Death By Pencil

In third grade, I accidentally stabbed myself with a pencil, and decided I was going to die.

Never mind the fact that pencils are actually filled with graphite. Death by lead poisoning was thrust to the forefront of my mind, all other thoughts fading to perpetual white noise in the background as I contemplated how painful my demise was bound to be.

By lunchtime, I’d begun to mentally compose a goodbye letter to my family, explaining with poise and eloquence how grateful I was for their sacrifices, their love, and their comfort. As I walked home from school, I began the tedious task of divvying up my few prized possessions to various friends: my pink Gameboy Advance, my collection of Barry Manilow, and my teddy bear Cuddles. Planning for death was exhausting.

The day of the pencil incident trudged along, blinding fear of the “great beyond” interfering with my ability to keep a straight face when tears gurgled at the back of my throat. More than anything, I wanted to tell my mother: let her give me a hug, murmuring words of comfort as she consoled me. Nevertheless, I said nothing, determined for some irrational reason to keep my mouth glued shut. I spoke not of violent school supplies or accidental stabbings. Trapped by my stubborn silence, I could only endure the remainder of my afternoon as it plunged into paranoia.

But why? To me, this self-diagnosed illness would only become real, become tangible enough to steal my life, if I dared to say it out loud. The short sentence, “Mom, Dad, I think something’s wrong with me,” became equivalent, in my mind, to throwing myself off a cliff into a sea of bloodthirsty sharks.

The silence was easier.

Eventually, my resolve to stay strong during my final hour crumbled away, and I descended into melodramatic sobs as my parents fought to make sense of the garbled noise spurting from my mouth. One glass of water later, my mom delivered perhaps the single most wonderful piece of news I’d ever heard: I was going to be fine. The relief was so immense that it made me feel silly for waiting so long to speak to my parents, for allowing my paranoia to spawn and multiply because I was afraid of making noise.

When I was younger, I found it hard to get myself to talk: a chronic case of second-guessing made spontaneous declarations impossible, and when tragic situations demanded words of consolation, I struggled to translate my sympathy into coherent sentences. My communication handicap was never a lack of words to use; it was a lack of the bravery to use them. But after my infamous graphite wound, I began to reevaluate my stance on the art of talking.

I have a lot to say: I want to speak about my unyielding faith in equal rights, about my sturdy—albeit slightly unfair—opinion that the modern music industry has been infected by a gross need for profit, about my friends and my family and my dog Charlie Brown. I want to speak, because, past all of my doubt and anxiety, I want to be heard.

Now, I realize that silence is unnecessary. It is a burden, a roadblock in the web of conversations that allows individuals to cooperate, to collaborate, and to exchange ideas. If I don’t speak, I can’t contribute, and I deprive myself of the priceless chance to add my piece of mind to the world.

Surely, there’s a massive difference between communicating a fear of lead poisoning to one’s parents and sharing with humanity, let’s say, the Theory of General Relativity. But however frivolous, or however profound, spoken words should not and cannot be blocked by irrational fear.

Years ago, I was certain I would die young from a fatal pencil injury. That night, because of a discussion with my parents, I realized that my life would inevitably continue. More than that, I realized that talking to others is a privilege, not a burden, even when the words are difficult. While silence may be easier for a ridiculous, terrified little girl, it will never be better than a conversation.

I also learned that pencil “lead” is actually graphite; in my defense, where’s the logic in that?