On My Complicated Relationship with the Word “Okay”
Let me start with what I saw.
The expanses above me were an aged off-white with the wildest, strangest assortment of clouds you can think of. Texture. Icy tile held accountable by gravity unyieldingly pressed itself to the back of my head, my shoulder blades, me, as I look up into the restless sea of plaster directly above me. A finite sky of drywall. The floor vent to my left puffs its wispy breaths, the plumbing pipes swishing fluid below me and above me and all around the tiny bathroom in which I laid. I didn’t feel; I saw.
I am bothered by a lot in the world, in this language, and in society in general, but the word “okay” is one of the obscenities of the human experience that gets on my nerves more than anything. For a word with so many countless meanings and purposes, it is meaningless and without purpose. It sticks out on an essay paper full of eloquence and majesty and raw, emotional language, the same way Mount Rainier sticks out amongst the Cascades. Like a sore thumb.
The local Café Rio. Multi-colored, hot sauce adorned, paint splattered memories of laughter, tortilla chips and queso, best friends. Good people eating together. The familiar chiming and occasional clatter against the hum of pandora radio that can only be experienced in a chain restaurant in a small town. What brings people together like food does? The answer to that is nothing, and the unspoken truth to that is that all people eat.
You ever read into where the word “okay” comes from? The exact history hasn’t even been determined because linguistic experts don’t care enough about it to discuss it. For the three most randomly chosen sounds in the alphabet to be paired to these specific definitions is senseless and illogical. “How was your day?” “Oh, it was okay.” Okay is not good, but it is not bad. It is a warm but cloudy day. It is emotions hidden, and no emotions left to show. It takes different forms; an “o” and a “k”; an “o”, “k”, “a”, “y”; and even a simple, singular letter “k”. You might even find someone who will spell it with two “k”s.
We’re back on the tile bathroom floor. A safe place. I am locked in here. Not because he locked me in here, without voice or power to even move, but because I chose here. A place he won’t ever find and with a window so I can see outside, just in case his loud truck thunders past my little sunshine-yellow house, the way I swear I heard it growl and rumble in the parking lot just this morning. The same way I swear I saw him in the hallway or in the commons during second lunch and even sometimes on the pavement outside of my workplace. Out of the corner of my eye and behind every blind spot I come across. My friends don’t, but I swear I see him, like the ghost of a poorly scripted horror film. A real life one.
There is absolutely no reason for it to exist, and yet “okay” is easily one of the most commonly used words—and not even in just the English language. It transcends the fences that divide us from the rest of the world. Everyone uses it. The Spanish, the Danish, the Croatian, the Czech, and the French, just to name a few. Everyone. For what reason? Even Wikipedia describes it as a frequently used loan word in other languages. Who likes loans? Right, no one does. Loans are an atrocious piece of reality that only belong to the adult world. You adults can keep your loans and the word “okay”, as far as I’m concerned.
But I don’t cry about it too much anymore. It took four months of nights that only held three hours of sleep, hours of misery, hours that just relived the night that ended on the bathroom floor, hours that seemed to stretch on for years. Fear seems to work like that. The other three hours I laid there were frequently spent in salty agony spilt on soft pillowcases. But tears don’t make solutions, and they certainly don’t let the words come out. Those four months were nothing compared to those first two weeks, though. There was no sleep then. I closed my eyes and saw his. Food had no taste, and it wasn’t because of the ever-rampant virus.
If I had to sum up the English language in one word, I would use the word “okay”, because it is ridiculous, unreasonable, vague. Rule after rule after rule, slang term after slang term after slang term, i before e except after c. Nonsense. Rules given by nameless people, given only to restrict the art of expression using words. Rules given without feeling. Feeling nothing.
In the simplest way possible, I felt nothing. I was nothing. I was not human. I saw myself from the outside, for thirty-seven minutes. Thirty-seven minutes of his hands in my jeans and in my bra straps and in my hair. I did not feel. I saw. Because I was not human in those thirty-seven minutes. I was a thing to be touched. I was not human. Thirty-seven minutes of frozen agony. And the words did not come out. The words that scream no, I do not want this. Stop. I met you weeks ago. This is not how first dates go. I am not okay with this. They locked in my throat and because he so forcefully stole my humanness from my soul, the shock of it all stayed in my voice box like a scared little kid in her parents’ bedroom. It is as simple and as complicated and as traumatizing as that. A sack of skin and bone without emotion, feeling nothing, being nothing, alone, on the cold tile floor.
The word “okay” is simple, and it is not. It is a bold little mundane word, even though it is senseless. It is unafraid of being used, over and over, and it has become a commonality of all the languages of the world. In this way, it is full. Of nonsense, of the essence of life, of okay-ness.
My mother that next morning, her bare feet held without mercy by gravity to my frigid tile floor, the tile floor I still laid on, unmoving, a body without a soul. Are you okay? She whispers.
Oh, that word.
I nod, but we both know better. How it would be different if he had asked the same question.