I’ve had three experiences in rapid succession that have left me not only unsure of what to say, but also unsure of how I feel. I’m left with this strange kind of ache-y hollowness that I don’t really know how to describe.
The first of these was on a really cold morning. I mean, it was really cold, because it was the first really cold day of the season. I have seen much colder than 6F (yes, single digit), but the first time it happens for the year, it kinda takes your breath away. Also, it gives those of us short on small talk some material.
“It’s freezing!” I say. Eloquently.
“I know! It’s really cold out!” she says.
“Yeah! When I. . .went out this morning, it was only 6 degrees!”
That awkward pause? That, I-was-going-to-say-something-but-I-changed-my-mind blip? My brain stopped my mouth before my mouth knew what was going on, and it left me so befuddled I could barely continue the conversation. I was GOING to say, “Yeah, when I went out to take care of the chickens this morning. . .” and then some really bizarre auto-correct kicked in.
You can’t say that.
Why not? Why can’t I say that?
Look at her. Blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin, new clothes, the backpack you secretly covet. . .she’s too sophisticated to talk to about CHICKENS!
Yeah. Seriously. What are you thinking?
I dunno. I’ve helped her some with homework. She seems nice. I don’t think she’d be grossed out by chickens, or anything.
No! Do not tell the peoples about chickens! Stick to safe, acceptable things, like helping with homework! NO CHICKENS!
But I do have chickens! I don’t think it needs to be any kind of sec–
Look, just shut up, okay?
It was so weird. I’ve made about a million resolutions that THIS time, I actually open up and make friends, and talk about myself, and not try to make my invisible bubble where we’re all friendly but not really friends. I’ve resolved, repeatedly, that its very lonely when no one has any clue who you are and the only way to head it off is actually open your mouth and say stuff about yourself, instead of quietly thinking them in your head.
The encounter was over in seconds. I felt like I stood there befuddled for nearly as long. What had happened? Why did I feel compelled to edit out chickens? I didn’t mean to do that. It went against all my resolutions. I did it so automatically, and I didn’t even know why. What was wrong with me? And what was wrong with chickens? Lots of rural people come to this school. And even if they didn’t–still, what’s wrong with chickens? Why do I feel the need to pretend I’m not me, or obscure random facets of my existence? I have no answers.
I was in the other room, and I don’t think he knew I was there. But he was talking, loudly and with disgust, at my inability to stick with an exercise program. I kept letting things like other obligations or visiting friends get in the way. I’d never learned to just let exercise be a bad thing that happened to me, that I had no control over. I would never just stick with it. Never, never, never.
He wasn’t talking to me, so I stayed quiet. Part of me wanted to protest–you aren’t supposed to live a passive life! You aren’t supposed to just let life happen to you! You’re supposed to be in charge and weigh priorities, and make decisions! Exercise is not my religion, and I will not tell all my friends, “Sorry; I know this is the only day all month that would work for both of us, but that time is when I have to exercise.” And I’m not going to go running when my body is breaking down. Some things are more important.
But that was just a quiet, surface voice, and I abandoned even that. Underneath it was a feeling of such a gulf. He would never understand me. He would never respect me. I would always be separated, alone, weak. But I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t agree with his definition of strength.
What words are there for the feeling of when you see how big the space is between you and someone else?
This other one, he calls me his baby sister, even though he’s my baby brother. He hates noise. He’s like what-sis-name from lil’ Abner, who wants to go to jail because there are no people there, and no one talks to you never.
But when I practice my singing lessons, there is no reprieve anywhere in the house. The cat disapproves of music of any kind, and flees. Since I am upstairs and he is downstairs, I can’t see what he does. But I’m pretty sure he flees, too.
I told him I was glad that he had patience with me making noise. He told me, very earnestly,
“Oh, no, I think singing is a good thing. Even when you’re bad it, singing is good.”
I wanted to laugh and to cry. I laughed, because you aren’t supposed to cry. He wasn’t even trying to give a backhanded compliment. That was just the truth as he saw it: even though I was making, in his book, an awful racket he could barely stand, he was glad I was singing.
How do you feel when someone tells you that, so earnestly? It’s okay that you’re horrible; I like you anyway. Okay, George. Thanks for the support. I don’t know what to say.
I feel asleep thinking about it all. And about my singing lessons, especially. At the beginning of the semester, she told me there would be a concert at the end. She wouldn’t make me do it, because I wasn’t a music major; but her other students would have to do it. I imagined myself singing in that concert. Having learned so much, improved. I would get confidently up there. I would maybe even invite my aunt to come see me, finally singing. I would not hide; I would not hold back. I would victor.
Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road. She had to get the schedule ready. Next time I saw her, I would have to say yes or no. She thought I would be prepared and would do fine, but understood if I didn’t want to. I told her I would think about it. I went home and slept on it, and woke up thinking, “dear God, I’m so glad I don’t have to be part of that concert!”
Why? I’m just tired. I don’t have the emotional strength to fight that battle right now. It’s the same reason I didn’t ask anyone to come to my graduation for my two year degree. I wanted to do it, but I knew everyone would hate to come. I didn’t ask. I mean, I told them when it was and that they could come. But I didn’t specifically say, “This is very meaningful to me; get your butt there.”
I couldn’t. I didn’t even know how I would feel. I just knew I had to go, and I didn’t have the emotional resources to fight that battle with everyone else. Some pictures were taken of me, and my family all said, “wow, she looks so happy in those pictures. huh. I wouldn’t have went to MY graduation, if it was me. I guess she’s weird.” One brother said, “If you’d asked me to come, I would have. I didn’t know it meant that much to you.”
I told him the truth: I didn’t know it was going to mean that much to me. I didn’t tell him the rest, about how sometimes it’s just too hard to swim against the grain. I used up all I had getting me there; I didn’t have anything left to get anyone else there.
It was mostly okay, but then my brother graduated. He had no difficulties inviting the proper grandparents. Plus, he had a much smaller class, and he was valedictorian. And my mom went and my dad, who abhors stepping foot outside of his house–if I remember right, he went too. Then it really wasn’t okay.
I didn’t say anything, because I hadn’t asked my grandmother to come to mine. If I had, she would have come. If she had come, my mom would have come, lest she be shown up by her mother. But I didn’t have the stamina left to do that, so I flew under the radar. I figured out, barely, how to get myself there, and I went through the ceremony with my whole class. Afterwards, my grandma rebuked my mom for not telling her I was graduating. I felt bad, because I should have said something to my grandma instead of hiding. But I felt worse that my mom didn’t have any innate interest in attending my graduation, but had no problem showing up for my brother’s.
I’ve been thinking about that again, I guess, because, Lord willing, I’ll be graduating again this spring. A Bachelor’s degree in science. From an online school. How many jokes do you think there are about graduation ceremonies for online schools? I’d have to travel 3 hours to get to the real ceremony. I am thinking I probably will. I like the feeling of a ceremony closing a door on a chapter of my life.
Is this like the concert? Where I swear now, I will invite everyone? I will talk about chickens? And then in the end, I’m just to tired to fight that battle?
If things go they way I think they’re going to go, in a few more years I will be graduating again, this time with a Doctorate’s degree. What will I do then? Will I ever get up the guts to assert who I am, and that I am important, and that people had better take notice and a little respect of me? Or will I always be this person who flies under the radar because it’s too risky to tell people who I really am?
I don’t know what to feel or what to say.