It is nearly impossible to get through a conversation with me without hearing a number of tangential stories about people I (have) know(n), places I’ve been, things I’ve read or learned, or experiences I’ve had. Sometimes, I get back to the original story I was telling and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, the tangent becomes the thing. These people, places, moments–and their significance to me–have made me what I am. They inform what I care about and why. They explain how I love and the kind of friend I am. They are teletype dispatches from a frenetic mind. And while I edit and revise here, with my loved ones (I’m afraid) I don’t.
The first time a lover told me that my stories were not interesting to him, I defaulted to an apology. I was trying very hard to impress him after a whirlwind online romance that had lasted a few months. When we finally met in person, all that imagined infatuation was let loose in a fury, and we spent a couple of crazy-wild weekends together on our different corners of the country. Then, abruptly, he said he didn’t want to be tied down. For a little while he was the kind of minor celebrity that gets photographed a lot for a small self-selecting fan base, and as I was, for a time, one of those fans, so I got to see what the alternative to “tied down” looked like. Here’s something I know for sure: the kind of women who make a career of dating rich men will never have to worry about me as competition. I figured I could accept his main shortcoming as one of shallowness and move on.
But then he came back. And back. I thought it was because he valued substance over glittering spray tans. I thought it signaled that I was more important than the nameless ring-girls. I knew some of it was that his minor celebrity had ended, but I also thought he valued me. But the on again off again was a drag. I asked him what his hang up was. He tried to explain, clearly frustrated, that back when we were just texting, I hadn’t “bothered” him with all this talk of people and stuff that he didn’t care about, but in person, I was different. He liked it better, he said, when I didn’t tell him things about my life so much (and instead just responded to things he’d said to me).
And you know what I did? I apologized! I said sorry for being “different” than I had been. I said sorry for being boring.
I tried, for a little while, to be more interesting to him. But, friends, it didn’t work out. Luckily.
The second* time it happened, I thought it was the least of my worries. I thought I’d learned to value my voice and to gather strength from my own storytelling superpower, imperfect though its aim sometimes is. But I heard myself starting to talk and then… and then I stopped, because the dangerous, volatile man I’d made the terrible mistake of moving in with didn’t like it when I “monopolized the conversation.” I shut up and shut down.
I left not long after, so maybe that’s a kind of improvement. But even then, I told myself that I valued my writing too much to stay in such a place (he hated my writing, too). There were a ton of reasons to get out of there, but it as my writing I wanted to protect, not my actual voice. Even then, even still!
Now as a grown ass adult, I carry many past hurts. I wish that I didn’t, that I could let them go. I imagine them like a flock of noisy crows that will one day leave me like a tree at dusk, all at once and in a flurry, if I can just find the magic word to say. Like: I remember so many ways that I’ve been silenced (I was once teased for swallowing too loud–swallowing? Can you believe that? I tried to swallow more quietly and still think about it whenever I imagine a lover can hear me drinking something). Why you’re nothing but a flock of crows, I’d like to insist. But I digress.
I’m trying to write an essay right now about voice. How we get ours. How we learn what to say and what not to. And I realized while I was writing it that I still do this. I still apologize when someone else doesn’t like what I’ve said or how I’ve said it. I apologize for my mind’s relentlessness. I am so sorry to bother. I make it my problem to solve when someone finds me uninteresting. When I write, when I talk, when I take up any kind of space in the world at all, I still worry whether or not I am making good enough use of it. I still worry that someone will come and tell me that no, no I am not.
*Both of these guys also demanded that I never write about them. Well, it’s like they always said: NO.