Say it like you mean it

Writer. Recycling police. Human. I like telling stories. “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

Image of Short Story
Did I say something wrong? I don’t get it.

Well, I do get it. I understand I say things that people don’t necessarily expect. It’s been 4 years since the accident, and it’s taken me about 3 and a half to really grasp that concept. I say what I mean. And I don’t think twice about it.

Everyone else doesn’t. I understand that I’m different, but I don’t understand why. Maybe we all need a traumatic brain injury to quite literally knock out our filters.

They call it “lack of impulse control.” But I’ve come to view everyone else as having “hazardous levels of impulse control.” Control to a fault. Biting their tongues until they bleed. Overthinking potential consequences of every action so they just stay in one place out of fear.

Maybe I can call Nike and ask to be their new spokesperson. “Just do it” has kind of become my personal truth. But I digress.

My dad was looking at me like I’d just slapped him across the face. Apparently I had said something wrong.

“Jenna, go to your room.”

“Dad, I’m 17, you can’t tell me to go to my room.”

“Until you’re 18, you’re under MY roof and have to obey MY orders. Now go. To your. Room.”

I thought I might’ve seen actual steam coming out of his ears. More out of fear than obedience, I turned and hurried up the stairs. Once in the safe confines of my room, I let out an audible sigh.

I pulled out my journal and added a new entry.

April 16

Dad doesn’t like when I poke my nose into his dating life. I was just trying to help.
I’d seen the way he looked at Rachel’s mom at the school drop-off. I thought it was worth trying to get the two of them together. Everyone’s so scared to just say something, to tell someone they like them! It’s silly really. I guess I didn’t need to tell her the whole ugly story about my mom leaving us. Maybe that’s what set him off. Either way, note to self, stay out of dad’s romantic life.

I flipped through some previous entries.

March 12
Georgie doesn’t like when I criticize her outfits. She asked for my opinion, but I think she wanted me to lie. She wouldn’t sit with me at lunch today. Note to self - shower her in compliments even if I don’t mean them. She’s fragile and insecure.

January 23

Don’t correct the teacher. Or at least try to ask it as a question, rather than telling them they are wrong. It’s certainly not going to help my standing in the junior class, and it won’t help my grades either. Everyone laughed, but I think they were laughing at me. And Mrs. Reed wasn’t laughing.

December 2

Told Nick I liked him. We’ve been friends for years and he’s super cute, so I just told him how I felt. He reminded me he has a girlfriend. I asked him why he wouldn’t just break up with her. He reminded me that would require him to feel the same way about me. I walked home crying.

I guess that’s why people bite their tongues. It’s a self-defense mechanism.

Clearly I’d forgotten my entry on December 2nd.

Things hadn’t exactly been easy adjusting to this new way of being. The hardest thing for my dad was his constant worry that I was going to get myself hurt or in serious trouble. More so than any normal 17 year olds. I acted without fear of consequence, without calculating risk. If someone dared me to jump from the roof—and I actually wanted to—I wouldn’t think twice.

There was a knock on my door.

“Come in.”

My dad looked embarrassed. He sat down on the edge of my bed.

“I’m sorry, Jenna. I’m still getting used to how honest you are. It hurts sometimes, but it’s usually the truth. But you should’ve left your mother out of your conversation with Rachel’s mom. She’s sick, Jenna, and she’s getting the help she needs.”

“She’s not sick, Dad. She’s an addict. She’s never coming back.”

At that he paused. He didn't look angry. He looked defeated.

“You know what. You’re right. It’s been 10 years. Maybe I’m just lying to myself because hope is easier to feel than grief.”

I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around him.

“I feel like I’m the mirror nobody wants to look into. Because I actually show the truth.”

“Well, Jenna, you’re often right, which is why it’s so hard to look at you.” He teased, and started tickling me until I was really laughing.

“I just got off the phone with Elizabeth—er, Rachel’s mother. We’re going out to dinner tomorrow night”

I pulled back from this grip to flash him an “I told you so” grin. He was actually blushing. And fighting hard not to smile too big.

As soon as he left my room, I pulled out my phone and called Georgie. I asked her if I could borrow one of her dresses this weekend, affirming that I love her style. She happily agreed. Once she decided she liked me again, she eagerly dove into the story of her latest crush Jackson, and I decided to stay quiet and let the Georgie train run its course. I didn’t like Jackson very much, but I was going to let her figure that out for herself.

I guess that means therapy is working.


The next day at school, I was conscious not to correct any teachers. I complimented Georgie’s outfit. I actually did like it. I sat next to Nick and his girlfriend at lunch. I wanted to stay friends with him—maybe not become friends with his girlfriend, but I could be nice.

At the car pick-up line after school, I was standing next to Rachel talking about how great it would be if our parents got married and we became sisters.

Rachel’s mom pulled up first.

“Hi, Ms. Peterson!” I waved excitedly. Rachel got in the front seat and I leaned my head in the window.

“I’m so excited for you to go out with my dad tonight. He was blushing telling me about it last night. He hasn’t gone on a date in more than 17 years! So he’s probably going to be really nervous but I promise he’s the best guy I know.”

She was covering her mouth to stifle a laugh.

“You know, Jenna, I think your dad would kill you for saying those things. But you can tell him I’m excited, too.”

“Tell me yourself.” My dad placed his hand on my shoulder. I tensed. Oops, there I go butting into his love life again.

“Hi Elizabeth,” he took my place leaning into the car window.

“Hi Adam.” She was beaming

“I’m sure everything my daughter told you was embarrassing yet entirely true.”

“It was complimentary...and adorable. Don’t worry.”

“Pick you up at seven?”

“Seven’s perfect.”

They drove off. My dad finally loosened his grip on my shoulder.

“What am I gonna do with you?” He asked. He was smiling though, so I knew he wasn’t angry.

“I didn’t say anything bad I promise!”

“Of course, you didn’t.” He pulled me in for a tight hug. And held me a little longer than usual.

“Um, dad, we’re still at school.”

“Oh, are you embarrassed by me now?!” He held on longer. I tried wrestling out of his grip but it was useless.

Finally, he let go. I looked up at him, blocking my eyes from the afternoon sun. “I’m not embarrassed by you, Dad. You’re my favorite person in the world.”

“You know the best part about you?” He asked. I shook my head. “I know you actually mean that.”