His 6’4″ frame is standing outside my bedroom door. He is screaming – again.
My mother stands in the doorway – in the middle – where she’s always been. She’s safeguarding what she knows is my only haven. She is strong, my mother.
I’m sitting in a fetal position on the ground – head buried between my legs, elbows hugging my knees, fingers in my ears. I’m trying to drown it all out.
Now I am screaming. Over, and over, and over again. I cannot form words, only screams. A decade of false accusations, repressed anger, outrage, loss – it is all coming to the surface, but I don’t yet know how to speak the language of self-respect. I am conflicted: Obedient, repentant, good girls stay quiet, but saying nothing also isn’t working anymore.
No, an entire childhood’s worth of apologizing and staying silent is lost on the injustice of this moment.
It won’t stay locked up anymore.
My role has always been the peacekeeper. My 18 year old self has very good reason to believe there’s nothing you can’t apologize away. Whether you’re wrong or not, apologies clear your plate, and clear plates are the ones that can’t get yelled at.
At least this is what I am told. I am still unaware that I get a say in this role of “peacekeeper” that has been involuntarily placed on my shoulders.
I don’t yet know that true peacemaking is more than simply staying out of someone’s way, than not getting screamed at, than keeping everyone around me happy. I haven’t yet realized that I’ve been keeping the peace as a survival mechanism, and that what I’ve been left with is not actually peace at all. What I’ve been left with is one more layer of grief because in reality, I’ve paved a road where I’ve learned to respect everyone except myself.
No, the road to true peace starts on the inside, and it may not be the one that makes everyone around me happy – a burden that never should have been mine to begin with.
It is as if me screaming at the top of my lungs in this moment is my body’s way of taking over to protect me when my mind and heart are too paralyzed to speak up. Because in this moment, my screaming is not a conscience decision; it is not even at him.
It is instinct; it is at me – for me. It is one part of myself protecting another.
It is as if my body is dodging the bullets of my stepfather’s words by communicating to my inner self, “Nope, he doesn’t get space at your table any longer. Just because ‘you’re the one who can handle it,’ doesn’t mean you have to anymore. His words have no respect for you. Let them fall to the ground, and stand to your feet. You are free.”
My body stepped in and set my soul free.
I don’t remember what I’ve done, or not done, to make him go off this time, just that I am certain that it will be the last time, because I am breaking.
Just hours before, we’d attended an acceptance dinner at a local state college. It was the end of my senior year and I was going to stay close to home, pursuing both a college degree and my ballet career, my other refuge.
Then, in just 4 hours, I am torn in two: there is no longer anything worth staying in the toxicity that is him, but also, it is devastating that I’m about to say an abrupt goodbye to all I’ve ever known.
In hindsight I think I knew all along, or hoped, at the very least, that some version of this explosion would take place. Eggshells can only withhold so much weight, after all – and I’d built an entire life on them. I had spent so long trying not to let them crack, trying to keep them all together. Little did I know that not only would they end up cracking, but that they would get demolished entirely – and that I would be the one holding the hammer. Because, I will learn, the only way to be whole is to live a life without eggshells at all.
There’s a big problem with this, though, and that is this: the work of picking up that hammer is absolutely terrifying.
It will require me to willingly stand face to face with my deepest fear, look it straight in the eyes, and stay planted until I am the last one standing. Until I demand to be the last one standing.
But I don’t know any of this in that moment sitting on my bedroom floor. I don’t even know it’s okay to scream, to voice my hurt, to say I’m actually not okay.
All I know is I’m not.
All I know is it’s time to pick up the hammer.
All I know is my eggshells are in great danger.