On Wednesday night, I lay down on the bathroom floor because the tile was cold and it was all I could think to do. That’s about as pathetic as I ever want to be, curled fetal on the bathroom floor. I’d like to point out that the toilet is in a different room than the bathroom, so I was pathetic but not filthy. A girl's gotta have her standards.
I used to think that I wouldn't be able to really trust
somebody who didn't understand me exactly. I don't mean I felt like I could
only trust other women, or other Americans.
I thought I needed somebody who knew what I was saying if I claimed to weep for the future or referred obliquely to my great-grandfather; someone who
understood in excruciatingly precise detail why I thought and felt the way I
did. I thought that if someone understood those things, then they would
understand me, and then I could trust them.
You may wonder why a person who thought this way has spent most of her adult life in foreign countries. Get my movie quotes? Not even close. Half of my friends have never been to the country where I was born; only a few have ever met my family. Although most of them speak English, my friends could not be much further from where I came from, metaphorically or literally. As I have gotten older and less capable of explaining why I think and feel the way I do to anybody who doesn't already have that knowledge, the more I have drifted away from my original cherished idea of being explicable, or ever being understood, or trusting anybody.
Now I think about it and I think, phew. I don't believe
anybody needs to know every WHAT that I think and feel, completely, much less
WHY. I think what I wanted was to see myself reflected in someone else's eyes, because then I would
see myself clearly. That’s a load of crap. A reflection is never, can never, be
completely accurate. The further I get from this idea of being completely
known, the more I realize it's more than sufficient that I have some idea of
what I think for myself, without having it understood by anyone else, ever. I
am over needing to see myself reflected. And I know that means I’ll never trust anybody completely, and realizing
that is realizing that it doesn't really matter.
I’ve been thinking about this because of some recent conversations about culture and the importance of defining it. My idea of myself was never of myself as a race or sex or nationality or language* or anything so... vague. My idea of myself is such a composite of amazingly general and painfully specific things. And maybe because my deep-down impression of my culture has always been so extraordinarily limited, the culture of Anne, I have not understood the importance of culture to others. I wanted people to understand me as me. I wanted them to know where I am now and to understand the complicated trails that I took to get here. It was not so much important to me as a woman or an American or a person with freckles or a girl who grew up eating oysters whole and fresh from the Chesapeake or anything. It was important to me as Anne, a combination of all the external and internal forces. and the realization that this was first impossible and second silly has left me absolutely baffled to find that other people, people less self-obsessed and insane than I am, still think that it's important; and more that they think the broadest definitions are more important than the narrow ones, and that the ones you're born with are more important than the ones you grow into. Really?
*yes, I am mighty attached to English, but I believe this is because I am mighty attached to talking. I don’t feel better in English because it’s a better language for expressing myself, but because I am better at expressing myself in it.
telling someone something, like telling Friar Tuck
how the superhero housewives of the seventies influenced my
understanding of what was expected of women, and I’ll get most of the way through and it's like:
who am I kidding, he doesn't know and he cannot possibly. Just like I don't
know what it was like to grow up buying one banana at a time. But I see now
that the listener's personal understanding of how it felt doesn't matter; what
matters is that I have stories and other people have stories and we tell them and come to
a better understanding of who we are now, and what's important to the people
What matters is not that anyone totally understands exactly who I am and how I got here. What matters is that we have enough respect for each other to consider our stories worth telling; worth hearing. That we consider them, maybe, more important than if we could take them for granted. That I can say, I lay on the floor because the tile was cold, and it's not to do with some externally defined idea of who I am, but to do with the idea that my tooth really fucking hurts, and that this week, I am defining myself in terms of my toothache. That someone listens to that and brings me ibuprofen and room temperature water to wash it down.