Like many kids, I had the kinds of things whispered to me that no one should have to hear as I grew up. These were the unfortunate recordings of my life that played on repeat in my head, and they weren’t healthy soundtrack material:
“You aren’t wanted.”
“I hope you grow up ugly.”
“No one gives a crap about what you have to say.”
I innately felt they were wrong, but it was difficult to mentally un-press the repeat button on them within me, to force a silence inside and feel a moment of peace when this message played so loudly and relentlessly around me.
I was just a shy little girl with only so much fight in me. So I built walls, tried not to feel so much as I pasted a pleasant smile on my face. It made walking around in the world a whole lot easier.
Luckily, people who recognized what I was going through, who saw the suffering in my eyes and the hurt I tried to hide, added beautiful sound bites to my recording on the sly. They quietly sang my praises behind the backs of those who hurt me most, chanted encouragement and hummed their faith into my ears:
“You will get through this.”
“You are beautiful.”
“Talk to me. I want to hear everything you have to say.”
They were parents of my friends. They stopped me in their kitchens to look me in the eye and tell me I was welcome to stay the night any time I needed to, for as long as I wanted to, and kept stashes of my favorite foods in their cabinets just in case. I knew they were health nuts. I knew they were busy with their jobs and their own kids. I also knew where they kept the Nutter Butters and spare pajamas for me and had all their work numbers in case I needed to reach them.
They were the coaches who showed me how to dig deeper and find a strength and trust in myself to do the kinds of things they believed I could do, like go faster, throw farther, win trophies and break records all on my own two feet. My awkward, non-emotive track coach knew how and when to put an encouraging hand on my shoulder to remind me that not all touch was bad, not all men wanted to hold people down, not all people want to take credit for someone else’s achievements.
They were the teachers who wanted to hear my voice—my unfiltered voice—and encouraged me to write it down, speak up and share it with as many who would listen. There was the drama teacher who signed me up to peer counsel because he knew what I could offer kids younger than me who were going through the same things I was, the history teacher who congratulated me instead of reprimanding me for asking powerful local politicians uncomfortable questions that would reveal their character when they came to talk to my school, the English teacher who held the notebooks full of my thoughts and creations as if they were treasures and urged me to keep them coming.
These people changed the tone of my soundtrack and made the messages that played in my head more positive. Random, clumsy chords of love and whispered verses filled with encouragement and safety nets wove together into the kind of melody that allowed me to rise above the beat I was born into and walked into simply by being who I am.
They couldn’t completely stop what I was dealing with, but they could give me the most important tool to be able to deal with it on my own: hearing and knowing that I wasn’t really on my own. I had people who truly saw me, believed in the person they were looking at, and made a damn good job of drowning out the noise in my head with the much more beautiful refrains that I deserved. Their lyrics slid through the weak spots of my walls and made my heart believe it was safe to feel again. So I allowed myself to do so, deeply.
Decades later, I continue to carry their words with me everywhere I go. Trust me when I say that it is because of them that I am still going places.
The original version of this story was published on ScaryMommy.
A NOTE ABOUT TEACHERS:
I will forever be grateful for the teachers and school faculty I spent much of my childhood and adolescence with. They made all the difference in the world. Because of them, I always want to give back. So I volunteer at my kids’ schools when I can, donate to classrooms when I can, lift their voices when I can, shine a light on them when I can.
The latest way I am helping do that is by being a part of WILL WORK FOR APPLES, the latest in the New York Times best-selling I JUST WANT TO PEE ALONE anthology series. This book is a thank you to the teachers who made a difference in our lives and in our children’s lives, and is available now:
Kim Bongiorno is an author, full time freelance writer, and the blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. Connect with her on Facebook · Twitter · Instagram · Goodreads · Amazon.com · BookBub · Newsletter