when we choose the same words

I remember the oozing, frothing rage I felt at the scraggly neighbor at the annual block party. Or maybe he wasn’t scraggly, necessarily, maybe he was clean-cut and looked like a relatively normal, early 2000s, ex-hippie dad, but he looked scraggly as fuck to six-year old me. He was a stranger. He was a scraggly stranger who, when my sister fell off her bike and cut her hand, knelt down to touch her hand and ask her if she was okay.

We were all riding our bikes around like hooligans, yelling and laughing and having a great time. As soon as she fell, I stopped my bike and moved towards her, but he got there first. He was paying attention. She wasn’t okay. Maybe she was crying. Maybe she was bleeding. He was the closest responsible adult. He wrapped his arms around her tiny shoulders in comfort, attending to her.

I think, to a passerby, it looked like a friendly neighbor was comforting a child because he happened to be in close proximity, and her parents happened to be somewhere else enjoying the gathering. It takes a village. To a passerby, I didn’t exist in that scene, and I didn’t need to. I was just another kid. I was standing far enough away that I was outside the frame.

To me, though, it was a different scene. I was the sister. I was her Protector, and I was failing. I was frozen, rigid with rage, torn between running as fast as I could to pull our parents away from their conversation, and staying to protect my sister from this monster. I watched in horror as this unknown man put his body and hands on my sister. Boiling lava erupted inside me and ravaged my small chest. I didn’t know how to get in between them, so I just yelled “I’m her sister!” when he asked where her family was, hoping that that would somehow communicate to him that she was taken care of, that there was absolutely no need for him to pay any attention to her.

I think he let go when my mom came over to check on the situation. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate about what he did. He was a kind man filling in as a fatherly figure, and nothing more. I didn’t voice my rage to anybody – it made no sense in that scenario. That intense feeling of anger and powerlessness stayed with me, though, and resurfaced in various moments of my life after that.

This was such a vivid experience that I wrote about it a few of years later in my 2004 journal when I was nine years old. I’ll include it here, complete with all the original spelling and grammar mistakes.

Its like that time Maya fell off her bike at the tallent show. She scraped her knee. She was crying and bleeding. A man ran over. He huged her. He kept hugging her. Boiling hot lava bubbled up, I was mad + afraid. I stood there, riged. I stared. Here, was this man, daring to touch my sister when she was hurt. My mom and dad still hadn’t noticed. I ran to them. “Mommy!” I said, Maya fell off her bike!” This man’s Hugging Maya!” I shouted, well, so the man couldn’t hear. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” my mom said. She didn’t know how I felt. My mom ran over to Maya. She took her out of the man’s arms. A lot of the Hotness stopped then, But I still had enough left to glare at him. I don’t think he noticed I was staring at him.

-Siena’s Journal, November 28, 2004

I didn’t look at my original journal entry until after I had written this blog post. I knew it existed, but wanted to wait until after writing my account of what happened to reference my journal. The only thing I got wrong was that Maya cut her knee, not her hand. I think it’s fascinating how my memory of it now differs slightly from my memory of it at nine. How some moments are elongated, some shortened. The things I chose to focus on over others.

The most fascinating aspect, though, is that there are certain words I chose at twenty-seven that are exactly the same as the words I chose at nine:

  • boiling lava
  • crying
  • bleeding
  • rigid
  • man
  • fell off her bike
  • enough
  • mom
  • time
  • sister
  • stopped
  • felt
  • think
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