“I can’t imagine you being angry,” he says to me as we dance. He pushes his palm towards me, and I turn–or do I spin? I think I spin, the soles of my dancing shoes slippery enough to make it easy. I can’t imagine a person who never gets angry.
I can’t imagine this version of myself.
“I can’t imagine you being angry.” It is someone else this time, many months ago, I can no longer remember who, but I remember it was a man–a writer, I think–and I remember feeling the same bafflement.
What do people think, when they think of me? I imagine they think of me with charm pushed to maximum, my smile lighting up not only my face but my entire presence, as I interweave through a complex dance of conversation and introductions and “yes, I know so-and-so” and gaze intently while someone speaks and then throw back my head and laugh. This is maybe the person we cannot imagine being angry.
This is maybe the person we imagine being too much. “I think maybe you’d be too much for me,” he tells me, unprompted. I wonder why he is telling me this, but he does, and I consider it some time before rejecting it.
“I thought maybe you’d be too much.” A different person, about three months later, and the echo makes me take it more seriously this time.
What is too much? My full dazzle social mode? The social skills I spent huge amounts of energy building up once I was surprised to discover I needed them to be a writer? The skills I built up so I’d no longer be so isolated, so I’d no longer fade into the wallpaper, so I’d no longer keep all my thoughts to myself? So that I could walk into my fourth social gathering of strangers in twenty-four hours and speak with a smile about science fictional ideas instead of wilting in on myself and wishing I were somewhere else?
Or, since it is this year, is it the unbridled joy that is too much? I would have thought if I were to be too much, it would be the dark sides of myself, but those haven’t been on display to color these people’s impressions of me. Other things not on display: Many of my emotions. Many of my thoughts. The price I paid back in my days of invisibility. The price I pay to be too much. How after social gymnastics practice, I crash on the couch or on the bed, drained in a way that leaves me feeling empty of words, sometimes even empty of thought.
If I have to suffer through that same conversation one more time, I think to myself, well…I don’t know what.
I inevitably have that conversation again.
They do not see me stride deliberately to the end of the beach, away from the crowd and the lights but just in range of the music. I dance by myself with the waves.
I ask her, “Do you think I’m an extrovert?” She is an extrovert herself, and she does not think I am. “You get really quiet when you’re in a group,” she says.
Except when I don’t. Except when I am very chatty. Except when I accept, mulling through these diverse opinions, that I am a multi-dimensional person.
I said to myself, I want to shine bright bright bright. I said it over and over, through the difficult autumn and into the winter, and I wonder now if that is what you see?
But let’s go back to the summer of 2013, two years ago now, and she says to me, “You’ve lost weight. It was like you were hiding behind it.”
And I thought to myself, hiding? Was that what I was doing? Because at the time I felt like I was shrinking, disappearing, becoming smaller, less than. The weight was mysterious and fickle in its passage.
In retrospect, of course that’s how I felt. Because my old self was disappearing as the new one was being reborn. And it hurt, oh how it hurt, and watching the old self fade away was frightening. And watching the new one emerge, well: Would it be enough? I wasn’t so sure.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, soon after I’d been horribly ill. “You’ve lost some more weight, haven’t you?” my friend asks. He is concerned. He wants to feed me pie. I am relieved that in our culture of thin-worship and body hatred, someone else has noticed that maybe me becoming this thin because I was really sick isn’t actually a good thing. I want to be fed pie.
And I remember then what she said about me hiding behind the weight. I guess I’m not hiding anything anymore. Instead I’m trying to keep eating, eating, eating, to get back to a healthier weight. But it turns out I’m as challenged at deliberately gaining weight as I was at deliberately losing it. My body does as it pleases.
The reason this is relevant, my body–which I don’t like to talk about because I don’t want any of you to feel comfortable commenting on it–the reason my body is relevant is that we place a lot of emphasis on what we can physically see, us humans. It is so easy for my body to become how you see me. I deliberately try not to cross my arms in front of me because I know it matters.
Too much, not enough, I couldn’t tell you. Once upon a time this was the three bears’ house, and you were Goldilocks, but that’s not the way I run things anymore.
As I accumulate experience, I realize more and more how little the way you see me relates to the reality of who I am.