When I was in high school, my particular brand of “having a hard time” manifested itself through an eating disorder that I developed after unintentionally losing a significant amount of weight when I began running on the school track and cross country teams. I became obsessive over not only the positive attention that I was receiving, but mostly over the newfound sense of control that I had over an aspect of my life. Most of my upbringing was built upon perception, which was to be held to the forefront of my identity. I was innately a silly girl with a bright light, a boisterous laugh, and a wild streak inside of me, but as I grew into adolescence, these aspects of myself, the things that weaved me into who I am, began to slowly deteriorate with each small criticism:
Why are you doing that?
You’re talking too much.
Do you know what people will think?
You’re embarrassing yourself.
Because I said so.
All of these seemingly insignificant scripts, which ultimately became the voice of reason for me, added up to a single philosophy that I unwittingly adopted: be small. So I became small. I was quiet around people that I didn’t know. I stopped asking questions. I didn’t “rock the boat.” I had a deep anger that boiled inside of me, that seared through my pores in my silence. I would have fits of rage every once in awhile when it was too much to contain.
So I became obsessed with my hunger. I would eat a yogurt for breakfast that would somehow hold me over during the school day, which included a five mile run in the afternoon. I would eat a little for dinner. But the hunger in between became my sanctuary, the twisted pang that I was doing something right, something that was just for me.
One afternoon, our cross country coach, who was also my English teacher, led us on a run through the hills of Almaden in San Jose. The trails were difficult- steep, uneven terrain, but at the top of the trail sat a lone bench that overlooked rolling green hills and the city. He stopped us at the bench and over our collective panting for air, read us Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which includes the lines:
I too, am not a bit tamed, I too, am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Always a lover of poetry, I allowed those words to flow through me and wrap their fingers around my soul, my own wildness.
“Now it’s your turn,” our coach said.
We glanced at each other, unsure of what he meant.
He climbed onto the bench, faced the cityscape, and let out a booming, primal, and utterly beautiful and barbaric yawp.
Again, the team looked around at one another, each beaming. We were finally “allowed.”
Each of us took turns climbing on the bench and belting out everything that we had held in for so long. I can imagine that each of us had a “hard time” that manifested itself in different ways, but this was a moment in time where we could shed whatever it was and allow the song of our heart to be released for the world to hear. Or at least the surrounding Bay Area.
When it was my turn to approach the bench, I was nervous. I hadn’t screamed in so long, let alone allow myself to be “loud.” I looked around at the encouraging faces below me, then forward at the green hills, and a beautifully terrifying, screeching, too-long-dormant bomb of sound bursted through my stomach into my vocal chords and resounded through everything under the setting sun. I grinned.
I have made an effort to run that trail at least once a year for the past fifteen years since, and every time I stop at that bench at the top of the hill and pay homage to that moment. Life hasn’t gotten easier by any means, but at least I know that I will always have my yawp living inside of me. I have since made a conscious effort over the years to no longer allow myself to be small. I will risk rocking the boat to be able to sleep at night knowing that I have my integrity in tact. Do I embarrass myself? Yes. Do people look at me at times and think “I can’t believe she said that/thinks that/does that”? Probably. It bothers me less and less though. Because in the end the silly girl with a bright light, a boisterous laugh, and a wild streak lives inside of me, and as a strong woman with a bright light, a boisterous laugh, and a wild streak, it is my job to protect her.