I am a shy, introverted person. Sometimes, I have trouble communicating effectively, and I have regretted not saying what’s bothering me more often than not.
All my life, I have been told I “need to speak my mind” or “stand up for myself” or “stop being measly mouthed.” However, there is one thing that has helped me along the way in my long journey to better express my thoughts and feelings.
Writing little notes and long letters.
Writing my thoughts down in many unsent letters, some that have been read to the person with whom I have beef (or love).
It all started in fourth grade. My mama was always encouraging me to write proper letters–with the opening, spacing, sign offs and all– expressing my thoughts about all the kids who were bullying me. She knew I had difficulty standing up for myself as a shy, scared, lonely child. So, sometimes, she’d help me write letters that I’d take to school with me or that she would bring up to the school herself. It helped sometimes, sometimes it didn’t.
Around the same time, my dad and I would write letters back and forth to each other. Just general stuff, like what was new in our worlds, dad jokes, riddles, and Black trivia. Oftentimes, these letters would come with stickers, stamps, and other things. I learned the art of a dying craft, little did I know it would also be my alternative mouth, my alternative voice.
As I got older, I had a bad case of things coming out of my mouth completely different than they had in my mind. I would rehearse what I was going to say to someone over and over in my head for hours, only to fumble my words or abbreviate my thoughts, paralyzed by fear. Fear of offending someone. Fear of coming off as too scripted. Fear of . . . rejection. Yet rejection is inevitable.
Fast forward to 2012, I started the whole writing letters thing again, many of which I’d never share with who I was addressing them to. But every time my anxiety would max out or my shyness prevailed before important social interactions, my mama would always say, “Girl, write that letter!” And I would, I’d write that letter. Read what I’d wrote, scratch out parts, write over the tops of what I’d scratched, have Mama read it, then start over on a new sheet. By the third or fourth draft letter, I was confident in what I’d written… and sometimes never say any of the words I’d written. Until one day.
I had a crush on a boy who I thought was cute and really nice. I was always telling my mom and best friend about him but didn’t know how to tell him I liked him. So, of course, my mom encouraged me to write a letter and give it to him. I took a sheet of neon green copy paper from her office desk and wrote about a paragraph-length note, ending it with a smiley face. Then, I folded it up and and closed it with a sticker. A few days later, after school, I found a way to sneak up when his back was turned and slip it in his backpack.
I don’t know if he ever read it, but I was scared to write another letter like that again and strayed away from it. Then, in To All the Boys I Loved Before fashion, I had this weird fascination, during my junior and senior years, with writing love letters to boys who barely noticed me or were just nicer to me than other boys. I’d write them all my thoughts and ask them out on my lined paper. Then stuff it away somewhere I’d forget about them.
At one point, I was brave enough to give a “love letter” to a guy I was really trying to win over. I basically let him know I didn’t know if he noticed how much I was interested or if he was interested me, and though I was shy, I wanted to spend more time with him … or something to that effect. He wanted to read it in front of me and I begged him not to because I didn’t want to see his reaction to what I wrote or hearing someone else speak my feelings out loud to me.
Then came my biggest heartbreak the week before graduation. I cried two three full days and wrote down every single thought, memory, and emotion that flowed to me. My phone kept ringing, texts coming through, I couldn’t bear to answer it because I knew it was the boy who broke my heart on the other end. By the time I finally got my tears down and slowly regained some hope, I agreed to meet who I thought would be my boyfriend at a restaurant to talk things over. I couldn’t eat anything, so over lemonades, I gave him all 3 pages of my raw emotions. Everything I couldn’t say came out better in what I wrote to him.
I hoped he would throw those pages away after things had been smoothed over. But a month or so later, he told me still has that note. To this day, he still holds onto some of my hottest rage, confusion, sorrow, and pieces of my heart all in 3 pages.
In my college years, it was becoming more of a problem for me to orally express myself and a lot of things were getting me down. I was feeling excluded from activities with my “friends” and dealing with uncomfortable situations that I couldn’t figure out how to talk myself out of. At the same time, I was getting subtle signs from lectures, guest speakers, and Mama, steill encouraging me to “Write that letter girl!”
Even people I least expected were starting to tell me “Girl, write that letter.” They knew that I struggle with getting the words out with my mouth. That I say so much more and get more feeling across when it’s on paper. When eyes aren’t staring expectantly. When the pressure of saying what I think they want to hear isn’t weighing down on me. When the words escape me, knocking both breath and courage from me. When I’ so angry I could cry. When I feel like breaking.
Writing that out never fails me because when I write that letter, I say exactly what I want to say without regrets, without lasting pain.
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