This past week was a difficult one for me. Unless you are one of my closest friends, you wouldn’t have known, and that is the problem. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. In Doe Parker’s “The Good House & The Bad House”, the author uses a physical house to represent the past and the physical containment and restriction of themselves as a child.
…me & my past-myself
holding hands over
the thresholds of
two facing houses.
you like how i look & i like how
brave you are. i hold you until
we’re one person,Doe Parker
Parker’s poems enact the complicated way that memory simultaneously restricts and gives us our existence. I find it intriguing that Parker uses a physical structure to represent memories and the impact those events and their memory have on us. Memories do not just inhabit our minds. They take up residence in our body and manifest themselves in physical ways.
Sometimes this is good. The way the smell of your favorite dish cooking can take you back to great memories of time with family. The way being in the spot where you proposed (or accepted) can make you feel the way you did again. The way holding hands with someone you love can make you feel safe and protected. Memory resides in and affects our physical bodies much like a house carries the marks and reminders of the people who lived there.
Some physical memories are not good. My uncle got food poisoning from some chicken once and got so violently ill that he could never eat chicken again. The smell made him feel sick. Survivors of abuse often have unconscious physical responses to certain triggers that cause their body to remember the abuse. Sometimes we don’t even know why certain things, dates, or situations make us feel sad, depressed, sick, or angry. We just know they do.
Which brings me back to my story. When I was 13, my best friend in the whole world died in my lap after being hit by a car. One minute he was there, the next minute he was gone. Years later, I would lose another dear friend to an unexpected and violent death. These memories took up residence in my body and created times, like this last week, where I am not myself. I am learning how to recognize and come to terms with my past-myself, though I am not sure we are one person quite yet.
The reason I felt compelled to write about this is simple. We do not know what another person’s “house” looks like. We are unaware of the traumas that have left marks on the walls and the furniture and the way those marks cause that person to feel and behave during certain times or around certain triggers. We are, at our core, self-centered beings, so we often misinterpret other people’s behavior as being about us. We see them as disrespecting us, or intentionally harming us, or whatever offense we choose to take up.
Maybe though, it isn’t about us. Maybe it’s about them and what they have been through. They don’t need to be judged, or punished, or fixed. Maybe what they need most is someone to be patient with them, to love them, to listen to them.
It has only been for the last several years that I have been able to let the people around me know I will be struggling during certain times of the year. Partly because I didn’t realize it myself for over four decades. Partly because it is very scary to let someone else into that part of who you are.
We often don’t know what is going on with the people around us because they are afraid to tell us. Afraid that they will be seen as weak, or broken, or strange. Afraid that no one can possibly understand what even they are not sure about. Afraid of being different. The truth is that we all have stuff that affects us and contains and restricts us. All of us. The illusion that anyone is completely ok, nearly perfect even, is a falsehood that causes all of us to live in some level of isolation. Isolation that puts us at risk. We buy insurance to mitigate the risk of our house burning or our car getting damaged. The insurance for the risk of mental and emotional isolation is community. Community that embraces authenticity and transparency. Community that lets each of us be human. Community that supports us as we work to become whole. A community that likes how you look and acknowledges how brave you are in body, mind, and soul is certainly The Kimray Way.