In the not-too-distant past, I wasn’t very good at expressing my feelings unless they were the lovey-dovey sort. Oh, I was good at letting inanimate objects know when I was upset—like stuck blinds or burnt toast. But when it came to animate objects like people? Well, let’s just say it was my turn to be stuck. Actually, imprisoned might be a better word. By holding back my true feelings, I locked myself up and threw away the key.
Until last summer the man I love, Robert—an Italian American who grew up in the Bronx—would try to pry my truth out of me. Sit me down and make me finish this sentence:
“I . . . feel . . . .” I would always say, “Nothing.” And he would always say, “Baloney.” He might have to repeat the phrase two or three times before I could even say, “I,” let alone, “Feel.”
So what was I afraid of? Hurting his feelings? Yes. Confrontation? Of course. Hearing my own truth? Absolutely. I had never been comfortable with just saying what I felt. Robert is just the opposite. His truth pours out like water bursting through sluice gates when it’s time to lower a reservoir in the spring. The initial deluge is sometimes overwhelming, but once his words have settled downstream, they glide along, buoyed by their largesse, by their veracity.
I’ve thought about why I was so afraid of speaking my truth. I remember when, as a child, I was smacked ten times across my bare calves with a wooden ruler. The teacher had told the class not to speak while she left the room and upon her return, the monitor told her I had talked to my best friend. Not true. Despite my pleas of innocence, Mrs. Hickman, one of the more feared teachers in the school, doled out my punishment dispassionately. Perhaps it was at that moment I decided that my truth was not good enough, that my voice didn’t count. When I got home, I didn’t tell my parents what had happened. Instead, I locked my pain into a corner of my consciousness.
And that became my modus operandi in dealing with upsetting events. Of course, there have been many upsetting events in my life and therefore many opportunities to speak up and be heard. But I never took advantage of those opportunities. That is, until last until last summer. Robert did something that maddened me. Rather than withhold my feelings, I looked him in the eye and told him how I felt. My truth—shimmering in the evening light—emerged, not in a deluge like his might, but like water welling up from the sodden earth, trickling along a streambed that had been dry forever. I felt liberated. The truth really does set you free. This I believe.
Word Count: 473
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