Saturday, May 5, 2007

Never Let Them See You Sweat

If you can’t say anything nice...don’t say anything at all. When I was growing up it seemed like disagreements would never be tolerated, conflict would be ignored, and all the unpleasant things of life would be carefully swept under the rug.

When I was in junior and senior high school, my friends called my parents June and Ward Cleaver. They were one of the few happily married parents in my circle of friends, but our resemblance to the Cleaver’s went deeper than that. Everything was always about appearances. I realize I was lucky in many respects – it’s not like we were hiding incest or abuse behind our pretty veneer.

The thing is, I’m not sure who we were keeping up appearances for. It’s not like we were part of a “certain social class” that demanded that kind of behavior. Most of my parents’ friends had plenty of dirty laundry flapping in the breeze. But not us. Never us.

And when cracks did appear, my parents were frighteningly adept at cleaning up the mess and then completely forgetting it ever happened. This can be really useful when dealing with a stupid mistake. But it also makes it difficult to learn from those mistakes or to feel any sort of continuity in your life.

I took this lesson so seriously that even in my journals, that most private of spaces, I rarely wrote about any ugliness. A good friend, K, died two days before my 15th birthday. In the year following there are exactly two entries in my journal that mention her. One, written a few days after her death, is a terse, factual account of how she died. The next, over a year later, mentions that I stopped by the cemetery to put flowers on her grave and that I could not cry.

I did not record how beautiful the weather was that Monday morning when a teacher told us that K was dying. I did not record my denial or how I felt when I heard another friend screaming my name in a room down the hall when she heard the news. There is no record of her funeral at an evangelical church and how I glared at the preacher from my front row seat during the prayers. I noted that I couldn't cry when I visited her grave, but I did not record how I decided to not cry as some sort of misguided attempt to be everyone else’s pillar of strength.

Despite all those journal entries about feeling alienated in my own family, I was already very much a part of it.

No comments: