The first thing out of the ordinary about the day is that I am wearing a dress. It’s shorter than my inner monitor is fully comfortable with. White lace, with a brown belt. And brown heels. I regret my choice in footwear, as so often happens to me within hours of leaving the house. I am glad I followed the suggestion of one of my professors to pack flip flops in my bag.
Actually, I am glad that I followed a great many of her suggestions. I’m not sure where I’d be without her.
The second thing out of ordinary about the day is that I am sitting at the front desk in the tutoring center. This is new. I am responsible for answering the phone and scheduling appointments. It is, however, the end of the semester, so I’m not really doing anything work related. Instead, I am working on my reading for the conference that afternoon.
Fuck. What a piece to be reading.
I don’t really have a choice. When I emailed in my selection for the program, the response I got was that my bigger, better pieces deserved attention more than one that had been written on the fly, no matter how fun that one would have been to read. I responded that I would read a different piece, but also that I wasn’t sure I was capable of reading the words out loud. They say that the truth will set you free, but I have never found that to be the case. I’ve found that it usually only creates additional bars. But today I will tell the truth to my peers for the first time. Today I will say the words.
I’m scared that they will hate me, that they will turn on me. I shuffle my papers all across the desk. My first presentation of the day, one that contains much more difficult material that really should be reviewed, is shuffled to the bottom of the pile. I stare at the words again and again. I try to figure how I can avoid it, how I can take the truth out. But I can’t. I can’t change it enough. I can not get out of this.
I remember the advice from the professor for this class—she runs races regularly, and she told me that in the first half of a race she tells herself not to be a rockstar, but in the second half she tells herself not to be a pussy. If I think I’m pushing myself too far to fast doing the reading, remind myself not to be a rockstar. But if I think I will regret not pushing myself to read it, tell myself not to be a punk.
Dear god. I will regret this.
I take off my heels again and replace them with the flip flops to walk across campus. I am terrified, but I try not to let it show. It comes across as more of a hyper, caffeine induced fit. I’m more outwardly wired than I’ve been in quite a while, and people comment on it. But I can’t tell them why. I can’t tell them everything that’s happened. I can’t tell them what’s going to happen today. I can’t.
I switch back into heels and complete the first presentation with flying colors. This is an accomplishment. I have taken on a personality of silence within the classroom, but I nail the presentation with essentially no practice whatsoever. However, my mind and my heart do not appreciate the celebration that is due. I know what is coming. I talk to the professor for that class. She knows me, and she cheers me on. I can do it. I have two hours to kill.
Loitering at the English major table, I talk to my friends and review my speech. I take off my heels. I think about how short my dress is, and how I am killing all of my “things I am scared to do” list in one day. I was not allowed to wear short dresses, just like I was not allowed to talk about these things. Now I have trouble talking about anything. But I am wearing a short dress, and I will read the piece that I have written. I will.
I’m going to die.
It is time. Things have literally gotten away from me. I thought that I would have more time to prepare. I thought I would have more time to think. I put the heels back on, and somehow I am walking back down the hallway to the conference. Twenty years from now I will remember this, this very moment that feels like walking to my execution. Twenty years from now I will write myself a letter: now you were there.
Sitting at a table three rows back, between two people who know me and know what I am about to attempt, I slip off the heels one last time. I look at the program on the table in front of me. I am numb. I do not remember the people who go before me. I’m sure that their pieces are beautiful, but I can not think. I don’t understand their words.
It is my turn. I slip the heels back on, for the last time. I shuffle my papers and rise, remembering at the last second to grab my water bottle. I walk to the podium and place the papers on the stand, grateful for the size twenty font. My hands are shaking, and I make sure to keep them behind the podium so that no one will see. I am afraid to let them see me. I am afraid. I…
The third thing out of the ordinary about the day is when I speak. Because I don’t. I don’t speak about these things. But I read the piece. I blaze through the first page, through the part that is easy. And then it gets harder. I tell them the truth about my life, about my marriage. I am not reading the words as if they are someone else’s. I am accepting them as mine, and I’m okay. Five minutes pass by as if they are nothing.
I am done. I am strong.
My peers do not judge me as I feared. They do not shun me. They accept me. They applaud my bravery.
I realize then that I am ready. I am ready to take my life back.