Triggers trump dignity.
My poor pastor– he barely knows me as yet, so he can’t know I’m not walking out on him. I just have to leave. “It’s not you, it’s me.” Belongings abandoned, cell in hand, I rush for the door, only years of training keeping me slightly quiet and slightly polite. A deep breath of fresh air and I frantically dial. There is ONE person in the entire world to whom I can talk right now who will know the answer, who will even understand the question. Who will be able to hear my words through my tears and not get distracted by attempted misguided consolation.
“I need to talk to you. Right now.” For the first time in my life I don’t lead with “Are you busy? Am I interrupting? I don’t want to bother you.” I can’t. “I really need you.” I presume on years of assurances and proof that my oldest sister will always be there for me if she can. And she is.
“Why? Why do I feel like I am not allowed to inconvenience anyone? Why can I never be the one that brings the room down if I’m down? Why am I only allowed to leave a trace of my existence if it’s a positive trace? Why do I feel like the only impact I’m allowed to have is to make everything better? I want to exist. I want to be allowed to exist. Why do I feel like I’m not allowed to exist?” I’m sobbing as I pace up and down the block. Church continues behind me– thank God for dark stained glass. “What did He do to me? I don’t remember– it scares me that I don’t remember. I can always trace it back. I can’t figure it out. I can’t undo it because I don’t know how it was done. I can’t unlearn what I don’t remember learning. You were there. What happened to me?” I’m scared and confused. I am never scared and confused like this. I’m sobbing. I only sob when I get dumped or when someone I love dies. This is a mess. This is messy. Good thing I took it outside.
Her turn to speak. I have a hard time listening, but it is why I called. “…. Much as I don’t want to let Dad off the hook, this one might not be on Him.” She tells me stories– a pattern I hadn’t seen, or been willing to face. Stories of friends, circles of friends, outings, parties, get-togethers. Me, an energetic extrovert. Them, introverts with books, soft voices and strong opinions. I can never know enough or judge harshly enough or sit still enough. If they go out together vs. if WE go out together– completely different dynamics. I was always conscious of that. I was the variable. I set the tone.
Memories resolve, breathing slows, pacing stops. I collapse onto the curb. “Is it okay for me to just be me?” “Yes.” “Thank you.” This is going to take practice. And maybe some extroverted friends? And a whole lot of trust. New philosophy: Trust adults to act like adults and know what they’re getting when they invite me over. Stop apologizing for being me.
I’m tired. Nothing’s wrong, it’s just winter and I’ve been busy. It’s a birthday party but all I can do is sit and smile weakly. I can’t carry the energy– can barely summon a story to contribute. I am the first to excuse myself so I can sleep. As the door closes behind me and cheerful laughter follows me to my car I am intensely conscious that I wasn’t all I could have been. Not my usual self. These friends had never seen me not UP. But they care about me and are glad I’m going to get some sleep. I brought everything I had to give. I carefully don’t apologize for failing an expectation no one actually had. No one minds.
I make him cry. I’ve asked a deep question, a hard question, a completely unexpected and culturally inappropriate question. I asked on instinct– asking real questions in real moments is me being my true self. Unfiltered, pure, raw. I sit quietly and watch him cry, right there in public as the server slowly walks past, checking our waters and moving on. I don’t apologize– out loud, at least. In my head I’ve formed a dozen options of how to apologize, taking on the blame and granting him full dignity. But I bite my tongue– hard– and manage not to say what would essentially be, “I’m sorry for being me around you. I’m sorry me being here has created discomfort.” I sit still and gently wait for the ripples I have caused to settle.
I am in need– the one need that makes me feel the most vulnerable. I need to talk. My go-to is an introvert with an over-full schedule. Still, I go. I ask for his time and I talk to him. At him, even, because I need to process externally. I feel very uncomfortable when I see his People Time Energy drain quickly. I’m hard work for him, I know. But I don’t apologize, and I don’t have the space to bite my tongue this time. I trust his friendship, trust that he knew he was in for hard work– listening, so much listening! He sips, nods, responds. He’s up to the task. He’s a big boy. I feel myself reach my traditional Introvert-Sparing Backing Down Point and I push farther because I need more. I take my “I’m sorry,” work it over in my head, push it aside. As it is denied exit I feel it soften, change, and reform. It feels healthy as it rolls of my tongue in the end: “Thank you.”