The first piece of constructive criticism I ever got

Was at my fourth grade parent-teacher conference


My teacher said:

“Sarah doesn’t ask for help when she needs it.”


I have always cared too much about what people think

Allowed my battle scars to live in two places:

In my head

Or on a page

Trusted myself more than I trusted them

Whoever “them” was that month

To handle me with care


I am able to talk about my fragility

In the way that most white people in California

Talk about their Spanish skills

They can understand it, mostly

When they hear other people speak it

Know when to smile and nod

It comes easiest when read and written alone

Without having to hang on the clothesline

What’s been soaked in tears

I am in the habit of airing myself out

Where the neighbors can’t see


To me, fragile sounds like another person’s voice

But never my own

It knows me

But I’ve never allowed myself to know it


The first time I decided to let someone in

I watched my skin become south-facing window panes for her

Every inch of me inviting what I thought was sunlight

To illuminate what was inside

Every inch of me one false move from shattering

What I didn’t know

Is that what she saw was plastic

The kind of thing that toys are made of


On that day

The sand from every time I laid my towel

At the edge of her rising tide  

Was blown into glass

And you can still find pieces of me
Scattered on the floorboard of her car


Proud, I invited her again

To look at what had been created

She picked up the glass of me

And how easily I forgot

That she had little care

For things like fingerprints

And the way that they smudge

She laughed

Tossed me back into my box

And I didn’t break

Maybe I was plastic

Either way,

Her fingerprints made it impossible

For anyone who arrived later

To see inside without cleaning up

What she left behind


I packed myself up that day

Ripped off the sticker of my return address

And for every day that followed

I believed that admitting to feeling fragile

Was the same thing

As an invitation to be broken


I wonder how many times I will continue sending boxes

That say “Handle with Care”

On the inside of the top flap

And angering when the people I send them to

Cannot see

What can only be read when opened


It was not until I was unpacked by careful hands

That I learned

That all of these walls I’ve put up
Are just the moving boxes of every time I told myself

I needed to leave in order to get somewhere


For most of my life I thought the opposite of fragile was strong

And I’ll probably spend my whole life re-learning

That fragility is not the same thing

As inevitability
That just because I can break

Doesn’t mean I will

Just because someone can break me

Doesn’t mean they will


Pain is not a prerequisite for function

Neither is being shatterproof

And I used to believe that if it doesn’t hurt

It isn’t working

Maybe that’s why I would drink until I puked

And ran until I did the same.


When I allow someone to see the breakable

I am not less likely to shatter if handled carelessly

But I am learning to share my instructions

Write “Handle with Care” on the top of the box


Saying the words

“I feel fragile”

Will always feel foreign on my tongue


But it’s something I’m learning

With the help of those fluent in the language of bravery

And like the start of any conversation

Perhaps all I really need to learn

Is how to say hello

Greet the thing that makes me human

And hope it says hello back.



Image courtesy of Kristian Francke, Flickr Creative Commons


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