My mom said, you put so much of yourself online. These strangers know too much about you. Stop giving to these people. Keep your secrets to yourself. Then they’ll mean more when you tell them.
My aunt said, girls, you want to keep some parts of yourself hidden. Don’t go out showing too much skin. Boys don’t want to marry girls who they’ve already seen. I was thirteen, sitting quietly in a knee length dress that had been picked out for me, as I listened to women around me chat about modesty. My cousin touched my covered shoulder and laughed, Why would someone buy the cake if they could get it for free?
Three years later, I sat in the back of his parent’s car, topless and covered in his sweat. I was steaming up the windows by spilling my guts. I told him stories about sucking in the scenery from an airplane window before I moved. I told him about running out the back door at a party and shakily skate boarding to a golf course to breathe. I told him about spending an afternoon rolling down a grass hill, looking for a way to waste time. I was trying to tell him I loved him without saying it outright. He looked out the window, nodded at me, and said, “How many others know these things about you? I mean, you’re sweet, but are these things you’re just telling me?”
I have been taught to save parts of myself for others. My thoughts, they say, mean more when they are unvocalized. My body, I’ve been taught, is a greater gift when I keep it hidden away. I am better swallowed, kept apart, not listened to, not shared, not publicized, stuck in the shadows, invisible, forgotten. I have learned to sit down, stay quiet, and always cross my legs. I have learned how to speak only when spoken to. I know how to be silent. I know how to be sweet. I have had extensive lessons in both. But I do not know how to be me.