Tuesday, April 25, 2017

stainless steel silence

I remember the elevator doors closing.  We all did what strangers in an elevator do, we picked a spot and stared at it.  A mundane part of the work day and yet that moment is so clear it holds no time stamp.  I can step back into it in an instant. 

It's as if the whole scene plays on a loop in the back of my mind. I know what I was wearing, the time of day, the season, what floor I was on, and which one I was traveling to. 

I can hear the soft hum of the offices that haunt the halls of the school of medicine.  Feel the press of people around me. Taste the hospital air with it's over shampooed carpets and burning dryers cooking the white sheets.  

The doors opened.  People politely parted. I stepped forward into the tiny box and turned around. The doors closed. I looked down at my feet. The elevator moved. Then it stopped.  The bell binged.  The doors opened. I got off on my floor.

It's a ride I have now taken thousands of times.  In fact, I take it whenever there is something I want to say but I find I cannot. When someone is asking me a question I can't answer. I mean really can't, not don't want to, or don't know the answer but physically can't.

The difference is truly clinical. And perhaps a bit ironic for a writer but if you have ever asked me one of these questions you might be able to look back and actually see the struggle.

I open my mouth and nothing comes out. I sigh. I pause. I try again.  I hear the words but I can't break them loose. I shake my head. I try again. Nothing happens and I shake my head "no" or shrug my shoulders, smile or roll my eyes. Utter, "Never mind..." 

It is similar to the feeling of trying to scream to wake yourself from a bad dream.

After 2 therapist failed to help me overcome this mental dam of words a behavioral psychologist gave me a better out than "never mind".  Sort of a push-phrase: "I don't know how to say what I want to say to you." Although "never mind" still shows up quite a bit.

Saying "I don't know how..." works well enough with women. They seem to understand the complexity of carrying thought to expression but with men it tends to crash and burn even before take off.      

What makes that moment in the elevator so fierce is in those few seconds as I looked down at my shoes it was the first time I realized I hadn't been waiting for the right moment or the right person to say something to.  My silence wasn't a choice it was a condition.

In those seconds surrounded by quiet strangers I was pleading with myself to say something- anything.  I remember thinking if I could just find a way to get even some of the words out I would be okay.  Someone would help me...words would save me.

Those words would stay trapped for over 20 years. Words I never managed to completely say to another person- until last night. 

They might have helped, had I been able to find them a voice. Who knows.

Of course, I don't pin so much value on them anymore. The simple act of blurting out in a crowded elevator that I wasn't okay & I needed help might have fast track my journey out of the darkness of my marriage but it won't have "saved" me. 

I know it was much more complicated than that.  I know because when you can't ask for help there are only 2 choices left.  Choice 1 or choice 2. I picked the ladder [sic] of them.  I helped myself out.   

I spent a few years actively trying to find my voice but honestly the times I do manage to break over the dam and awkwardly spit out what I need to say the end result is disappointing. I always figured if you were someone who doesn't ask for help very often when you finally did it would carry some sort of weight- but it doesn't.

I have long since stopped believing in the power of me speaking up for myself or saying how I truly feel. For me it is simply not worth the fight I have to go through to get it out. I figure if it matters it will be without me having to find the words.

But what I haven't given up on are the people I love. 

So last night after a pretty shitty day, standing in the rain at the back of a parking lot I got brave enough to give those words trapped in my head for so long a voice. I admitted face to face to someone else what I am now and where I came from to get here.

Words were all I had to offer to him. 

Words from another decade passing between the doors of someone else's closing elevator.  Someone else's stainless steel silence.

We stood facing each other under a sky that cried for us. Each of us standing in our own tiny metal box. I was talking but I don't think he could hear me over the dark storm raging inside his own head. 

I found the strength to do something for someone else I couldn't do for myself and in the end it didn't really matter.  My words fell at his feet in puddles with the rain.

I think about how with the dam finally broken there are all these other stories now free for me to tell. 

It's bittersweet. Letting go always is.  After all this time I have the voice to say a lot of things but I won't.  Not because I can't, because I don't want to.

I simply don't have anything else I need to say.

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