When I was younger I longed for the ability to shape-shift. I remember sitting in classroom chairs, hearing laughter and conversations around me, wishing I could shape-shift into somebody who knew how to say the right things. I remember sitting in my room, the four walls taunting me, wishing I could shape-shift into a bird and fly out of the window. I remember looking into the eyes of the people who hurt me, wishing I could shape-shift into a snake, infect them with my venom.
One day I discovered that although I wasn’t able to grow wings or fangs or change my appearance at will, there was one avenue of shape-shifting that I was able to excel in.
The art of making oneself small.
I found that smaller targets were harder to hit, that someone who scarcely existed couldn’t be ridiculed, that a small person may be easily erased from the memories of others. I stopped trying things, too terrified of the reactions if I failed or achieved greatness, choosing instead to sit on the sidelines and watch as others had fun. I stopped talking about the music and books and movies that I loved, afraid that someone would snort derisively at my preferences. I trained myself to laugh quieter.
At first, the results pleased me. Sure I was glanced over but at least I wasn’t being jeered at. But eventually taking on a persona becomes less of an act and more second nature. I began shrinking into near non-existence without ever really realizing it was happening.
It crept up on me, just how tiny I had become. It started with people asking me questions and me profiling them to offer up the most agreeable answer, which was relatively harmless. But it built up into people taking advantage of my lack of presence, they’d pin me as the mastermind behind all their own indiscretions and I would sit idly, watching as they torched my name.
Almost every bad thing that’s happened to me can be explained by my lack of action. By my choice to hold my tongue, to cry alone instead of talking to others, to choose flight over fight in every situation.
One day I didn’t recognize myself anymore.
When you make yourself small you’ve gotta sacrifice bits and pieces of yourself to make the adjustments take. You’ve got to hack off parts of your personality that might define you as “big” or “loud” or “special”. And eventually you make yourself so inconsequential that there’s nothing left, all of your old interests feel dead to you and you struggle to conjure characteristics to label yourself with unless they pertain to the lack of relevance your existence has come to hold.
The hardest part was staring down at my own hands and realizing they had dismantled me all on their own. It wasn’t anybody else, it was me who deemed that I needed to be smaller, quieter, dimmer. My friends had tried to persuade me to take up space but I pushed them away in fear that they’d eventually find something to poke fun at.
I invented a story where everyone was pitted against me when the reality was the opposite. So caught up in my own delusions I erased myself from the narrative and sought out people who would keep me feeling empty and easily forgotten so I could continue to hide in the darkness, all the while expelling people who wanted to help.
But today, I’m testing my limits. I’m stretching out limbs that are stiff from lack of use. I’m holding my head up high, planting my feet on the ground and clearing my throat, with no care if it’s too loud.
So I can assure you that there will be no more lies of “oh yeah I love that show” when you cite a series that I’ve never heard of but everyone knows. There will be no more sitting on the shore while people throw themselves into the waves. There will be no more stuttering, sweaty palms, tears gathering in the corners of my eyes when I fall into debates. I will refrain myself from beginning every sentence with the word “sorry” because my voice doesn’t warrant an apology and neither do I.
until next time,