By Dana Gornall
Walking outside, the smell of smoky incense still filling my nose and clinging to my hair, I squint a little as my eyes adjust to the contrast of the bright sun after being in the dark, candlelit church.
My friend is walking just a couple of beats behind me. I don’t remember the age we both were or why she and I were there in church together, but I know I must have been old enough to drive and I often went to church out of habit or obligation. Poking at me with her elbow, she motions to the playground and says, “Hey, let’s go down that slide.” I feel my face grow a little pink at the thought and quickly look both left and right, seeing the adults filing out after us.
“No,” I laugh, “that would be weird.”
“Come on, it will be fun. Who cares what they think?”
Her words skip and flash through my mind like the speed of light and I flip back and forth on whether or not I should do it. Did I care what the other people thought, or did I simply not want to go down the slide? I shake my head, laughing again. “No thanks. You can go if you want.”
At this I realize that she clearly is unhappy with me and she picks up her pace. “Grow a backbone,” she mutters, and walks on ahead toward my car.
Physically taken aback, I slow my gait and feel an inner twinge reverberate through my gut. Her words had stung. I shake my head, angry with myself for allowing a few words—a silly opinion—bother me. I need to grow thicker skin, I think to myself, biting my lip and blinking back the tears.
This thought has popped in my head numerous times since then, and I am sure, numerous time before that day on the hot summer church pavement, with incense still stinging my nose. Thicker skin seemed to be a coveted trait for me. I hated my lip quivering at the slightest downturned glance or the offhand insulting remark.
It seems I have spent a good deal of my time making sure everyone around me is happy and pleased, often sideswiping myself.
As long as they are happy, I am happy, tends to be my inner mantra. And the fact is that there is some truth to that statement. I thrive off of seeing others happy.
My mood, permeable—like water, I can take on your sadness, your frustration, your anger, your joy, your embarrassment, your fears and anything else you throw at me—as if it was all my own. I feel it in my core and want to seal every crack in your soul and soothe every darkened space in your heart.
I suppose it is part of being sensitive. Except being sensitive in a jaded world makes one not a very good fit.
With each cutting comment, with each time I reach out only to be left with an open, empty hand, with each silence matched with other unspoken words, I find that I am back yet again, hurt, revealing red, raw, gaping places.
And I would give anything to just be able to not feel every single thing so damn deeply.
I pull out my phone, open a message to a friend and stare at the blinking cursor. What words do I use to even begin to explain? How does one describe the sensation of allowing herself to be ripped open again and again? How does one justify herself slamming over and over into a brick wall—never learning, never changing?
I need to grow some skin, I type.
What happened now? She responds.
(You need to grow a backbone, I think.)
Nothing, I type back.
Setting my phone down, I make my way down the hall toward my bedroom shutting the door behind me. I sit, letting the muffled sounds of the television from the other room drown out my thoughts, shedding away all that’d been building up over the course of the day. I let all of the open spaces that had felt raw and exposed begin to heal.
And I feel for my backbone. It’s there, I think. I know it’s there.
Editor: Ty H Phillips