I had this sticker chart in kindergarten- it wasn’t a class-wide thing, just something for me and one other girl- Jessica- the other big talker in class. Mrs. Romaler, our teacher, would give us a star sticker for every day we were quiet, and draw a frown face for every day we were loud.
I didn’t always get a sticker. I’ve always had a big mouth.
Throughout my young life, being a girl who was outspoken, opinionated, and loud, was frowned upon, whether that frown was drawn or not. My big mouth bothered Mrs Romaler, it bothered my misogynistic father, it bothered my Christian High School Principal, it bothered the church I grew up in. This never resulted in my not being loud; it never stopped me from voicing my opinions, that was all just a part of me. It did, however, create a lot of guilt and self-judgement around it. I tried to keep my voice down, to be aware, “some voices just carry,” my father would say, “even at a whisper.”
On Tuesday night I went to Northeast Kingdom with my dog and my laptop to have a beer on the patio and get some writing done. (I wonder how many little girls with big mouths and big opinions grow up to be writers.)
It was 9pm when I left. I was walking on Starr Street, just between Wyckoff and Irving Avenues. I looked across the street to my left and noticed the pasta place and beer bar that were open, and then a man came from behind me, threw his arm around my shoulder like we were old pals, and said ‘Hey.’
I looked at him and realized he was a stranger.
I’ve worked in bars for far too long, and have had far too many drunk strangers touch me like we’re old pals, so without missing a beat I pulled away and told him not to touch me. A simple enough request. Then he showed me his knife, and told me to shut the fuck up, or he’d stab me.
I looked at the knife, I looked at my dog, I thought of the laptop and story that were in my bag, and from a very real and deep place, I said,
That part makes me laugh now. No? As if he was presenting it as a question, or an option and I was allowed to have an opinion about it. But the thing is, I did have an opinion about it. No, I do not want you to hurt me. No, I will not let you. No.
I remembered the row of restaurants just across the street, I looked behind me, eager to find an opening between parked cars to slip through- dear god, fine people of Bushwick, please stop parking so damn close together- and when I found one, I backed away, pulling my dog through with me.
“Get the fuck away from me,” I said. And as I backed up onto the street, still looking him in the eye, I screamed as high and loud as I possibly could, until he walked away.
I’m a small chick, just under five feet tall, I don’t have a lot of muscle, I’m probably not especially fast, I don’t (but soon will) carry mace, but I do have a voice that carries, even in a whisper, and despite the requests of Mrs. Romaler and her star stickers, my father, my Christian High School Principal, and a man with a knife on Starr Street, I have never, ever, shut the fuck up.
I encourage you to not to either.