(Graphic stories of handling pain ahead)
As I step out more in the world, and dip my toe in unknown waters, I have realized I wear a mask. I need to work on discarding this mask.
I recall my Dad always telling me tears never helped anyone and to “knock it off” or “stop making a fuss”. These lessons started quite young with skinned knees, or even sucker punches from my big and not so gentle brothers. These lessons progressed to where I could endure amazing amounts of pain without making a sound, and barely a grimace. I learned to keep my face calm and still to hide the pain.
One day in middle school, I had the not so brilliant idea of riding my bike and walking my tiny mopheaded shitzu dog simultaneously. I wanted to visit my friend and let her little sister meet my doggy. I got about 20 feet down a fenced on both sides bike path when doggy when crazy and tangled his leash in my pedals. I was terrified to hurt him, and afraid to step on him, so I leaned over and grabbed the fence to stop us without putting my feet down. I was successful in stopping the bike and not squishing doggy, but I also succeeded in putting the poky twirly top of a chain link fence completely through my hand. it went through my palm and poked out on the top of my hand in the fleshy area between thumb and first finger. I tried to pull my hand down and realized it was stuck, and that I had to lift it off first before pulling down. I had to climb the fence a little to get enough leverage with my other hand to push the injured one up, while still holding the leash in that hand and balancing the bike on my other foot to keep it off doggy.
I knew I’d be in trouble and called stupid. So I never told anyone. I went home, calmly put away my bike, locked it up, unclipped doggy and hung up his leash, then went to the bathroom to treat my wound. Myself. Dad always used peroxide on us, so I dumped it in, and stared as it bubbled through to the other side. (sorry if that’s too graphic, but that image is burned in my memory) I controlled my breathing, by barely breathing at all. I rinsed it out with running water, and stuffed some gauze into a few bandaids and held it until the bleeding stopped and the throbbing began. Then I cleaned up all the blood drips from walking in the door down the hall to the bathroom. I didn’t want anyone to know I had been so careless and stupid. I was afraid he’d take my bike or dog away as punishment. Or punish the dog for hurting me, he often kicked that little fuzzball.
So by the time my brothers came home for dinner, and my parents were home from work, I was calmly doing homework and my workout in my room. I hid my left hand under the table at dinner. No one noticed, no one asked. I felt so relieved. I had gotten away with it. (yes I thought i got away with doing something wrong, not that I had an accident that may require medical attention) I think now, as a mom, and I can’t believe it did not get infected, or give me tetanus. I know it should have had stitches, as it kept bleeding for several days. I just packed gauze and bandaids in my backpack to change it at school. I even bought more with my own money so no one would be upset that I used it all up. The scar on that hand is so thick and just another reminder of how I grew up.
I was not allowed to express sadness either. I was “stupid” for crying whenever the pets died (which was often, way too often in my house), they were just “stupid beasts”. I saw ET in a movie theater as a small child, and saw adults crying all around us. I felt like crying, but the adults with me did not cry, so I did not either. My dad caught me crying one day after reading a book where the little girl’s best friend died (sorry don’t recall the title) and he laughed at me for “getting caught up in the silly, emptional, frivolous world of fiction” Didn’t I have enough sense to know those stories (those stories that I loved and read daily) are made up make believe trash and a waste of time?
I also learned not to show happiness, because he might find out why I was happy and take it away from me. I pretended not to love my pets, and ignored them when Dad was looking, to protect them.
So today, I still find myself resorting to this completely blank, emotionless mask. No one knows what I think or feel. I have to remember to smile. It is not automatic for me. Like someone passes and smiles, I have to think “Oh I should smile too” and then I do, and then I wonder if I paused too long, did it look awkward. Can they tell I’m not like them?
I’m finding my mask is dropping with my family, my new friends. But it is still in place most of the day, most of the time, and always there for strangers until I decide if they are “Safe” or not. But one day, I hope to discard that awful mask completely and let everyone know I am really a lively, passionate, energetic woman, not this robotic, lifeless drone.