I’m a talker. A gibbering, gabbing, chatterbox kind of talker. I’m by myself nearly all the time, so, when I see people I know very well and the environment allows (like in the car), I… get it all out of my system! I’m much quieter in chaotic places or with new people. But my family? Give those folks some credit for surviving 27 years (and then some) of me and my mouth! It’s hard to be quiet when life is so exciting and there are so many new discoveries just waiting to be researched.
So, it’s not like I’m whining all the time, but even sunshine can be a little much when it’s going full blast without a cloud (or a breath) to give you a break from it. There was a block of, oh, six or seven years when I was nearly silent; I was on meds that turned off my talking button. I could still think to myself, I just didn’t say much of anything. But other than that time, I’ve always talked a lot, and if your two-year-old asks for more information about the aphids from her Eric Carle book and if your six-year-old comes home on the first day of school and devours the entire year’s reading material that evening… you pretty much assume that she is saying what she wants to say. You don’t worry about her being unable to tell you that she’s terrified, or in pain, or confused, or angry. When she spends her Saturday memorizing English translations of 18th century German poetry… you do not worry about that kid’s language.
I remember a lot of my childhood, thousands of memories, but it’s easy to paint a broad-stroke picture of how I felt…
1987. I didn’t have the words to say “too loud” or “that’s itchy.” But I still felt it. I clung to the familiar for a sense of peace. I remember being at the Atlanta airport when I was about three, late at night, exhausted and completely done. I didn’t watch where I was walking, though I was holding my mom’s hand, and I managed to walk into a giant concrete column and slam my forehead on it. I lost it, total meltdown, and kept biting myself because I was so overstimulated and exhausted and past my ability to cope. I had bite marks on my hands, and I remember people asking about them. I didn’t answer.
1999. I lock my arms, rigid at my sides, a guard against the world coming too close. I had ten more years before I would truly put words to my world. I saw the only scary movie I’ve ever seen in sixth grade. The fear contorted itself and then consumed my thoughts for years. I was petrified of the dark, and I also feared threes–anything in threes. I would check and recheck. I’d have to peek around the shower curtain to scan the bathroom a certain way, sometimes dozens of times in one shower. I slept with my lights on, and my mom would come in and turn them off once she thought I was asleep. I could not sleep with lights on, so, for years, I hardly slept. Once she turned them off, at least I was in my bed and not touching the treacherous floor. I often slept on the downstairs couch–it was somehow safer. My mom got after me for years to go sleep in my bed. She never knew I had those fears or that they dominated my nights for almost ten years… until I told her a few weeks ago. At the time, I said, “I like the couch!” Nothing more.
2008. After Christmas dinner and the chaos of cleaning up. I was not sleeping; purring kitties are the best way to recover. Kitchen duty! On holidays, we range from having eight to maybe fifteen people over, all family. Mom always cooked, and now my sister helps. When dinner is over, it’s sort of the routine for the women to clean up and the men to go watch TV again. I’d have a comment about that except that the space won’t allow everyone to help, and it’s just our routine after all these years. I typically stand frozen. Everyone is moving, and being bumped is the end of the world–my world. I hate it. If I’m overstimulated already, like at a holiday dinner, then being bumped means all bets are off and tears will follow. “Lydia, you’re the only one standing there, come on, help us!” It was maybe two years ago that I said, “If everyone would go out of here, I would do the whole thing myself, but it’s too much, don’t bump me!” I wash the dishes and try to keep my eyes down so I can’t see the confusion around me. I hate old food… and really, I hate a lot of brand new food, too. I hate thinking of the germs. Touching it, smelling it… but I’ll do that all evening if it gets me out of being bumped by someone else. I’d still rather clean up on my own. “It’s a family dinner, we all help out.” But we’re cleaning! We bonded over eating, or… you guys did. Now, go finish bonding over TV and leave me alone to do this the right way and in peace! But I didn’t say that. Every single time, we go through this, and I’ve never said more than incoherent frustration and hand-flapping and ear-holding at nothing in particular, the whole noisy, clanking, bright-lights, crowded, food-stinking chaos.
My parents divorced when I was seven. I remember when they told me, and I didn’t cry or even feel all that upset. They got along very well, especially at that point. They told me that they were very good friends but that there were different kinds of love, and that married people love each other differently than friends do. Okay, got it. My sister is almost six years older than me, and my dad was her stepdad (uh, yeah, my family is possibly the most complicated family tree ever, which is not in any way an exaggeration). Sister was upset that I wasn’t upset… didn’t I get it? Didn’t I get what a big deal this was? That’s when I cried. And I didn’t cry because I was upset with her but because I was afraid my mom and dad thought I didn’t care about them. I was originally not all that upset because they were doing what they thought was best for everyone. They were making that choice, and with my dad moving under a mile away, I’d see them both all the time. I mean, Mom did my hair for school while I was at Dad’s. I was okay, and I didn’t want to freak out and make them feel not okay when right then, they did. My sister said I didn’t get it. That was 20 years ago. I remember it clearly, but even now, I would do the same thing… and maybe that was the wrong thing. I often miss the social cues in those situations, but I really do feel the overtones. Feeling back, I feel the same thing, my extremely matter-of-fact mom and dad explaining things to me like I was a real, whole person and not a baby.
Maybe I’d still be wrong with the reaction I had, and maybe I missed an obvious extreme sadness or anger underneath their words, but it isn’t like my parents to do that. I’ve been called self-centered, rude, disrespectful, incapable of appropriate peer relationships, immature, disconnected, withdrawn, misunderstanding…
I am cut from the fabric of my father
But the very threads that keep me
From falling apart altogether
Are reflections of mama in me.
They say I have my father’s broad back,
His hands for music
They say I’m blessed with a mind
That can tackle anything.
But I cannot survive on brains alone.
Without my mother’s eyes–
More than that, her heart—
I’d be forever lacking.
I’m told they couldn’t make it work
That some love is just friend-love.
But I, half him, half her,
Have made “them,”
My echoes of them,
Not just work, but sing
Not in two bodies–
but in half the space.
I’m here and I’m aware, fully, heart-wrenchingly, bursting joy and guttural fear aware of the world and the people, the hardship and the celebrations around me. My body feels the world so intensely, and my brain is very busy trying to make sense of it all. The explaining and reciting and scripting words come out easily. They live in my brain, so it’s not a far journey to come out of my mouth. But the feeling and relating and empathizing words detour to my heart. They take time to form, because my brain has to connect to my heart. My heart has to isolate those feelings, and then my brain has to filter out the static and the noise, the bright lights and itchy tights from the very same moments. The hardest job is the one of figuring out which feelings are universal ones and which are the kind that are unique to me, and then I have to find universal words to be able to share them. All of that takes time, plenty of still and quiet moments, and it takes a calmness that lets me tune in to the music and prayers and stories all around me that echo my own experiences and help me put words to it, words that other people understand.
My mouth is good at lists and rules and facts. Mouths are good for things that only need to exist for a fleeting moment, voiced and then gone from right-now forever. My hands are good for the things that simmer, long and slow, making their way to my fingers over weeks and months and years. When my head and my heart convene and eventually find the words that make my head light up and my heart sing, they slide slowly into my fingers, the weight of them only really fit to be built of black letters so carefully crafted into word, one at a time, on a white screen.
I still get asked what grade I’m in, if I’m serious that I can drive, and no, really, you went to college? Sometimes it annoys me, sometimes I want to get on my soapbox, but mostly, it doesn’t bother me very much. Because unlike the sensory overload that makes people misunderstand, and unlike the words I speak that vanish the second I ay them, these words, the ones that are mine and are me, they aren’t about to go anywhere. Good thing, because no one can say I don’t understand every joy and sorrow and how people love. But really… I always did.