“Be silent, child,” they said. “The world does not care for your troubles. If they ask, they do not mean it. Just look pretty, smile, recite your niceties, and all will be well.”
“But, sir,” I said, “my heart hurts, sir. I do not feel anything behind the smile. It is not real.”
“Of course it isn’t,” they said. “No one’s smile is real.”
So I smiled.
“But, sir,” I said, “the world is hard, sir. I know a girl who is starving herself because the world keeps telling her she’s too fat. I know a girl who was raped and will never see justice done because nobody believes her. I know a boy who parties every night, and I warn him to be safe because I fear that he will flirt with the wrong man and get beaten for it. I am scared, sir, because this world makes me scared, but I don’t know how to fix it without talking about it, sir.”
“You can’t,” they said. “There is nothing you can do. The world is hard, and that is all there is to it. There is no saving anyone. There is no fixing anything. Stay silent, child, for nothing that you say will matter anyway.”
So I was silent.
“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot stand this. My heart aches all the time, sir. I stay up at night and I listen to them cry, and I want to help them. This world is terrifying, sir. Is there truly nothing I can do?”
“You can be happy with your lot, child,” they said. “You can be grateful that you are not them, and you can rest easily knowing that things could always be worse. Do not complain, do not cry, because there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.”
And so I tried to be happy. I really, truly tried.
“But, sir,” I said, “my heart still hurts. My heart hurts, and I feel it in my soul now. I carved red lines into my arm today, sir. I cannot contain this fear, it is everywhere, sir, it is inside my skin and I cannot escape it or ignore it anymore. Please, sir. My own blood is on my hands, and I need to do something.”
“You are wrong to think so,” they said. “Are you not grateful? Are you not happy? What is wrong with you, what makes you carve red lines into your arm? Normal people do not do that, child. So cover your arms with your sleeves, put on that smile, and recite your niceties. That is all you have to do. Why are you making this so complicated?”
“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot do this anymore. I do not believe you. I think you are disillusioned, sir, and I think your advice hurts me in the long run. So, sir, I will no longer be taking your advice. Thank you for your attempt, I know you were only trying to help me, but I must try something different if I am going to stop being so afraid.”
And so I spoke. For the first time in my life, I spoke loudly and clearly, to anyone who would listen to me.
“What are you doing, child?” they said. “Nobody cares what you have to say! Nobody feels the same way as you! You are changing nothing in the world, and worse, you are making everybody hate you! We think you are crazy, child! We think you are too aggressive, and we think you must hate us if you dare not take our advice! Why are you doing this to us, child, when all we ever tried to do was help you? Why do you hurt us so?”
“But, sir,” I said, “for the first time in my life, my heart does not hurt. The red lines in my arm have left scars, but they have healed. I am alright, sir, and I will be alright, and none of this would have been possible if I did not talk. I want to do the same for others, sir. I want to make them feel safe to talk. I want to make sure they know that the option is open to them, that they do not have to live in silence, that they can be perceived as crazy or aggressive or wrong, and yet that does not necessarily mean that they are. And maybe my voice is just one among the million. Maybe it gets drowned out in the crowd, and maybe I’m heard by very few, but at least I’m heard. And at least I’m talking. Because I think I need to talk. I wasn’t made to be silent.”
I do not think they heard me. And yet, I speak.