I don’t need help. I don’t like when people try to help me if I haven’t asked for it, and I almost never ask for help. There is some part of me that desperately needs to prove that I don’t need help from anyone or anything, I can manage everything on my own, and screw everyone who thinks otherwise.
I throw down my pen, pushing myself away from the table. His words come down like anvils in my ears, anvils that I desperately try to ignore. My mother’s pithy little note floats out of my hand, taunting, “Prends moi pas pour une cruche.”* It is quickly snatched up again and crumpled into a ball as the first blow falls strongly across my head.
I stomp into the kitchen to throw it out, hurling my own heavy words in his direction, and in hers, though she can’t hear me.
He is sick, and in pain, and drugged up on meds to fight it. I know this, but it is not foremost in my mind as I try desperately to build a wall around my heart. I can only think: They’re WRONG.
I slam the cupboard door shut, and that is the last straw. He comes forward, stalking me as I imagine a big cat would before pouncing. I see the threat in his eyes, but I take no note of it – what can he do to me? His finger leads, pointed at my face like the barrel of a gun. His mouth spews anger and spittle. A vein throbs in his neck.
I’m sure my own face was not kind, either. I can imagine the sneer that was in place as I listened to the unfounded accusations, to the unflattering comparisons to the foreign exchange student who was living with us.
I don’t remember what I said that snapped him. I don’t remember the vast majority of what I said in anger to him. But the next thing I knew…
I try to draw breath once before realizing – those are his hands squeezing my airways shut. Those are his fingers wrapped around my neck. That is his strength forcing the blood to pool in my face, making my pulse race against his grip. My vision reddens and tunnels. All I see is his angry face. He towers over me, bending me backward over the kitchen counter.
I refused to try again. I would pass out before I let him see me gasping for breath in his hands. My pride wouldn’t allow it – and I don’t know if it would now.
I was a proud sixteen-year-old when my father’s hero status was forever shattered in my mind and heart. I was a little blonde firecracker, who worked hard and laughed loud, when a few days later my friends looked up from our work and ask me why I wasn’t. And there, in the drafty, echo-filled woodshop turned art room, surrounded by wooden frames waiting to be pieced together and halved tennis balls waiting to be glued to the ramp rail, was the first time I turned to my friends for comfort.
There I told them the bones of what happened. There, for one of the first times, I laid a head on Erika’s shoulder, and let the tears drip down my face as Steph rested her head in my lap. There I ran my hands over her hair and took down a section of the brick in the wall of pride around my heart.
I was a sad, scared, heartbroken girl when I learned that I chose my friends (or did they choose me?) well. When I learned that my shame was not so heavy that they couldn’t help me carry it.
That day was the beginning of the end of the wall around my heart. It was a well built wall, so it stands strong in some places, but there are many more chunks of brick and mortar missing from it now than that one that my friends helped me tear down that day. And in almost every gap in that wall, their presence lingers where their hands helped wreck in the most beautiful way.
That day was the first time I leaned on my friends like that, but most definitely not the last. These beautiful girls, now beautiful women, taught me that I will not be able to carry all my shame by myself. I won’t be able to keep everything a secret because some secrets are just too much for a single heart. Some secrets cannot remain secrets. And they taught me and are teaching me that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, nor is there anything wrong with needing it.
*A French expression which does not easily directly translate (don’t trust Google on this one! It doesn’t mean “I’m not a pitcher”) – take it as a more vulgar way of saying, “What do you take me for, an idiot?”