Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
I used to think this was a funny saying because it seemed so obviously overstated. Of course, sticks and stones being thrown at you could break your bones. And how could words hurt someone? They were just words…
I’ve come to radically change my opinion on this topic because of this very situation. I’ve experienced hurtful words before, but none that have pierced through my very skin and punctured my heart. Words that are branded into my brain that even to this day still ache. Words that are so saturated with emotion and so intent on drawing blood that I can still feel their impact. Words that can still bring me to tears. Words that to this day continue to make me sick to my stomach. Words that bring me back to the exact moment in time again and again and again. Words I will never be able to forget.
I remember everything about this day. I remember the warm Texas sun beaming through the open windows. I remember my forest green Crow’s Country Café t-shirt that I was wearing because I had just gotten off working the lunch shift. I remember that my sister had been exceptionally withdrawn that afternoon and seemed anything but interested in how amazing my weekend had been. I remember thinking how incredible my life was and how lucky I am. And then, I remember everything changing.
Kendrae and I were starting to get this long-distance thing down better. No, it wasn’t ideal, but it would do for the time being. We were going to be spending the entire weekend together. Kendrae didn’t have to work and we had actual couple-esqe plans. Friday evening, we decided upon the traditional date night and went to the movies. When I tell you I cannot remember what we saw, I truly can’t remember! I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the skin of his hand intertwined with mine. Was my hand sweating? Oh God, please don’t let my hand start sweating!
All nervous hand sweat aside, I had never experienced the sheer romance that is holding hands. Perhaps because in a room full of people, your emotional bond with the person with whose hand you’re holding is expressed in the most organic of form. No words, no movement, just pure and utter stillness. That felt anything but still. Electric pulses were shooting up my veins and into my head. First the tingling started in my fingertips. Then it navigated ever so sweetly up my hand and through my arm. Before long, my entire body was intoxicated with the gentle warmth of Kendrae’s hand holding mine. The rest of the night was a blur, but that moment in the darkness of the movie theatre, surrounded by other people was one of the most intimate moments we shared.
The next day, Kendrae and I attended a wedding of one of his high school teammates. Besides the fact that the ceremony was outside in the dead of a Texas summer, I was excited to share a new experience together. Getting to meet some of Kendrae’s friends from high school would be a nice treat. Or maybe the heart of my excitement stemmed from getting to see my man all dressed up. But the other stuff was nice too.
The ceremony was heartfelt, the venue was breathtaking and the atmosphere was playful. The love in the place was palpable, and it was the first time I had been around sheer joy and felt that we existed on the same planet. I had met the kindred spirit I had waited in anticipation for my whole life – joy. A joy that was deeper than happiness that gave me a glimpse of what my future with Kendrae might look like. A wedding surrounded with friends and family that loved us. And a love for one another that was real enough as guest at the wedding.
I ended the weekend with Kendrae feeling better and happier than I could remember in a long time. Nothing remarkable had happened or changed, but his presence made me feel like I could just be Sarah. If I was feeling goofy, I could be goofy. When I was feeling unsure, he reassured me without even realizing that’s what I needed. I felt beautiful all the time around him, whether I was dressed in my wedding best or in a big t-shirt and no make-up with a messy bun on top of my head; it was all the same to him. I could see myself come alive in his eyes. Most of all, I felt safe. Safe to be myself, safe to be vulnerable, safe to fall deeper in love.
My fairytale weekend came to a close and my work week began. After my lunch shift at Crow’s, I came home to find my sister sitting in the family room watching television. We chatted sparsely. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. She didn’t make much eye contact with me either. This wasn’t necessarily unusual behavior for my sister, because she can be a reserved and shy creature. Exceptionally tender-hearted and only spoke when she deemed it absolutely necessary. However, most of this didn’t apply to me lately. Being home for the summer had really given us a chance to bond, and she had opened up to me more than ever. I found myself not thinking of her as my younger sister, but as my true friend. So, I found it odd that the conversation seemed so one sided and didn’t feign her interest in the slightest.
Then my parents both walked into the house at the same time. Not a few minutes apart, not one after the other, simultaneously. My mother sat down on the opposite end of the couch I was on, and my father sat in the big chair directly diagonal of me. Unusual behavior as my father usually went straight upstairs to his bedroom and my mother usually went straight for the kitchen. My sister immediately went upstairs without a word or prompting. I looked after her and wondered why she had left so quickly. As I turned my gaze back towards the direction of my parents…
“Sarah, we need to talk,” my mother declared. Perhaps the most loaded phrase in the English language.
I looked at both my mother and my father and blinked, waiting for what I was sure wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation. Here comes the job search talk…again, I thought.
“How serious is this, Sarah? Are you two talking about marriage?” my father barked.
“With Kendrae? Yes, we’ve talked about…”
“You told me you hadn’t! You lied to us. Why didn’t you tell us how serious this was?” my father continued, disapproval oozing out of his voice.
“You asked me when we had been together for like three weeks. Marriage hadn’t come up yet.” I stated defensively, confused why I was on trial for actually enjoying being with the person I was dating. I had no idea planning a future together would be an issue, I thought this would be good news.
My mother and father were both physically upset. Arms crossed. Stern mouths. Flushed faces.
I was getting increasingly more uncomfortable with each passing millisecond. I could feel that my face was flushed as well. I was completely ambushed by this double-team barrage of questions that seemed to have no correct answer.
Then as if I wasn’t caught off-guard enough, my father aimed his verbal AK-47 right at my heart and pulled the trigger.
“What makes you think he hasn’t cheated on you? You know he’s a player.”
Hit. The first draw of blood.
“Has he hit you yet?”
Hit. I was now stumbling backwards on the battlefield.
“He doesn’t want to marry you, he’s just telling you what you want to hear. You’re going to end up knocked up with a bunch of nappy-headed little kids running around, and then he’s going to leave you, just like they all do.”
Hit. I collapsed on the ground and gazed up at my father who now towered over me with the barrel of his gun pressed directly against my rapidly beating heart.
“He doesn’t love you, Sarah.”
Each bullet had hit me harder than the last. What started as a beating heart full of love and promise was now a battered and empty shell. I could feel myself bleeding and had difficulty gasping for breath.
Completely speechless and stunned, my body was entirely frozen. Not even my thoughts could move.
I was absolutely frozen.
My state of shock quickly turned to intense pain. I was just regaining my eyesight as the smoke from the bullets settled. My eyes began to focus, just as I realized there was a grenade hurtling toward me.
“You either break up with him, or get out of the house.”
I had seen it coming and managed to duck for cover, but the aftershock still reverberated. The explosion left the air ringing.
My face was flushed and my body tense. I looked into my mother’s eyes and saw something I’ve never seen there before. I couldn’t place it, but something in me realized I didn’t want to stick around to find out what it was. Leave.My body was screaming at me. Get. Out. Now.
I stood up. “Fine. Then I’m leaving.”
I walked out of the living room and up the stairs to my room at the end of the hall. I opened my closet door. My whole body was shaking. I grabbed my belongings as quickly as I could, not bothering to even remove my clothing from their hangers. I took the first load downstairs and began a pile in the middle of the living room.
“You can’t take your car. If you leave with your car, we’ll call the police and report that its stolen.”
I turned my head and locked eyes with my mother. “Fine.”
“You can’t take you cell phone either. It’s on our plan.”
I ignored her response and made another trip upstairs to gather more of my belongings. I’ve never felt so many emotions at once. Confusion. Sadness. Anger. Uncertainty. Brokenness. Confusion.I felt as if I was watching this scene take place rather than acting as a participant in it. Maybe participant wasn’t the correct word, I didn’t choose this. I was dragged into it.
Three loads later, I was still confident in my choice to leave. My father called my best friend, Cassey, from my cell phone. “Come and pick up your friend. She can’t stay here,” he stated so matter-of-factly. The three of us sat in silence in the living room as we awaited Cassey’s arrival.
Cassey couldn’t have arrived quickly enough. My father explained to Cassey what a “slut” his daughter was and that she could not stay in the house so long as she continued to date Kendrae. Cassey, obviously caught off guard, tried to ease the situation. “Now sir,” she said in her most polite tone, “I think this seems worse than what it is, and is something we’re all going to be able to laugh about later.”
My parents were not convinced, and I certainly wasn’t laughing. I grabbed a handful of my clothes. “Alright, Cassey, let’s go. I’m not staying here,” I stated as dryly as I could, hoping my voice didn’t tremble as much as my insides were.
The next moments were a blur because what started out with my attempted leaving transformed into a crumpled shell of what once was Sarah on the couch sobbing uncontrollably.
I was not allowed to leave. I was given two options, and when I chose to leave, my choice was not accepted. Upon realizing that I called their bluff, my parents panicked and would not let Cassey and I leave the house. Two hours of mind-manipulation later, and I was worse off than ever.
Apparently, as I was hurriedly packing, my mother took it upon herself to send Kendrae a sharply barbed text message. “Don’t ever talk to my daughter, or anyone in our family ever again,” she sent him. She read me the text message and convinced me that even if I left, he wouldn’t want to be with me now. She had broken up with him for me. “What did you think you were going to do, Sarah? Go live with him happily ever after? He works at Kroger and you don’t even have a real job.”
The room started spinning again and I sunk deeper and deeper into myself. Mortified and heartbroken, both vast understatements. I didn’t know what to do. But I begged for my phone back so that I could talk to Kendrae. He did nothing to deserve the rash and sudden break-up text that my mother sent him. I just needed to hear his voice.
As I dialed Kendrae’s phone number, I couldn’t suppress the tears. The pain in his “hello” ripped my heart to shreds. So deflated and lifeless, a side of Kendrae never revealed to me before. I was shaking so deeply from my sobs, that I could barely hold the phone up to my face. “I love you somuch Kendrae, and I’m sosorry.” I must have said those words fifty times. Our conversation consisted of little else, because I could not tame my sobbing. I couldn’t breathe it was so intense. “I love you too, Sarah,” Kendrae told me. Then he hung up the phone.
I collapsed completely and wept. Heartbreak wholly overtook my body to its core. As I laid there in anguish, Cassey stroked my hair. After what seemed like an eternity, I must have cried all the liquids out of my body, because my tears stopped flowing. Cassey left. My parents went upstairs to bed. And I couldn’t move.
The ferocity of the pain had numbed my entire body. Worn out from the most intense fight for my life, I drifted into what felt like unconsciousness. I don’t know if it was sleep, because when I awoke at four something in the morning, I felt anything but rested.
Then, as all survivors do, I had an idea.