The words we can’t say

"Cyclonic," taken on a side street in Montreal.
“Cyclonic,” taken on a side street in Montreal.

“I never used to go to the doctor on the regular but ever since mmmmm, you know, I’ve been better about it.” He stared at his own lap, at his hands in his lap, at the floor beneath all of them that was sturdier than any of us.

We nodded and chuckled uneasily, hiding our faces behind smiles that masked our discomfort.

We euphemize our fears so we don’t have to look at them. By shielding ourselves behind screens made of words or lack of them, we can ignore their existence, safe within glass castles.

Some diseases don’t have names in our voices. That would give them power to exist, to overtake us. If we don’t speak it, we don’t have to own it. Responsibility for reality is more terrifying than the circumstances themselves. Close the closet door whenever the light goes off. Don’t look under the bed. There are monsters there with our faces.

“When I get … upset … I get irritable,” she said, swirling the ice in her glass as she stared downward, as if her eyes directed it. “I pick fights with people, argue over nothing. I’m sorry.” She replaced names with apologies because sorry felt smooth on her lips, because it slipped out more frequently, the worse she felt, the more she threw words at walls, at people, at things to deflect their inquisitions.

How do you feel?
What’s wrong?

I’m sorry.
I’m sorry.
I’m sorry.

“Upset” implies ownership, and she confesses a love affair with control. She can walk upset on a leash that tightens with her chest, can bite her tongue to keep its tirades within her body where they eat her insides. Depression has her around the neck instead, and it streams around her in rapids that drown the world. Depression is hook-barbed, and snags her skin irreparably. Upset just slices, slashes, burns.

Words can be weapons we use against the world, and that includes ourselves. When context is everything, connotation is king.


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