I was a quiet child, the one that hid under tables during family parties with a book while my relatives talked, watched sports, drank and gambled. Children should be seen and not heard – they didn’t want to hear me, so I did my best to remain unseen as well.
Even when they looked at me, they didn’t see me. Just another child underfoot, a quiet one, doesn’t talk much. Boring. Not into sports. Not like the rest of them.
I’ve had a problem with mumbling for a long time. I want to speak, to express myself, but I’m afraid of being shushed. My bad solution was to speak too quietly to be heard. I would get to express myself, and no one would tell me to be quiet, because no one would hear me.
I don’t doubt this habit became quite annoying for some people in some of my classes in school. The small gasps of breath, the little mutterings, may have seemed to be spiteful or contemptuous. But I was just afraid. Unready, really, for the education I sought. Terrified to be wrong, and even more terrified to be argued with, fought against, attacked. I always believed, deep inside, that I was wrong.
I quit a choral group because the other girls insisted that I loved the song they loved, that it was impossible not to love it, and even though I said (mostly out of pure contrariness) that I hated it (I merely disliked it), they said I was wrong. Wrong about my own emotions. I got enough of that at home, thank you very much. (To be fair, it was also difficult to continue to make the long drive to attend rehearsals, especially after my brother fell asleep at the wheel and nearly plowed into a snowbank.)
If no one knows my opinions, then no one can tell me I’m wrong. If no one knows how I feel, then they can’t argue that I should feel some other way. For the longest time I hated sports, not because of anything inherent in the playing of sports, but because of the pressure I felt to be good when playing them and the panic that would set in when I would proclaim myself a fan, and be told that I was wrong to like that team, that player, that band even.
Learning how to express my opinions is a lot harder for me than learning how to support them in argument. I can think of reasons and research facts and figures, but to open my mouth, or post something… I get into the recursive what-if hole and refuse to find my way out. I find reasons why I shouldn’t say something or do something, even while I would argue that people have a right to express their own opinions and feel however they feel.
I want to yell and be loud, but there is a part of me that is always judging, telling me that if I yell in public, then I will draw unseemly attention, that people will judge me and find me wanting, that I have no right to be loud or yell.
But you do. You have every right to be loud, and express yourself.
And when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, buried days in the wilderness, with not even a trace of other people having been there in the last year, I can too. In the solitude of the outdoors, I’m starting to figure out how to open my mouth and let out the loudness I’ve been leashing.