“Everyone I know has been making me crazy. Being around someone who doesn’t…who isn’t…it sounds all right.”
Tillie Walden, Are You Listening?
In one of my older memories, I come into a room because I hear my mother crying. I ask what I’ve already learned to ask when people cry:
“Are you okay?”
She nods, smiles through her tears. “I’m sad.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“It’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.”
Twenty-four or twenty five years later, and I’m still trying to learn that lesson. Maybe that’s because lots of other sources taught me it wasn’t okay (I know plenty of adults with rules like “no crying”), and maybe it’s because, as a culture, I think we often do relationships by restriction. We set up invisible requirements that you’ll show this part of yourself, but not that one; you’ll be one side of you, but not another. I think we do the same thing in a lot of our art: a friend and I were recently talking about Half World, a young adult book that acknowledges alcoholism, cutting, and other “adult” topics. “Wait,” joked my friend, “But isn’t it better to ignore those things, and treat anyone who interacts with them or talks about them as evil?”
I wonder if this is what Tillie Walden’s character is pushing against. It’s an issue of being known when being known is a kind of limitation: you’re the funny one, the smart one, the artsy one. You’re the mechanic or the lawyer. You’re a specific role, and this kind of knowing expects you to keep to it. I wonder if we can know each other in a kinder, wider way.
When I write, there is so much I have trouble approaching. When I talk to people, there is so much I have trouble revealing. Without meaning to, I’ve put these restrictions on those I care for. But I don’t want to. Sometimes I might need to step away from my friends, just like Walden says; I wonder if, even more, I need to step away from a kind of knowing, a kind of imagined being, that tells us all to be what I’ve expected. I wonder if we can grow close to each other and “know” each other as mysteries.