Walls

Walls are a hot topic lately - today I'm writing about metaphorical ones, though. The ones that a person can have around themselves that keep other people out. I have a lot of those and I employ a lot of energy erecting and maintaining them.

It's often said that once you admit you have any sort of problem, you've completed the elusive "first step" towards change. However, this acknowledgement now also comes with an indulgent expectation of praise and sympathy...and it implies that you're going to take subsequent steps. This is presumptuous. I think a lot of people make it to this "first step" and then receive congratulations and STOP. I do this. I make jokes about it. But I do not take subsequent steps.

I am a complicated, tangled person with a gargantuan emotional range and don't know how to let all of it out. So I keep it in...with walls. I also cannot say things aloud, because then that's admitting things, and giving them an existence. What doesn't exist shouldn't hurt you.

BUT! You know, dear reader, that this can be a stupid way to live and cultivate relationships with other living, breathing humans. Humans talk - sometimes a lot - and a common language is what enables them to bridge the gaps between their subjective understandings and feelings and someone else's, who has their own. It's the closest way to feeling someone else's feelings, if you are told about them. It can be beautiful, cathartic, eye-opening, soul-baring, embarrassing, weakening, traumatizing. So most of the time I avoid it.

And it's partly where I came from, though I won't bore you by being yet another person blaming shortcomings on my upbringing or environment, because it's not the whole story. It's a huge part of the story, but it's not the whole thing. I have had opportunities to make different choices as an educated adult in situations different from those of my forebears, and I didn't, for many reasons, one of which is habit and another of which is terror.

I'm working on this thesis project, which is not an autobiography. But it touches upon a lot of things I have been criticized for, questioned on, by people who wanted me to climb one of these huge walls I've built to get to them, as a token of what they meant to me. And I couldn't (wouldn't?) do it for them. I don't regret all of those times, but of course I do regret some. All I can do now is learn from the experience and become a little less fearful about deciding what to do the next time it comes around. People always want you to scale walls for them: your own, theirs, someone else's, ones that don't even exist. They'll build them just to ask you to climb them. It's not easy for either party, on either side, and one has to walk away.

But when someone else is trying to scale my walls, klaxons and barking dogs and metal gates come into the mix. I was told recently that I had "finished the hard part" with getting to know a new person and the rest was going to be "easy", and I couldn't have felt more in disagreement. Is it just me? The fact that someone is GETTING closer is more terrifying than wondering if they want to get close at all. The "hard part" hasn't even started yet. And I watch with such guilt as the person works so hard and gives so much to get past each wall and I don't just open the door because I am afraid and I'm busy panicking about it, silently, as I watch. I'm laughing now because how do I have friends? What's even behind these walls that they want??

I have friends because I have been fortunate enough to meet genuinely kind, loving, supportive people who see through any spikiness or coldness or lack of effort on my part and love me anyway. They laugh at me thinking I'm safe and at peace alone behind my walls, then they walk over to where they know the cracks are and waltz in, as they've been doing for years, and they color what has gone gray. And then they hug me or do something else super gross and affectionate and know that when I complain I don't mean it (maybe). I'm grateful for the people who know my language. They know what I mean when I don't say anything, and I am baffled as to how they learned this, but as we get older I try to get better at saying thank you.

I do wonder, in rare moments, what it would be like to take down the walls myself. There are some I've had for so long I probably don't need them anymore. I'm not exactly the same as I was when I built them, even if I think I am. But I don't think I usually take that step. I think instead I use the time while someone else is working to infiltrate, to come up with a runaround explanation as to why I didn't just open the damn door, which I am positive they will want to hear in its entirety if they ever get to me, annoyed and tired. Maybe expecting a hug.

I'm not sure how to end this without making some corny comment about who pays for walls, so I'll just stop here...