Damp, sweaty hands trembled. Still hidden by strands of hair, color erupted in my face. I fumbled as I adjusted the calico button on my right shirtsleeve. My gaze slowly rose. Our eyes met.
Thirty-five practiced words remained glued to the inside of my mouth. Stuck. Their transition from my brain to the air had been trapped in a glacier of patterned behavior - a no man's land of love and violence. One, deep breath rattled the words from their cages, and I spoke with a conviction rooted in generations of hardship:
I want my strength to be measured not by the abuse that I've endured but instead, I want to measure strength by the choice to sever myself from those who mean to do me harm.
Thirty-five words, and the spaces between them, created a crack. An opening. An escape.