Letting Lips Speak

by J. Barringer


“Chop off the lips quickly

To stop the words in her mouth

She’s settled back in the chair

Temporarily relieved that the pain was kept

Buried and kept from rising up.

She has no idea what the words will do.”

Can I keep my secrets forever? I have many, but there is one that eats away at me when it comes to mind. Like Melinda Sordino, the protagonist in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, I have a secret. Her secret involves Andy ”It” Evans, who raped her at a summer party (Anderson 135). Andy silences her “IT is my nightmare and I can’t wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks. Good thing my lips are stitched together or I’d throw up,” (Anderson 45-46). I know such emotion. I can feel my own throat closing out of fear and remembrance of my own “It”. He was doing his homework. I thought he was ignoring me. I played with my pencils, I was finished looking up the spelling words for the week. I wrote my sentences with each letter twisted up to create syllables. I scribbled onto my paper with chicken scratch. I was good at this. With absent-minded innocence my eyes glanced over one sentence. One definition.


Impotent /ˈimpətnt/ adjective :


unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless.

“he was seized with an impotent anger”

Synonyms: powerless, ineffective, ineffectual, inadequate, weak, feeble, useless, worthless, futile;



It was hard processing this definition as young as I was, but I understood enough of the world to know that I never wanted to be powerless. I never wanted to be weak, or feeble, or useless, or worthless. Those words I knew. Those words wrinkled and burned my eyes so badly that my heart ached. I saw them. I feared them. But I wasn’t afraid of him. Not yet. He was still doing his homework. Algebra, I think. It is hard to remember why the j’s, and h’s, and x’s all got mixed up in math. I shook my head. I was going to stick to words. I could add an “I” to the word “never”, to the word “want”, next to “be”, thrown beside “impotent”. I had something. I had something.


“I never want to be impotent.”


Oh, I was so satisfied with myself you would have thought I won a Pulitzer prize for that sentence. It takes talent, stringing words together. At least that was what I thought back then. It takes skill to be able to make sense of every bit of information we get and sew our own thoughts and opinions together. I was light. I was free. His dark eyes slithered over and burdened me.


“What’re you so happy about?” He asked in his slightly raspy voice. Upon clearing his throat and staring at me harder, he tried speaking again.


“Why’re you smiling like that, you’re so weird.” He shook his head dismissing me in words, but his eyes lingered. My heart yearns for my earlier defiance and spunk. It disappeared with my strength to stand up. But in that moment I answered him with my fiery snapping fingers.


“Mind your own business, and I’ll mind mine.” I answered  in only a way that I could. He wasn’t intimidated in the least bit by my domineering little self. I thought to myself. I don’t want to be impotent. I never want anyone to view me as an impotent being. I raised my feathers, bright as flames, glistening with boldness, and told him with a flick of my hand and roll of my eyes that I was me, and I am mine. I was not afraid of him. Not yet.


He was perfectly nonplussed by my phoenix showcase. Shouldn’t he be wriggling like a coward? I thought so. I thought I could eat werewolves, wrestle vampires, and catch Frankenstein on a hook.


“Do me a favor,” He told me innocently enough.


Favors for a friend. Favors for a cousin. Favors for your father. Favors for your mother. Favors for her. They say “Do me a favor” with a calm, innocent lilt to their voices, and they hide the beast in their eyes. You fooled me. He fooled me. Do him a favor. I did him a favor, and  I have never been able to talk about it. Not until I picked up Speak in high school. I am Melinda Sordino. I am Jasmyn. I am John, I am Kayla, I am Charlotte, I am Michael, I am victim. I cried. I kept crying. I still cry sometimes. Do me a favor he said. Baby girl socks were lying on the floor with their edges of lace. My favorite socks beside my school shirt with white buttons and a fruit punch stain, bright pink. Do me a favor. I did him a favor, and after the favor I was rejected. He tossed me aside. He never cared.


Talk girl, my mother says. You don’t talk to me anymore. You don’t say how you feel. You don’t let me in, you build your walls so high, little girl. Don’t you know you are my sunshine? Talk girl, my mother says. This is my weaving of words. This is the importance of literature; the significance that reminds me to let my lips speak. I am Melinda Sordino. I am Jasmyn. I am life, breath, hope, love. I am me, and I am mine. My voice is mine.


In the United States alone,  18.8% of African-American women suffer from sexual assault  (USDOJ).

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