How To Be A Wall

How to Be a Wall

by Hannah Rials

Platform 5
No. 1 – Already Be a Wall

Become a wall before it is necessary. I can’t instruct you on this because I was naïve. I thought, Let pain come; it’s a part of life. I thought being a wall was cold-hearted, and that I am not. But please learn from my mistakes. Being a wall isn’t being heartless. It’s just the smart thing to do.

No. 2 – Remember the Pain

This is the worst step—I’m sorry. But I have a feeling that if you’re reading this, you’re like me; you absorb words. They hit your skin and seep into your blood stream, the very blood that pumps to your heart. So that phrase people say when you’re too sensitive: “Don’t take things to heart,”—well, they don’t understand it’s literal and physical reactions to a permanent action. Once spoken, words can never be erased.

So, you have to remember the pain.

What was the first insult you absorbed?

“What are those bumps on your arms?”

“Ew, she’s gross. She just picked her nose.”

Oh, and the classic—“Fatty.”

Who was the first person to betray your trust?

Alexis, sixth grade. I told her I liked Chancellor, but he’d never like me so keep it a secret, okay? We giggled. She asked me every day if I’d talked to him, as you do when you’re eleven years old. Every time, he passed by or talked to me, I couldn’t help but blush. She made it seem like such a big deal.

Alexis, of course, did not keep my secret. Field day was the culmination. When I asked to play kickball with him and his friends, he said, “Look, I don’t like you. So, don’t talk to me.” You can bet I cried. But not until after the world was gone and I was alone. The boy went from being a good friend to the boy who avoided the fat girl with a crush on him. And I’d lost my friend.

Who was the last?

Your first boyfriend, the one who made you feel special, who called you beautiful, who knew how to touch you in just the right way, who opened your eyes and your heart more than you thought he could.

I waited twenty-one years for that first date, the movie perfect first date. I didn’t expect to fall so fast. But every time he ran his fingers over my knee, my heart jumped into my throat. Where did eight hours go? How had we spent that much time together and not realized it? Was it possible that he’d drive two hours to see me, just days after our first date?

My head was in a constant state of revolution, moving twice the pace of the earth. Did I just lose my head then? Our stolen days together—because they were days—replayed on a reel in my head. He touched me, and I spun; he took my hand and pulled me into new adventures.

Then, without a notice, after I opened myself up, he’s done, leaving my heart shattered. “I don’t want to break you. You’re too…new.”

They say, “Roll with the punches.” I rolled, and as always, I fell.

When did you realize your friends talked about you behind your back?

I’m sorry, I can’t help how I was raised. I’m sorry I didn’t know all the words for drugs or about sex. I’m sorry you didn’t feel comfortable talking to me because I was a goody two shoes who’d go tell my mom. I never told my mom anything.

When did your parents utter the first comment that might’ve been out of love but definitely didn’t feel lovely?

“She has to do something! She can’t just sit there and keep getting fat!”

“We’ve tried all the sports. Maybe it’ll go away when she gets older.”

Scoff, nearly audible headshake. “I don’t care if she doesn’t like sports. I’ll pick one for her.”

“How about I take her to a dietician. We can figure something out.”

“Whatever. I don’t care. Do something.”

When did you start thinking those things about yourself?

Fat. Ugly. Goody two shoes. Spoiled. Ignorant. Naïve. Needy. Clingy. Entitled. Weak. Too sensitive. Dorky. Will never understand.

When did you start believing them?

The moment I thought the words.

No. 3 – Freeze Them

This might contradict the idea of not being cold-hearted. It doesn’t. The instruction is not to freeze it. “It” being your heart. Pay attention to wording. I said, freeze them—all the words, insults, questions that have hurt you, left you speechless, marred your shirt and pillow with tears, pushed you over the edge. These are your bricks, the foundation of your wall. Don’t let them pump back into your bloodstream, to your lips, to your brain. The heart is a strong muscle. It’s not nearly as delicate as the brain. So, keep those words, store them, and freeze them so they are solid, so they can’t keep coming back.

No. 4 – Brick by Brick, Word by Word

Build that wall, brick by bitter brick, word by hurtful word. Don’t worry about order or organization. Just build for security and fortitude. Stack, mortar, stack, mortar. Don’t think, just work. Don’t read the words. Don’t remember. Just work, until your heart, the Pandora’s box of pain, is walled in, a fortress to be reckoned with. Come at me. See if your words hurt. You are the Tower of London, housing the most precious jewels in the world. You are the Pentagon, keeping the world’s most dangerous secrets.

Many will try to breach the wall, piercing hooks into the foundation. They’ll try to throw ropes over the edge. Only they won’t find the top. Not if you keep building.

No. 5 – Act Normal

To everyone else, there is no wall around your heart. You smile, laugh, show thought and compassion. They will never know that you are protected. When a friend mutters something judgmental, when a boy tries to break you, when you think something about yourself, it won’t matter. The words will float up your bloodstream and meet a fortified roadblock. When they are unable to arrive in their intended destination, with a heavy sigh—of concern from them and relief from you—they’ll float right back around, and the next time you go for a jog, you’ll sweat those words right out. And you can go along with your merry life, loving the world, heartache free.

No. 6 – The Wall will Fall

It may take one hundred years; it may take five minutes; it may take a single word. But one day, your wall will crumble like Jericho.

Please don’t panic. Take a breath, let it happen. Let the words pump in and out, in and out, breathe through the pain and use that pain to make you stronger and happy. Know that they only affect you if you let them.

It’s okay to let them. It’s okay to turn the shower as hot as it will go. It’s okay to not be able to stand, to instead pull your knees to your heaving chest and let your head fall, let your tears blend in with the shower stream. Let the wall crumble away. But it’s okay. Tomorrow’s a new day with building blocks for a new wall.

About the Author

Hannah Rials

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Hannah Rials is a senior creative writing major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; she will be working on her MA at Bath Spa University, England this fall. Her first young adult novel Ascension was published in 2016 with the sequel to follow July 2018.