BEB #21: Scream

by Sienna Brancato

I can’t remember the last time I really screamed.

The friend in the driver’s seat lets out a piercing yell as we speed over the bridge, surroundings flashing by us and metal music blaring from the speakers. The passenger follows his example, making the hairs on my arms stand up. Then he turns to me, eyes expectant and encouragement hanging from his lips. But I can’t make myself do it. My jaw locks and my lips seal themselves. Perpetually restrained.

I’m not emotionless, but I rarely ever express my emotions outwardly. Sure, I get frustrated when a random jerk on the subway shoves me. I go on long, passionate rants about Harry Potter and feminism. I crack jokes, and sarcasm basically drips from my pores. But do I ever really express sadness? Fundamental anger? Vulnerability?

I rationalize that it’s fine. Whatever my friend or loved one did to bother me doesn’t really matter. The costs of confronting them are greater than any potential benefits. But those benefits would be my own comfort and sanity and safety and respect in a relationship.

The first time I meet someone who starts to make me able to believe in the idea of love, I realize that I feel the need to silence my anger around him, too. Not enough space for me to feel like my emotions are worthy of being aired out. Which isn’t healthy, but I let it go on for months anyway. I’m the first person he’s ever really confided in! And doesn’t that make me feel so damn special?

After the breakup, I do cry. But I’m hyper-conscious of the sounds of human shuffling next door in my suitemate’s room. Of hallway passersby. So I stifle it. Trying to cry without making much of a sound is one of the most physically painful things I’ve ever had to do.

And when I go home for break and see him and have another emotional conversation again, I have to do the same because my parents’ room is to the right and my brother’s is to the left.

I wake up with bruises for eyelids and a popped blood vessel in my right eye. Silent screams have ripped the hinges of my lips raw. Dry and cracking. Choking on air. Emotions are ugly.

Women have long lived with the stereotype of unruliness, of excessive emotion. Woman unhinged. Woman uncontrollable. Woman hysterical. Woman not pretty or strong all the time. Not picture perfect.  I always hated these stereotypical depictions, thought they were unfair and demeaning, but at the same time I was so afraid of embodying them that I stamped it all out, swallowed everything.

I keep myself busy to avoid them, trying to find a healthy balance between pushing things down and wallowing as much as I’d maybe like to. But that’s not healthy because by stifling the emotion then I can’t heal. I feel like a ticking time bomb, everything always right at the surface, waiting to overflow at the slightest provocation.

But it’s almost more worrying when I don’t feel like that. When I feel okay, feel functional, feel human, I also feel guilty. How can I possibly be okay when I just ripped my own heart out, when I caused someone else such pain? What does that make me if I’m somehow able to laugh and be happy so soon after?

I’ve never really lived in the countryside, and I’m not accustomed to wide open spaces, so I don’t exactly know why I’m feeling so nostalgic, but I know it’s not this boxed in, cookie cutter, beehive life. Interacting around each other but never really together, no space to breathe, to scream, to jump, to cry. And I just want more space. I want to feel like I can extend my arms. Want to make noise without worrying about the neighbors. Want to feel sun on my face. Want to look as far as I can in every direction and see no one. Maybe then, I’ll start to let the screams out.

Artwork by Caitlin Peng.

Michele Dale