I didn’t sleep well the night before. I rarely do before giving a speech. Or really before anything that requires me to be brave. But it was a different kind of unrest, and I woke up feeling a different kind of nervousness. Still, I couldn’t pinpoint the issue, so I went forth with my day.
In recent years, I’ve been pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Show up when I don’t really want to leave the house. Say yes when it scares me. Go bigger. Live. So I joined Toastmasters to learn how to deliver my stories and messages with greater impact. With healing has come bravery.
So there I stood, a tiara perched atop my head, the introduction to my speech delivered, and then…nothing.
No, that’s not true. 1997 was flashing before my eyes, but my speech was gone. I cleared my throat as tears threatened, thinking I could cough away the memory of a gun shot, of a tragic ending. I tried to speak again. If words came out, I do not recall. I stepped back and coughed again. At some point, I ended up with a cup of water to help clear the junk that was skuttling around in my throat. But water couldn’t scare away the ghosts of yesterday. My hands trembled, and though I could see the roomful of fellow speakers, I saw December 7 more clearly.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I can’t do this right now.”
I was in the hallway then, a short walk I don’t really remember taking, and I could hear the room moving on with the next speaker, and someone was checking on me, and I was holding my face and feeling my guts ripping from my soul while trying to balance a cup of water in a hand that had taken on a life of its own, and I say that I will not try again, not today.
After making my way to the closest bathroom, I let out a guttural cry. I allowed myself time to mourn this moment, this failed attempt at speaking about…healing. In the mirror, I see my tiara. It’s no longer on my head, but I’m holding it, this symbol of my reclamation of self, and I am reminded that these tears are good and hard-fought. That standing in that room is progress, even if the attempt failed. I am not broken anymore. I am so much more than anyone ever tried to make me.
And then I go back. Back to the room of people who just watched me fall down. Back to the room where there is grace, where there is help, where there is courage. In the space of a few moments to share, I tell them I’m not ready for this speech right now, but one day I will give it. That today, today I give myself grace for the hard place I’m in, for the anniversary that is upon me, the day that even 18 years later still affects me, though it does so in a different way every year. I share that my speech is about healing, and lo, it is a journey that I am still on. In this place, I was vulnerable beyond the speech. In another lifetime, I’d have fled from the room and gone home and never, ever returned. In another lifetime, I wouldn’t have been in this room at all.
As my friend dropped me off at home after, she said, “Promise me you won’t beat yourself up about this.” And I knew as she said it that I wouldn’t. Instead, I offered myself continued grace and understanding. I’ve come a long way, baby, but the journey continues.