Be perfect. Don’t cry. Don’t show them your hurt. Keep it locked inside. If you let it go they will mock you. Call you a baby, a whiner, a complainer. They will say it could always be worse. They will say at least you have a mom and a dad. At least you have a place to live, clean clothes, food to eat. At least you are not dying of cancer. Be thankful, they will say. I know, I know. I really am thankful. But it doesn’t stop the hurt. It doesn’t stop the flood rising inside. If you let it go it will drown you and everyone else.
Be quiet. Don’t speak up. Don’t say anything or you’ll get your head snapped off. You’ll be called Queenie again. You’ll be given yet another job to do for complaining. Like cleaning out the refrigerator. Or scrubbing out the trash cabinet. Like Cinderella. Your good sense, your suggestions, will be held against you. Just don’t say anything and maybe they won’t give you any more to carry.
Be good. Don’t stir up trouble. Don’t point out the obvious. It’s enough to know that unfairness exists. Be well-behaved, quiet and good. Don’t behave like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. Not like the kicking, screaming, red-faced little girl deep, deep down inside, locked away. Always be good. Good doesn’t get criticized. Good doesn’t get mocked. Good doesn’t get shamed.
You should always do your very best. You should strive for perfection. You should keep the bad locked away. You should be quiet and good. Quiet and good. Quiet. And. Good.
I am the real me when I’m alone in my bedroom, at sunset, watching the sky. Looking for the first few stars to come out. I have the radio on oldies, and maybe I’m singing along quietly. It’s okay to cry then. No one knows, except God, and that’s okay. He’s there with me. He sees my hurt. Sometimes I tell him why I’m crying. Sometimes I tell him that I don’t know why it’s so hard, why we can’t just get along and love each other. Sometimes I tell him why I’m frustrated and why everything seems so unfair. It is so complicated and hard to figure out. A big tangle, a big mess. But I know God understands everything even though I don’t. I get out my journal and write a little, but I don’t write everything. I take out my crayons and art pad, and draw a nature scene with flowers and butterflies and a stream running through. Where everything is peaceful and calm. Everything is beautiful. Everything is the way it should be, like in the garden of Eden, before sin and sadness. Then I feel better, at least for a while. I put my art stuff and my journal away, and I put the real me back inside. I put the real me up like towels on a high shelf deep in the closet, away from everyone else. They can’t touch the real me. I won’t let them.
The drawings are my own, from summer 1989, age 11.