I moved into a new house on the north fork. There’s a pumpkin patch I can see from my bedroom window, and we’ve got a clothesline in the yard and a beach at the end of our narrow, one-way street that begins with two stone pillars topped with flower beds. My room is on the second floor. I have my own bathroom. Through my closet there’s a little door that leads into a huge crawlspace. I want to fix it up into a proper secret room but even if the rats are long gone, there are droppings on the floor, and there’s a chance of getting Hantavirus from disrupting them. I’d have to vacuum them up, clean the heck out of the room, and ventilate it for days. My bedroom feels enough like a hideaway that I’m not sure I need to do all that. The curved, slanted ceilings are sometimes nurturing and sometimes oppressive.
For my first week here I had so many panic attacks in my room that I started to associate the house with fear. I called so many friends I ran out of cellphone minutes. I had phone appointments with my therapist. At the book store I sat on the stool and stared ahead, unable to pretend that I was all right. My anxiety was cycling through and cleaning me out all day, every day, and left me with only one thought: Run, run, run.
Todd, a book store customer who comes in to talk and never to buy books, gave me some advice. “Sit on your hands,” he said. “Situations work themselves out. You don’t always have to act.”
This summer I was asked to keep a secret, and by the time I moved in and started to settle I realized I couldn’t keep it anymore. By sharing it I’d be disrespecting a friend’s wishes; by not sharing I was disrespecting my own needs. To be caught up like that thinking there was no way to win - I think that’s why I reached out to so many, giving each one piece of the story but not all, that way I told it but didn’t exactly tell it. I’d grown so ashamed that staying quiet just wasn’t an option anymore.
I could get away with talking a lot less. In my ideal world there would be a lot more silence, hand-holding, hugging, massaging, eye contact - and this is with friends. But we don’t do that stuff as much here, in this place and time where I live, and so words are the main form of communication. But they almost never do the trick, and often get me more tangled up than if I’d just kept my mouth closed. That’s why I write, sometimes, because I can be more careful with my words, and make sure they’re congruous with who I want to be.
But there’s a lot of fun in just saying whatever the hell I want. I get goofy and free. Sometimes I screw up, say something wrong, like last night when I told my friend there was this girl I really don’t like. I thought I’d feel a sense of relief after the confession I don’t often let myself make, because I usually do this thing when I get a bad feeling around someone where I take half or more of the blame. I know that if you hate a person, that hate belongs to you, and if that hate’s being generated in your own body then you can find the source, which is usually something you hate about yourself or fear becoming, and then sit with that. That’s what I try to do; I can’t always do it. Last night after admitting I didn’t like this girl, I got this incongruous feeling of telling a lie. I corrected myself. “When I’m around her, I feel like I’m not being seen or accepted. She interrupts me when I talk, and I feel small, and like I need to impress her. So I don’t want to be around her.” And there it was, all mine. I screwed up, as I’ve liked to think of it my whole life: Put an x on your socializing score card. Hate what you produce. Edit more than you produce. Get quiet. Stay safe. But last night I screwed up because I didn’t like what I said, and then I corrected it. And today I’m writing about it so that I don’t have time to feel ashamed that I was one of those bitches for a minute (or ten), complaining about someone I hardly know.
I think there are two things I’m trying to say. One is that I’m paying attention lately to what needs to be said and what doesn’t, and then honoring whatever answer I come to. If something causes shame, I won’t keep it inside where the shame will only grow and make me quieter and quieter, while the self-hate talk gets louder and louder.
Another is that my black-white mind is being bombarded with color. My new house is a beautiful red cottage across from a farm but inside of it I can sit in the bath while thinking “run, run, run.” I want to help someone who goes through the same things I do, while I’m not trying to help myself. I’m sitting on my hands, which is the opposite of my instinct. I’m in a class called “Completing the Manuscript” and I’m reading things that make me so anxious - No, don’t tell me more rules about writing; I’m just going to get even more in my own way - and I’m sticking with it even though I’ve been in the program two years longer than anyone in my class, aside from Joe, who is there for the same reason I am. We were gently coerced. They love us, but it’s time to get the hell out of here and graduate.
Oh, and a third thing. In that week when I first moved and I reached out to my friends and talked so much I ran out of minutes, I got support from the usual suspects, but I also got a few surprises. My sister called to check in on my new place and after I told her how I was doing, she opened up about her own stuff and we sat on the phone for an hour, crying. My friend Genevieve went with me to Ikea and pulled me through the showrooms so that I could pick out a desk, answering me every ten minutes when I asked, “Are you sure I should go against my instinct to run away?” with, “I’ve never been surer of anything.” And that night, after stripping a screw driver on my desk legs and watching my friend Jenna put together my filing cabinet, I felt all right. The next morning I braced myself for a panic attack and it never came. Being an empty, scared, see-through lunatic brought my friends and family closer to me.
Not that I want to be those things forever, but it’s true that nothing about my life feels quite right, and I have a long history of running away from discomfort. And that’s who I’ll be until I’m not.