I’ve spent some time working with at-risk youth, in high schools and detention centers, even within my own family. They, more than anybody that I’ve professionally worked with, have made the biggest impression on me.
For instance, one of the girls I work with has a lot of anger, anger that manifests itself in physical fights. She expresses her emotions externally – as within, so without. What is odd to me, though, is that when she fights, she always takes her shirt off. Now, I’ve seen a lot of tactics used before. I can understand preparation– perhaps doing something to avoid hair pulling. I’ve seen girls take off their earrings so someone couldn’t grab them, take off their shoes because heels aren’t the best thing to battle in. These are reasonable things to remove, I can understand the thought process behind it. The first time I ever saw her take off her shirt for a fight, though, I couldn’t even focus on the battle because I was so thrown by the strategy.
My inner dialogue went something like this: More aerodynamic? Does it aid in intimidation to remove articles of clothing, like a gorilla pounding on its chest, say, ‘I’m serious, let me show you how serious I am by taking off this pastel baby blue button up?’ Perhaps it was a distraction technique – you know what would distract someone in a fight? Boobs! Maybe, it was a metaphor. She was shedding her skin, about to strike like a snake. She could have just been being materialistic. Maybe, she just bought that shirt, and she didn’t want blood stains on it or wasn’t ready for it to get ripped.
After much contemplation, I came to the conclusion that she takes off her shirt because it makes it harder for someone to grab her, one less thing for someone to hold onto, one less thing to hold her back. Your own shirt can be used as a weapon against you. If someone grabs it and pulls it over your head, they can do some damage while you’re defenseless. I even recall one fight where she, not only, took her shirt off but smeared Vaseline all over herself for the sole reason of being slippery, so no one could stop her. She just came out swinging, slick and slimy.
But, what I want her to realize is that we can be our own obstacles; run into walls that we built ourselves; be shackled in our own chains; clip our own wings and hold ourselves back because, mostly, the fight we need to win is with ourselves.
I don’t want her to always be so quick to anger, to see violence as a solution, because I know that anger is sometimes just an extension of fear and when I see her fight, I don’t think, ‘wow, she’s so strong,’ but instead, ‘wow, she’s so scared.’ I wonder what she’s afraid of: The truth? Lies? Herself?
There is a quote — “An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.” I don’t want her ship to sink, but she is letting the water in. I want her to fix the holes, to locate where the anger comes in and find some solutions. I want her to patch up the parts of herself that let things permeate before she drowns in it, and if I ever see her take off anything again, if there’s anything she rips off of herself with such serious certainty, I hope it’s all the anger that she wears. If she ever lathers herself in anything again, I hope she lathers herself with love.
Being her friend is always an adventure, and one day she will be the captain of her own emotions. One day she will sail the seas and discover new territory, not of fighting, but of freedom, and that is one boat I’d like to be on – no shoes, no shirt, no problem!