When the rustle of fall leaves in the wind is softer than the sound of other people living in close quarters.
When tea gets cold before you have a chance to drink it.
When hot chocolate spiked with whiskey is the perfect way to start a morning.
When there are no refills on your cup of coffee.
There is so much that I have not said, for reasons of self-preservation. I can feel myself on the verge of breaking. If I let one thing out, it will all pour out. Every internal game that I’ve played to pass the time, every decision I’ve come to without verbalizing it to another human, every thought I’ve stopped myself from having.
When I felt uneasy on my visit to the tristate in August, I told friends that it was the return to old routines that made me upset. It was being required to act the same way, talk the same way, interact in the same places that I did before. But it wasn’t just entering old routines. It was the process of being asked, again and again, to break myself for them.
To give up what is inside my head, what is private, thoughts only I believe and only I will judge. To release the howls in response to the dogs that chase. But in an easily digestible, comprensible way. How do I break myself for your personal enjoyment? How can you ask this of me?
“How do you feel?”
So many people have asked me this throughout my journey. It is a question that provides space for me to expand on, in whichever direction I feel is important. And I wonder, now, why we don’t ask each other this all-important question within our regular routines.
“How do you feel?” while reading hundreds of pages a week in grad school, or while taking care of a sick child who screams every few minutes, or while working a monotonous job that leads to the active perpetuation of institutions you don’t believe in.
It’s also a question that requires the person answering to commit to an answer that they believe in.
How do I answer this question, thus peacefully entering the world again, without breaking?
Part of me believes that I can never be the same. Part of me has been empowered on this trip in such a specific way, that I have learned to trust myself in ways that I never did before. But another part of me knows that we can always let ourselves sink into the masses. I can always choose the easier option, follow the herd, be one of everyone else because it is simpler. Part of me knows that when I am surrounded by values that I don’t have, those values will sink into me. I will think certain thoughts simply because those are the thoughts everyone else is thinking.
This adventure has been so incredibly divergent that there has been no pressure to act like one of the herd. Of course I’m pouring poptarts into my mouth on a mountaintop–and of course, that is completely removed from the reality of most people. My physical reality has been divergent from the norm, and has thus allowed me the mental space to accept my beliefs that are far from the norm. To casually say, hundreds of times, “Well, I have no interest in getting married and having kids,” until that becomes normal.
While we biked, Craig and I talked about the path of social normalcy. Any deviation from the path, someone–church, school, government, family– is waiting with a baseball bat, threatening you to get back in the lines, keep going on the path that social norms have deemed correct. And slowly, slowly as an individual grows beyond those norms–because no one is as normal as they think they are–it creates space for others to grow beyond where they thought they could go. The hits with a baseball bat seem lighter, or more tolerable. Or they will let you run out further from the lines before they bash your head in.
How far can I run out before they bash my head in?
How much can I reveal about what is in my head before I am condemned? How can I approach those who I love, but who espouse hate, with love? How can I speak a truth that is not hollow?
I think and I think and I think, I ask and I ask and I ask, I take and I take and I take.
And none of it is easily digestible, none of it is quite marketable, none of it is what you wanted to hear.
If, in the coming weeks, you ask me how I feel, please don’t be surprised.