I sat on the tan-colored balance beam, my bare feet dangling several inches off the ground. The gymnasium smelled like feet and dirty socks, the air conditioning circulating the smell. Miss A stood next to me, her feet planted solidly on the ground. If you ever thought balance beams were comfortable to sit on I must inform you that they’re not. They’re worse than bleachers, skinnier too. I balanced my tiny behind on the edge, watching the other girls dare to be adventurous… walking across the other, more taller balance beam. I was probably about four years old.
I learned a lot of things in gymnastics, like how to do a cartwheel or stand on my hands. I practiced these things always in the comfort of my own home. Miss A would sit with me and watch as the other girls learned bigger and better things… things that could break your neck… possibly. I came to gymnastics for one thing, and one thing only: The foam pit. I wasn’t afraid to launch myself from a swinging rope smack-dab in the middle of a pile of foam blocks. We mostly only did this for fun, though, right at the end of the lesson.
I longed to be brave. I knew just by watching the other girls perform flips on the trampoline that I wasn’t. I didn’t like feeling my feet propel into the air, not knowing when and where they’d land. I’d swing on one of those suspended bars, pretending it didn’t bother me. I’d smile my fake smile, hoping one day I’d wake up and know – I’d just know – that I could do everything the other girls could do… and maybe more.
A four letter word.
The kind that makes your heart palpitate with anticipation.
The kind that leaves you crashing due to lack of fulfillment.
It stands for Happiness,
All of those emotions wrapped into one.
There is hope, always within my reach.
Hope that fills my lungs every morning without fail.
Hope, rarely wavering, standing beside me as we soldier on.
Hope is a trooper.
It nestles itself within the ranks of every day life.
It longs to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, to be… in charge.
Hope knows the right paths to carve.
And yet, fear steals us away.
I’m standing in my junior high cafeteria, waiting for the first bell to ring. I’m smiling, if not on the outside, then on the inside, the feeling of hope overwhelming me. I woke up that morning, a bout of energy coursing through my veins. This would be the day my life turned around. I would suddenly be able to speak more than just a few syllables or unintelligible noises. I would be normal today. Finally.
A few hours later, J smiled his cheesy smile, his mouth full of metal. I wondered how he played trumpet – excuse me, first trumpet – with those braces. He was tall, lanky, and kind of dorky – a regular young, American, Andrew Garfield type. He always had something to say – not in excess – but something… usually a joke.
I felt my hope subsiding, slipping through my fingers as the other irrational side of my brain woke up to smell the proverbial roses. What had I been thinking? I couldn’t even speak to J, one of the most admirably friendly, non-threatening seventh graders in the entire school. He wasn’t in my inner circle and, therefore, he couldn’t be spoken to. It was against the rules of Selective Mutism.
You see, with certain disorders, there are rules that plague their captives. The first rule of Selective Mutism is that we don’t talk about Selective Mutism (It’s like this huge, very obvious secret… like Vegas). The second rule… well, my SM knew J long enough to know that J only knew me as a girl who didn’t speak much. My SM is cunning like that. Once it has decided that a person’s view of me is somebody who is quiet or shy or doesn’t speak… well, that is it. It’s a done deal. J would never get to know me as anybody more than that perception.
In that moment, I was a slave to my disorder. Never mind the hope that had been bubbling inside my chest all morning. Sometimes we let our fears conquer our hopes. How dare those fears come into our homes and destroy our walls of hope.