It was perhaps an odd — yet understandable — friendship. He was 30 years her senior, old enough to be her dad. Yet she was glad he wasn’t, as her track record with father-daughter relationships was abysmal, fraught with conflict and misunderstanding.
She knew he understood from the moment she really started to pay attention to his lyrics. Even the ones that weren’t profoundly personal still carried a quality that allowed the listener, if they read between the lines and paid attention to the nuances of language and tone and breath, to construct an idea of who he was. The tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but it was there for those who were willing to listen closely.
She wrote to him when she was 18 or 19, a long letter crafted carefully one night at her desk in the dark (save for a lamp) as she listened to an old cassette tape that her dad used to keep in the truck. It took several hours, a time period over the course of which the lined paper acquired many scratched-out words and splotches of blurred ink from the warm, salty tears that inevitably came with composing something so charged. She recalled there being a container of fruit-on-the-bottom fat-free sugar-free blueberry yoghurt on the desk next to her, frozen rock-hard in the freezer for several hours and eaten carefully with a plastic knife so as to make it last as long as possible. She felt both ridiculous and giddy about the letter, spilling thoughts and feelings onto the paper that she’d never shared with anyone before, confident that he’d somehow understand them.
She never sent it. Partly because she didn’t have an address, but also because who on earth sent something like that to someone they’d never met in person?
It was about six or seven years later, a day after her 25th birthday, when the friendship became real. Eventually she told him about her letter, albeit not in detail because it still seemed a little odd. She’d been right, though; he understood. It was the sort of understanding shared by those who’d lost pieces of themselves somewhere along the way, and had tried in vain to fill the holes with slow, well-intentioned self-destruction. Often too many words didn’t seem necessary, and she didn’t like to burden him with them anyway. The hugs and the “Hey, kiddo,” kept her going. And the music, of course. Always the music. She liked to imagine that someday she’d plant ‘A Row of Small Trees’ of her own.
There were Reasons she didn’t often visit people she knew. Reasons that mostly had to do with a persistent and relatively inexplicable sense of shame. It wasn’t the sort of shame one might expect from a person in her situation. No, the predictable shame of illness and dysfunction was felt only amongst strangers, people with stereotypical, general expectations of others’ lives, and by this point she’d become so used to it that it no longer registered on her scale of Emotions To Be Avoided. The shame with family, with friends, with long-ago acquaintances was different. The self that she had semi-consciously crafted in her formative years was the self they knew; the one where the outside matched the inside. Where the outside said, “I don’t need you; I don’t need anything,” in the tidy, clean, definitive way that she believed only sharp angles and stoic denial could do.
She didn’t want them to believe it was any different now, and therein lay the problem, the source of the shame. The outside often belied the ego. The outside had become messy, fragmented, complicated. Lost, even. She’d “let herself go”. Her body and her life conveyed very little truth anymore, and it horrified her to think that perhaps others assumed they symbolised anything whatsoever about her reality, as they once did. It would be a fair assumption — she knew that — and that’s why it frightened her. For all the inner physical deterioration, the parts one couldn’t see, her outward manifestation generally looked… okay. Just okay, mind you (‘okay’ being a very bland and non-descriptive word), but okay nonetheless.
It was an illusion, of course. There was nothing “okay” about her. A person might think an individual who looked “okay” had finally made peace with all the aspects of human existence that horrified her. With responsibility, with mistakes, with uncertainty and vulnerability, with love and sex and growth and loss and all the messy intricacies of being human. They’d be wrong, very wrong indeed. And that was the source of the shame she felt with those who knew her. Shame at the possibility that they thought she was Normal now, that she’d grown to accept all those things she hated so passionately.
It was also why she couldn’t let go. The yearning for the cohesion of her own past was a constant companion that reminded her how much of a fraud she’d become.
She assumed it existed as a way to keep her ego in check, to remind her that she had a tendency to want too much, to need too much, to feel too much. It was all too messy, this wanting and needing and feeling, and most of the time she didn’t know what it actually was that she wanted or needed or felt anyway.
If you could just kill off all that confusion, existing became more tolerable. Confusion and uncertainty were bad; that was a lesson she was taught very early in life. Knowing who you were, and for what (if anything) you could be useful, were very important. Knowing those things earned you the right to exist without shame.
Perhaps that’s why every time life began to offer her options, opportunities to expand her existence, she shrunk into herself and found a singular goal: self-purification. How could you possibly go wrong there? Distilling yourself into the bare minimum of what comprised the human essence. So straightforward and uncomplicated. Purposeful. Utilitarian.
It was rather paradoxical, she had come to realise, as what she perceived as a survival tactic was really nothing more than a slow death. So undignified and useless, when the intention was always precisely the opposite.
5.11 am. Waiting for her tea to steep.
The tension nagged at her temples and she reached for the nearly-empty bottle of Tylenol. Another thing to add to the shopping list. Poor liver.
“I wish I was an artist,” she thought. To have that outlet would be a relief, she believed. A way to empty your cluttered mind, make friends with your demons, soothe your discomfort. Release the years of bitterness and anger that lurked in those places that terrified you.
But it wasn’t meant to be. She wasn’t the type, if she was being honest with herself. Art was for people who were innately free, not those who kept tarnished padlocks on their souls.
So I’m just going to jump in, I suppose. I’ve been saving up some occasional writings and finally decided they needed a home.
Peruse at your own discretion. Some posts may be triggering.