PQ 4.4 — What do I bring to the table for others?
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”
-Stephen King, “The Body”
When I was growing up, my mother often punished me for what I said.
When I wasn’t silly, I was offensive. I talked too much. “Shut up, no one wants to hear what you have to say.” It was extra confusing when these reprimands came after I was asked for my opinion. A double bind.
I learned to bite my tongue. To say the minimum necessary. What I expected my mother wanted to hear. And for my real feelings? I turned to writing. To journals.
And it all went well until my mother started to search my room, under the guise of cleaning. She read the notebooks she found. I’m sure much of it would embarrass present day me. I was a child. They weren’t masterpieces. But to her? I had written doubt. Heresy. Filth.
“Devil child,” she said. “This is so disgusting. You should be ashamed.” The spiral notebooks were confiscated, burned.
And so I continued on, without a safe place to put my thoughts.
Until I finally found one. It’s why I alphabetize so easily. And why I can tell you instantly that Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. I learned to write in cipher. A simple numeric one where A equals 1 and Z, 26.
Mom left the numbers alone and was happy I was so interested in math.
I still remember the brutal isolation of those years stuck in the country. Before I had a car or some way out.
I often spoke to the wall about my day, an imagined companion. One day, I thought, I’ll have someone real to talk to, someone who understands.
Not just someone who didn’t punish me for what I thought but someone who might even understand. And celebrate in my thoughts.
I vowed I would never be like my mother, a woman who in conversation was forever waiting for her turn to speak. Never really interested in what the other person had to say.
I’m Safe to Talk to
What I bring to the table: More than anything, I try to be someone that my partner can say anything to. I’m safe to talk to. To confide in. I do my best to understand and keep us moving forward. Even if I don’t like what a partner is saying, I keep my calm and give them the benefit of the doubt. No flying off the handle because something isn’t phrased well. Or I don’t like the sentiment.
What Skyspook Said
I picked Skyspook’s brain for this question. “Can you tell me what I bring to the table?”
At first, he was evasive. “I could,” he said, “But I think it’ll be good for you to have to think about it. You sell yourself so short.”
I thought about it for about a week before I told him what I’d come up with. “I’m safe to tell things to.”
“You are,” he agreed. “But is that all?”
“Well, it’s the one thing I’m doing on purpose that I’m sure I do reasonably well.”
“I’m sure you can think of more,” he said.
“Well, I’m a hard worker. Which means I can support myself financially. I’ll always have a job. If I lose mine, I’ll get another. You know me. I can’t just sit around mooching. It’s just not how I am.”
Skyspook nodded. “You’re a grown up. An adult. You take care of yourself.”
“Is that something I bring to the table though?”
“Well,” he said. “Think about how difficult that can be for you to find that in people as you’ve been dating.”
“That’s true,” I said.
“Try thinking of it this way,” Skyspook said. “What qualities do you look for in others? Do you also have those?’
I sighed. “I guess that’s the purpose of this question.”
“Oh,” I said. “Getting me to reflect on whether I’m asking more out of potential partners than I’m able to provide them.”
“Yep,” he said. “A ‘check yourself’ kind of question.”
“Am I?” I asked him.
He smiled. “You’ll have to figure that out by yourself.”
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.