I was absolutely seething. It was already turning out to be one of those days where it’s exhausting just to exist, and going from class to class was taking all of my energy and every conversation was irking me beyond belief. Half of me wanted to fall asleep right on my desk in history while the other half wanted to stand up, turn around, and scream at the boys sitting behind me. For an interminable amount of time, minutes that seemed like agonizingly annoying hours, they whispered about girls in our class, making disgusting comments and providing completely unwarranted and revolting commentary that I would have happily died without hearing. The teacher did not even notice, as we were all talking and working individually on projects, and the boys’ talking just became part of the noise.
This incident was one in a long line of irritating moments that challenged my patience and my will to stay silent for long periods of time. Most of the time, I am able to keep my thoughts to myself – particularly controversial or negative thoughts, opinions that I just assume people will not want to hear because it makes me sound overemotional and angry, and I want people to be happy around me and not see me as too opinionated. This, though, was not a matter of opinion. I felt my personal existence being challenged, others speaking about things that should not have been their concerns, and everything built up inside me. I would soon find that these types of degrading comments could be heard while walking down the street, in a store, on television or in the movies, or even heard from friends and family and people I thought were different, better than that. Lines began to blur and the frustration within me turned from a slowly blossoming flower to a volcanic explosion after another small, but paramount, incident, in which my entire view changed.
I was sitting there, listening to the boys behind me and wondering what the world had come to, trying to get my feelings in check but also trying to remind myself that it was okay to be angry and okay if I was angry specifically at those boys. I asked my teacher if I could go to the restroom. I just wanted to leave the room for a few minutes, get away from this, forget how I felt for a minute. It happens too often – my thoughts fill up my head like clouds, layering over one another and blocking anything else from entering my mind. I was grateful to enter the silence of the empty bathroom. My mind started to clear, I felt less like the stereotypical angry feminist – which is what I wanted to avoid.
I leaned against the counter and wished. I wished for someone who would understand my thoughts, someone who had them too, someone who knew how to let them out properly. I wanted to tell people what I thought of them but I was too anxious to do it in person, especially in a situation like I was having in the middle of a classroom. I was leaning against the counter, still simmering in all of my thoughts, when I saw something – someone – start to take shape in front of me.
It was a person. A woman, with a flowing dress, long hair, a gentle but determined expression. She smiled at me as she came into view completely. I was so startled I jumped and knocked my shoulder into the paper towel dispenser.
“Ow ow ow,” I yelped, grabbing my arm. “Who are you?”
“Exactly who you wished for,” the woman said, laughing a little. “My name is Clara. You wanted to talk to someone? About being a girl, how to handle that, what to say to people when you’re feeling… a bit intense?”
I let go of my shoulder, squirmed a little. “I’m just a little confused. Like I was just in class, and people were saying such degrading things, and I hear stuff on TV all the time that I don’t really like either, and it’s just so frustrating. I feel a certain way but I don’t want to get angry about it because I’m not supposed to be angry, and I want to be nice and pleasant, but then other times all I want to do is punch someone’s teeth out.”
Clara’s eyebrows rose. “Well, I know how that feels. More than anything.”
“So you can help?” I asked.
She nodded, walking (more like floating) across the room and leaning against the counter beside me. “A long, long time ago I had this same thing happen with my…” A tear rolled down her cheek, I could see the stars in her eyes, the memories flying past like film reels playing, and if she hadn’t obviously been a spirit I would have reached out and touched her arm for comfort. “Someone I loved dearly. This was all I could think to do, to help her, I just came to her to tell her that even though everything seemed like it was bigger than herself, like she couldn’t handle what people were saying and how they were treating her, I told her one little thing. And it changed everything.”
“What was it?” I asked, standing up straighter, my mind going crazy again.
“I told her to make it a story,” Clara said. “Her life, her family’s, everything that seemed too crazy to handle, write it all down. Well, she couldn’t write it down just then, but she did, one day soon after.”
“Write it down? That’s your huge advice?” I wrinkled my nose. “I write everything down. Writing is my thing. But this seems like it may be too big to write.”
Clara nodded somberly. “It can seem like that. And it may take a while, and a lot of organization, and a lot of drafts, but in the end you’ll have a story. Your thoughts, and your story. And that is something only you can do.”
I start to thank Clara, but before I can even get one sentence out she disappears. Her body disintegrates, and I’m left with a feeling of fullness and brightness and like everything is changing.
That’s why instead of saying these ideas, I write them down. Just like this story. It lets me lay out everything just how I want it to be, so it is coherent and specific and as straightforward as possible. All the details are there and everything seems right. Clara changed everything for me in that one simple moment with her own story and showed me how important stories can be. One simple spirit and I finally understood.