These are my First Words.

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These are my first words.

These are not my first words ever spoken, ever written, ever shared.

They carry much more weight because of that big looming bubble of space that has followed me for years and whispered in my ear:

You need to speak up, Suzanna. You don’t have much time…

All those years when my journal filled up with random and nonsensical thoughts that begged for release off the written page, pleading for sound, my voice their vehicle. All those years I denied these words their freedom because of that other, stronger entity: Fear, the vicious jailer.

But I was a writer, wasn’t I? I even published a book (well, self-published, which meant my mom loved it). And I won an award for a short story. And I attended writer’s conferences…until I didn’t. Where were all the words taking shelter, then?

I could feel them. They used to take over my whole body, absorbing into each cell, spinning such energy that when I would release them into a sentence, a paragraph, a whole piece—it was a palpable explosion of serotonin in my mind.

Yet, words held my secrets. Words would tattle if I let them out. Words got me in trouble when they spoke the truth to ears that didn’t want to hear them. Words bored my only listener. If I spoke too long he started to yawn, his eyelids drooped, he nodded off just for a moment.

I began to better time my words. I made them more succinct. I spoke faster. Used hand gestures. Sorry, babe, I didn’t mean to fall asleep, he often said, but can you get to the point?

But I couldn’t use all my words with him, only those that wouldn’t cause a ruckus, only those that wouldn’t challenge his position, his authority, his opinion, his anything. I was limited more and more as the years dragged on to only those words that showered him with praise, that secured his role as the man, the leader, the boss. Any other words I dared use, such as those that expressed my intense pain from his emotional punishments, were swiftly thrown back at me and which I swallowed in a big gulp of guilt, shame, and loneliness.

Then I began to limit my words to social occasions, waiting for the right moment to speak.

He was far more charming than I was. Kept everyone captivated. Used up all the energy in the room for his stories. I waited for a nibble, like I was bait for audience attention.

When someone would bite and invite me in, I excitedly shared my words, or at least a small portion of the words I had stored, and behaved like a puppy that had waited for its master all day. Typically I was allowed an average of ten minutes before he yawned, stretching out his arms and excusing himself from the social circle. The air in the room deflated, I would lose my train of thought. Shrug. Apologize. Excuse myself to go find him and drive home in silence.

Waiting for the perfect moment to speak soon suffocated under the exhaustion of effort.

So I finally stopped speaking.

Not altogether, of course. I still asked him how he liked the dinner I had made. I still answered his questions like, “How was your day?” But I stopped using real words. I stopped using complete sentences that expressed any consequential thought. I stopped speaking in any manner that might make his eyelids droop again. Or that would piss him off. Or in any way whatsoever challenge his place at the top of our hill.

I consciously stopped all the important words from finding release out of my throat. I felt them fight in the beginning but their strength dwindled and they returned to the hollowed out space in my chest where I felt my heart, spirit, and soul dwell, a concave of tender space that often bothered me with chest pain, heartburn, nausea, and panic attacks. But I always kept Pepto Bismol nearby. And that worked some of the time, for a little while.

Speak up, Suzanna, Time whispered often. I swallowed and choked the words back down.

In his presence, while he talked on and on, or altogether ignored me, I felt the mass clogging up my neck, my thyroid, which I took medication for. Sometimes it choked me to the point where the voice in my head warned I should see a doctor. Because then the doctor would tell me I had throat cancer. Like Roger Ebert. Then my jaw would fall off. But instead of being an inspiration and rising above like Roger did, I would end up in some home for the voiceless with a robot speaking aloud the words I typed on my computer. Hel-lo I would like to talk would you please list-en?

I realized I needed to do something. I didn’t want cancer. I didn’t want to burn in my chest day after day anymore. And it was like the words knew this all along and had been secretly tunneling out, planning their escape by chipping pieces of their prison walls that I had built.

It was then I knew: I owed my allegiance to these words, and not to whomever might be falling asleep to them or bored by them or challenged by them or exposed by them once they left my mouth.

And so I made a vow to myself, and to Time, that I would share my story, speak my truth, pledge allegiance to this expression of self, and never again fall into silence if it was at the command of another.

So I left him and began an affair with Time.

These are my first words.

But they are not my last.

 

Author: Suzanna Quintana

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Guilherme Yagui/Flickr

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Suzanna Quintana

Suzanna Quintana is a writer, speaker, truth hunter, sky gazer, and single mother of three boys. Along with being a former ballroom dancer/teacher/choreographer, she is a certified holistic health coach, holds a B.A. in History, attended the graduate writing program at Naropa University, and is now pursuing her second B.A. in Philosophy. She believes in the power of women, compassion and kindness to all but especially to one’s self, the gift of gratitude, and the healing power of visual meditation. After escaping more than a decade of silence, Suzanna has vowed to never again sacrifice her voice at the altar of another, and hopes now to help other women find the courage to tell their stories by paying allegiance to the motto, “Speak up, even if your voice shakes.” Her former lives include being a gypsy, a hippie, and a countess, and she calls often on these inner voices to guide her whenever putting pen to paper. She finds peace in the deserts of her home state of Arizona, solace on the California coastline, bliss while traveling anywhere in Italy, and pure joy when in the middle of a dance floor at a Salsa club. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram where she shares her story.

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anonymous Apr 2, 2016 4:37pm

Lovely

anonymous Aug 4, 2015 12:04pm

Thank you for your comments Miksy! Yes there is definitely a problem when someone tries to silence you for their own gain. Your words ARE meaningful and powerful and I would add IMPORTANT!! My favorite motto that I live by now: "Speak Up, even if your voice shakes." All the best to you. Suzanna Quintana

anonymous Aug 3, 2015 7:16pm

This post resonates so strongly with me. This want and need for him to silence me reinforces that mybwords are meaningful and powerful and even intimidating for the insecure, underdeveloped, unevolved. I dig this post completely.