In Bhanu Kapil’s book, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, there’s a Twelve Questions poem that I knew I wanted to find answers to the moment I read it. I love a great exercise of interrogation and of course, the hope that in some small ways, I discover some truth, come across a changed thought or simply better understand this self, this nuanced life and learn ways to carry well that which I have been given.
Question 2: Where Did You Come From/ How did you arrive?
I’ve been staring at this question for a good while and I have no idea how to begin answering it. But I guess I can start from where I am now, and then I can attempt to retrace my steps. As for arrival, I truly cannot say. Every day I am drawing closer to and within myself and then, by all urgent means, to God. It’s as if I’m bending inward, turning my eyes solely to my heart and its desires and all that exhausts me. The solitude is like its own little world, a haven where I can simply be without the need to engage or connect with what’s outside of me. I think it can be a good thing, but only for a moment or so.
Bell Hooks said, “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as means of escape.” And yet, I hardly use companionship as a form of escape. I hardly use it for anything at all. Well, maybe I do, perhaps not in ways that are expected and ways I wish I could. I know what great harm this shutting down can cause, I realize how much fear and self-centeredness can begin to sprout in this environment. I am trying really hard to open up myself to the world, to be a little less afraid of people and the expectations that abound. I am not doing a good job at it, but what I will not do now is beat myself up and be too hard on myself. I will try to step out of my shell, reach out to others, and show up. I want to be kinder and gentler, but even as I type this, I know I’m barely any of those things to myself. It is unbelievable the amount of self-sabotage that exists in oneself, and it is shocking the depths of its ruins.
I come from a home that was at first filled with men – my father, my two brothers, whom I grow to love and respect more each year, and a cousin. My self-discipline and organizational skills I learned from a father who woke up at five o’clock every morning and who, upon returning from work, left his cufflinks at the same spot night after night – the top of his bedside drawer. He was a man who barely complained of losing something because he was consistent with where he kept them. I come from a home of cheerleading – my father printed my first publication in the newspaper and showed it to everyone. A home where Math was the men’s strength and a subject I painfully struggled with, counting my fingers and toes for an equation that seemed to drill its way into me. My father was not a patient Math teacher, but he was an excellent listener, a bad cook but a good hugger; came home late on most days but showed up for all PTA meetings.
In high school, I would run to the phone booth to call him during call hours, and the first thing he said, always said, was, “Yes, my girl.” Because the first thing I said as I plucked the red telephone on my ear was, “Daddy!” I called him and claimed him and was always running to him. A relation so profound, its force untamed and slightly mysterious, that a girl can look to her father and honor who he is, simply by trusting him. I maintain that so much of my fear is from having watched the only man I’ve ever loved slip through my fingers—sudden and quick and sharp as a wind lashing against a body.
I also come from a home of deep silence and loss and darkening rage. Of a cruel illness that seizes the body and siphons the life out of it. Of distance and absence. Of witnessing the shrinking of flesh, the fragility of a man who had everything to lose. Of brothers who have fought and wept. Of motherhood that spins its tail on a table round and round and sometimes it tips and falls off and other days, it keeps spinning and spinning out of control, dizzying every set of eyes fixated on its dance. Over the years, my home has learned and unlearned what it means to carry well and forgive; to have the wave of grief move through us but not lose ground, to have an anchor that keeps our souls, and to make the daily commitment to trust.
From a past encumbered with fear, indignation, and a grave sense of being misunderstood, it is my earnest hope that I can become so much more than the experience. That I’ll break free from it as though I am inflating inside a box – bigger and bigger – until its shape can no longer hold and so it comes apart and out emerges a new self—a delightful chance at reinvention and growth. Here, in this open space, I am not permanently flawed and, with all my heart, I want to walk in the truth of my being.