When you were younger, you decided that each person got one real scream in their life. No one told you this or even put the idea in your head, you just decided it. It became fact to you. Each person gets one real, earth-shattering, every-head-in-the-vicinity-turning scream. Most people use it when they are young. Small children who think scraped knees are the end of the world. Infants who can’t articulate their needs. Toddlers who can, but don’t want to. Some people use it in moments of frustration or anger or sadness. Moments when their world is collapsing around them or when they are in grave danger. You have been saving your scream.
Once, you were in a car accident. It was bad, blood and broken glass and spinning out of control. The smell of burst air bags and smoke. Your voice felt stuck in your throat and you couldn’t seem to make a sound. Once the car stopped spinning, you screamed. You were not sure why, the worst was long past over, your reaction was too delayed, it didn’t matter if you made noise now. But you did. Afterwards, you worried you had used your one scream.
Once, after you got your first car, you went out for a drive. Windows down, music blasting, so many ideas of freedom running through your head. You wanted to scream from excitement. You didn’t, of course, maybe because you were afraid you couldn’t anymore, or maybe because you were afraid you still could.
Once, you were attacked. Maybe walking down dark streets alone so late wasn’t a good idea. Maybe staying at work so late wasn’t a good idea. Maybe working in that neighborhood wasn’t a good idea. When it happened, you didn’t scream. You couldn’t. All you could think was that you had already used it. On the ride home from the hospital, you screamed. Now you were just angry you still could, but didn’t.
Once, you had a nightmare. It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last, but when you woke up, you could’ve sworn there was someone else in the room. You were sitting bolt upright, drenched in sweat, sheets tangled between your legs. You felt paralyzed. You whimpered to make sure your voice still worked, and when you saw a shadow move, you screamed. When the cops showed up some time later (you don’t know how much, it may have been seconds or years) saying your neighbors had called about yelling, you were sure that was it.
Once, you went shopping. It was a nice day, sunny but not too bright, warm but not too hot, breezy but not too windy. You had bought some gifts for friends. Nothing too fancy, but all very personal, well thought out. You watched a small child dancing on the sidewalk to the sounds of a street performer and you felt okay. Without a care, the child spun into the street, right in front of oncoming traffic. You dropped your bags, reaching towards the child with all of your might, like you could somehow close the twenty-foot gap between you if you could just reach hard enough. You don’t even realize you are screaming until you stop.
Once, you got fired. You were sort of expecting it. You hadn’t really been performing your best, but when it happened, you were angry. You felt like the world had turned against you, like you had been dealt the worst hand there was. You tried to scream at your boss (ex-boss) but your voice was hoarse and scratchy from the emotion filling it. When you left, you didn’t think you had the energy to scream, and when you got home, the noise you let out was closer to a wail, the product of too much pent-up emotion, a dam bursting inside of you. You wondered if that would count.
Once, you got very sick. The doctors gave you six months. You wanted to go on adventures, travel the world, jump out of an airplane, swim with sharks, but you could barely get out of bed. You wondered if you had ever used that scream. You wondered if it mattered. You wondered if you mattered. You never once considered that maybe you had been wrong.
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