my head sunk until my forehead rested against the door.
This mute boy, who yearned to reach out to another and say what he was feeling but didn’t feel safe to do so, instead bottling it all up inside, his anger and his sadness and his thoughts all corked up, this mute boy who had so much to say, so much he wanted to cry out but only wept it in secret, this mute boy was me.
Urgently before the world saw his helplessness, I flung the door open and ushered him inside. In the middle of the living room, he stared at me, catatonically, his eyes still flicked and his middle finger still rested. My jaw clenched. "That's no longer me!," I declared. Look at this child unable to speak up, unable to be vulnerable. And I've outgrown that! I meditate. I attend therapy. I write! Grabbing him by the arm, I tossed him into the basement and locked the door.
From the basement, I could control him, I thought. Yet every time I journaled, the little brat rattled the basement door. I'd marched over and opened the door. Standing at the bottom of the staircase, his eyes flicked up at me and his finger rested on his mouth. I reminded him "We don't need you anymore," "You're bad at expressing yourself," "You want to go outside? How do you expect to go out and share yourself with strangers when you can't even trust your guardians? You can't," and on and on until he returned to his dormant state on the cold basement floor.
Eventually the rattling became so common, so distracting from my journaling that I put him in a cage. My control no longer was enough to keep him down. I needed my counselor's help. I phoned her and asked "What do I do with this boy?"
"Rarely do I talk to him," I told her, and a strange memory appeared. The last time my family sat at the dinner table together; mom had asked dad how his day was and he never responded, just teethed another piece of steak from his fork. Then a few nights ago, I told her how the boy was cold on the basement floor without the comfort of a blanket or a parent's hug, and another strange memory appeared. One time as a baby I remember crying all night long, unattended.
After that call, I brought the boy a blanket and a glass of milk, handing him the glass through the cage bars. He held the glass with two hands. His eyes grew as the milk poured into his mouth. His tongue gathered the droplets from his upper lip. After he finished, his chin lowered and his eyes flicked and his finger raised. And I realized he's just a boy. This is all he knows.
"I see you're trying," I said. "You're trying to say something." "Keep trying." And I handed him the blanket and would return the next day with his milk. And although previously he used to frighten me, I started to like him, so much so that I invited my counselor over to meet him in person.
The next day she arrived, we descended into the basement. I pointed towards him and told her his story, a boy who's unable to express himself. "I don't see that," she said.
"I see someone," she went on, "who is expressing himself and in a damn shrewd way. He's giving the world his opinion." Ahead of me, on the floor, he stood behind bars, his blanket around his shoulders, scratching his cheek with his middle finger — and I smiled.
I'm mad and I'm sad and I'm glad.
You crafty devil. He's saying exactly what's on his mind, knowing that for the rest of his life I could deprive him of food or of a hug. And yet he flicks on.
I'm mad and I'm sad and I'm glad.
I awed over his strength, while thoughts of all the times I didn't speak up for fear of rejection cycled through my head. I will free him.
My hand shook, clanging the keys together. We caught eyes and I unlocked it. He bolted up the stairs towards the light. I chased him. Out the front door he ran and trusting his lead, I followed, trusting that in the light my paled skin wouldn't be burnt and my darkened eyes wouldn't be blinded. Outside, he vanished, and I was left standing, in a town square, hundreds of people passing by.
For some time, watching them relaxed me. Until a black haired man stopped, gestured towards a bench, and asked, "what do you have to say?" My throat knotted. My mind busied like the bustling people in the courtyard. And I retreated to the basement, where I saw the flicked eyes and rested middle finger, and everything softened.
In front of hundreds of people, I stepped up onto the bench. I shouted, "I'm mad and I'm sad and I'm glad."
Hello Dear Reader
This photo inspired this essay. I'm the boy in front. My mom and dad and sister and brothers, the whole family smiling and laughing, enjoying the picnic afternoon while hell boils inside of me.
My relationship to this boy changed over the course of a few years. I used to be frightened of this actual picture, so much so that I hid it from a past partner of mine, afraid she'd see this "weakness" inside of me. But over time I befriended him.
“It’s hard not to like someone once you know their story.” - Mr. Rogers
I challenge you. Bust out the photo album. What childhood photos are you critical of? What stories do you tell about what's going on in that photo? Find a difficult one and sit with it. Let time do its magic.
“Change your story, change your life.” - Unknown
20 Sep 2021