Where do I start?
Sometimes my son says, “I can’t words,” and I know exactly what he means. Words, I think, are all I have; my mind doesn’t do pictures. I can draw if I get the wordsy bit to shut up, but it’s as if the words are crushing the images, distorting them into scribbles, something that a toddler would do. Handwriting was never a strong suit for me.
When I was a kid I would go mute under stress, lock myself in a room, sit on the floor, semi-catatonic, while the grownups started to panic that I was beyond salvaging. Other times I was chatty as anything, with that precocious vocabulary that certain odd children have. I’d read my mother’s medical journals, the Latinate and Greek anatomical terms gradually focusing themselves over the repetitions. Hepatic. Renal. Substantia nigra.
I’ve been reading of a common experience of overawareness combined with a lack of self awareness. Anxiety that I’m always doing or saying the wrong thing, but never sure when it’s happening. Not enough clues to know, other than occasionally the sense, in a room, of heaviness, of a lack of response that indicates deep wrongness, something I should know, but don’t.
I am typing with my eyes closed. If I open them and look at what I’m writing, I will be compelled to back up, cross out, start over, erase. Too much self awareness leads to more mutism. Too much self awareness leads to running on in some idiotic prattle for too long, boring the audience, such as it is, driving away anyone kind enough, or unassertive enough, not to beg off at the nearest opportunity. Bad. Wrong. Stupid. Always say the wrong thing first, realize it, and backpedal. Know the answer but take too long to say it, except when I blurt out something so quickly that it’s either deeply correct or excruciatingly incorrect. Either way: weird. Off kilter. Laugh too soon, or not at all.
I took a job that required human contact, lots of it, because I knew it was a skill I should work on, and this would force me into making the effort. Well, I made the effort, only to be told that people would rather I didn’t. Incompetent.
I asked my boss what I was good at. He said if I were stranded in the desert with a broken car I would probably find a way to get air into the tires, even if that seemed impossible, but the problem with the car wasn’t the tires. I’m solving the wrong problems. I once worked for a well-known literary figure who eventually, inevitably, fired me, saying I was obviously smart but had “no business sense whatsoever.” That has never changed. I’m looking for work again, hoping to go before I’m pushed out.
As a child, I flapped my hands when I was excited. I hid in closets at school when I was upset. I was mute. I was sexually harassed on the bus for months, the older boy insisting, in a mocking voice, that he was in love with me, he was serious, and if I cried I’d only make things worse. I never had a problem detecting sarcasm.
I open my eyes to fix the typos and the repetitions. Those words belong to the screen, not to my eyes. Don’t say anything; it will be wrong. I want to go limp, but the deadlines are looming, the gates are slamming shut: I want them to. I want to rest.