Three months old. That's how old I was when my Dad came home from work to find my Mom tightly clenching a book about how to raise strong willed children. She was frantic, maybe desperate, the story goes. Because I was fire. This child in her care was fire. I was a fiery baby. I was a fiery toddler. A kid with passion. I remember the burning. Inside I felt this fire that can only be described as an eagerness so strong I ached. It was like I had something inside of me that had to get out or it would eat me alive. I was loud. I was wild. I had something to say. I had so much to say. I was a girl with a mission. Limits were simply challenges. I didn't need anyone to listen in order to speak. I didn't need to please, only to be free. I didn't need anyone to tell me that the way the world treated me was wrong. No one told me that. But I knew. I knew with the knowing of ancient wisdom born in my soul and flowing free in my spirit, swirling around in a mind not yet subdued.
But childhood is fleeting and by 11 my fire was suffocating. Inside was a voice but the world had a voice too. I was passion. Dial it back. I was sure. Question. My blood boiled. Calm down. My spirit wandered. Lasso that baby back to Earth, darling girl, you don't belong out there. I was capable. Sit back and feel useless. I was strong. Hold back. I was independent. Woah there, child, know your place. I had a message, a voice, a conscience, a fight, but the world said, "shut up and listen."
What kind of a world does it take to extinguish the fire of a girl like me? A girl who was told the rules and had no reason to think anything else existed yet she did. She did think there was something else out there. She knew in her bones that life could be more so she raged. How does a fire like that go out so young? Eleven. Believing that voice constantly whispering inside of her to cross the lines they drew around her was a devil inside of her. The voice would whisper, "you've got so far to go," and she'd snap, "hush, you devil, you'll get me in trouble."
The boys started calling when I was eight. By ten they were aggressive. By eleven I was undone. This fiery girl didn't even know how to say no anymore. The boys were trained to be aggressive and to come after me like a possession they were owed. I was trained to submit, to be their possession. I told boys yes when I meant no. I was quiet when I meant to yell. I was passive when I meant to fight back. I was ruined when I meant to be fierce. I went along with their ideas as to not make waves. I sought peace with them to the detriment of peace for myself. I disappeared, that's what girls do.
By age 13 there were people saying of me, "she goes through boys like water" yet I still had no desire to even be with a boy. Oh, our world. Nothing in me even wanted to go out with boys yet I had a reputation for being with "too many." I was tortured because I was born with fire inside of me but it was doused in age old misogyny till all that was left was a pile of hot coals of bitter resentment and self loathing. These coals still burned but never lit with the life giving power fire is meant to give.
By 15 years old I spent every second of my time with my abusive boyfriend. At the end of my rope, confused and buried in manipulation, I'd snap at him in front of others and they'd ask of me, "why are you so mean to him?" He slammed me against the lockers in the halls of our school and I was called to the school counselor's office to talk about it but he was never approached. I disappeared, that's what girls do. I forgot that I was fire.
I remember now. I know my fire like an infant recognizes the sound of her Mother's voice. When the voice of the world tells me that I'm extreme when all I really am is tired of the bullshit, I burn on. When the voice of the world tells me to calm down I turn and scream, "calm? What the hell has calm ever accomplished?" When the voice of the world tells me to sit down I stand taller and push my feet into the earth knowing my place exactly. When the voice of the world says that I should just put it all behind me, I tell the story again and louder. When I'm tempted to shrink again I get quiet and listen for the sounds of simmering inside. There she is. Fire. Let her burn. Let her rage. I tend to her, add kindling, reignite her flames and rage on and on with the fire of sisters before me and sisters all across this weary world.
How did I remember? Women. The women rising up. The women healing. The women working. The women birthing. The women nursing. The women owning their stories. The women preaching. Oh god, the women preaching. The women who stood up in their churches that taught, "a woman is to be quiet, I do not permit her to teach" and they taught anyway, with ferocity and wisdom. The women being who they are, every ounce of who they are. The women unabashedly telling their truth. The women lifting each other off the ground where they were left to die and tending to each other's wounds and bringing each other back to life. The women waking up and moving mountains. Sisters rising. That's how I remembered that I am fire. A whisper from another woman who also remembered that she is fire. We took each other's hands and we burned bright and steadfast and we warmed the cold, dark places of hearts abandoned by this world.
I am fire. I'll never forget it again.