Let me take you back almost two decades – or a bit less than that – to a dark, silent night. The street light beneath my window was out and I could not hear the sound of my mother’s snores. By then, I was too old to sleep draped carelessly over her body. In the dark, her soft snores were oddly comforting. They meant I was not alone. More importantly, they assured me that there was a bigger, noisier target in the room – and closer to the door, too.
I remember that night clearly because I was up for most of it. I analysed every shadow in every corner, anticipated all the evil plans that the devious monsters were no doubt hatching on top of our wardrobe and devised highly advanced guerrilla tactics to evade capture. As a last resort, I could always scream the house down and wake everybody up, resulting in the lights being turned on. Instant annihilation.
– and then suddenly a sharp noise, like a gun shot, tore through the night. All my brilliant strategies forgotten, I dove under the covers. I remember trying my best not to move an inch while ensuring that my blanket covered all of me. Because in that moment my terror-scrambled brain reasoned that if the monsters can’t see me, they can’t get to me. All I had to do was brave a little peek out and see that there was nothing – or no one – waiting to hurt me. Instead, I learned to hide.
I may have left my old blanket at home as I ventured out into the world, but I learned to don on a new one like a cape.
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never break me. What a joke.
I broke that day when a boy told me I was ugly, when I thought my best friend was drifting away from me as she got closer to another. I broke when a teacher said I wasn’t talented enough, when I fought with people I thought were my friends. I broke when I heard the things they said about me; mean, spiteful things only unkind teenagers are capable of. But I heard them all and they broke me.
And so I hid. I protected my fragile, sensitive heart from the monsters who could so carelessly hurt it. I hid it behind a blanket of indifference. I created a shield behind which I could hide and feel safe. The stronger my fears, my insecurities, the stronger my walls would have to be to withstand the onslaught.
What I realized too late was that it would be difficult – even for me – to take them down.
I’m older now and I know nothing lurks under my bed. Or stands behind me as I look in the mirror. My mother’s snores are no longer capable of keeping fear away, only sleep. I know now that those kind of monsters don’t exist because I’ve seen the real ones. They walk around in broad daylight, with wide, vacant smiles and razor sharp words.