And so, she was beautiful to me

She had blue skin.
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by –
And never knew.

Masks by Shel Silverstein

I remember the sunlight on 8th Avenue and 15th Street that morning vividly. New York City is beautiful in the morning, but only if the streets aren’t packed with throngs of hurried people. The sunlight streamed into the tangled mess of steel and concrete and glass, bouncing from one reflective surface to another until it finally lay flat on the ground, or on me.

Often, while alone—and only while alone—I’d walk facing the sky. In the Summer, if I woke early enough or stayed up late enough, I’d slow my typically brisk pace to relish the thick, warm air as I walked through it. In the Winter, when too many people woke before the sun, I’d wait for rush hour to end before venturing outside, because that’s when I could feel the sun drape its light on me the way I wanted to feel it.

It was one of those cold, late mornings in the Winter that I remember, except I wasn’t alone. On this particular morning, I was walking with my father and we were talking about school. I’d recently started attending another school after dropping out of the one I had just been in, and, again, I hated it.

But there was a girl, and her name was Bre, and one day she told me in visibly unconcerned confidence that she, like me, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And so, she was beautiful to me, and I got a crush on her. And on this particular morning, playing hooky for a while with an understanding father, I was explaining all this to him as matter-of-factly as I could, lest I seem too smitten.

As my father is wont to do when he correctly sensed I had shared something that made me feel uneasy, he paused momentarily, looked at me concertedly, and then began to tell me an allegorical tale. This time, he told me of a short story he had once read. It went something like this.

On a day very much like that sunlit day, a man and a woman met at a sidewalk café. They quickly struck up a conversation and, soon thereafter, found themselves spending a good deal of time with one another. As their friendship flourished and their fondness for one another deepened, however, they each became more afraid of revealing their romantic feelings to the other.

The story, my father told me, was written from both of their perspectives. The narrative voice switched from one to the other, so that the reader became a sort of voyeur able to peer into each of the protagonists’ minds. Although the details of his fears were different from hers, the outcome was the same: neither told the other the extent of their true feelings.

Ultimately, it was a very sad story. It ended on a note of mutual resignation rather than happy romance. But the moral is clear, and so was my father’s message.

I remember this story whenever I shy away from revealing something about myself for fear of rejection, ridicule, or even shame. Like the characters in the story, I don’t always muster the courage to lay myself bare. In fact, I never told Bre about my crush on her and before long my opportunity had gone, as she transferred to another school. However, the memory serves to make me that much braver in moments like these.

There are numerous things I’m struggling to work up the courage to offer for public view. I am afraid of being ridiculed and mocked. I am afraid of being ignored; that things important to me are not important to anyone else; of being unimportant, myself. Most of all, though, and contrary to some of my bravado, I am afraid of being disliked.

But I also know I am often ridiculed and mocked precisely because I show courage when others do not. I know I am often ignored precisely because the things important to me are too threatening for others to acknowledge. And I know I am often disliked precisely because of my conviction’s integrity.

Often, all of that makes me conspicuous, and so I’m sometimes thought to be “inspiring” when framed positively or “intimidating” when framed more negatively. I think enfant terribles are important, and I’ve rarely felt happier than when I receive (now weekly, if often private) thanks for sharing myself publicly. But at the same time, I really do not want to be any of those things. I want, instead, to be plain and largely forgotten.

I want to be in love and feel close with people. And I’m afraid the more “inspiring” or “intimidating” I become, the more I’ll stand out as someone hard to feel close to.

I remember when someone who was in love with me sang along to Billy Joel as we crossed the Golden Gate bridge. And I remember when another who was in love with me put her arm around me as I gently shook flowers off the tree we climbed on Atwell’s Avenue. And I remember both of the days when each of them stopped feeling safe enough to be in love with me, days I revealed the extent of my true feelings.

So I think that, these days, I share so much of myself with strangers so publicly because what I really want is to share myself with someone who loves me. And I just hope you’re reading.

7 replies on “And so, she was beautiful to me”

  1. May,
    I know we haven’t been in touch much lately – my life has caught up with me & I haven’t been active in some of the projects we’ve talked about. I just want to drop a note, though, and make sure you know that I’m always reading and that I care.
    I admire & envy the passion with which you burn, and understand your fear that that could be distancing to some. Honestly, I’m sure there are cases where it is, but I also know that your intensity and fierceness are so much more genuine and attractive than any dampened-down version of yourself I could imagine. I find it hard to be close with people who aren’t genuinely themselves, and imagine others feel similarly.
    With a hug from far away,
    ~Zeph

  2. So I think that, these days, I share so much of myself with strangers so publicly because what I really want is to share myself with someone who loves me. And I just hope you’re reading.

    This really resonates with me. Guess I’ve always had a wish in the back of my mind that somebody would read my blog and just frigging *find* me already. See me, “get” me, *want* what they see.

    At the same time, I use that blog as a weapon and a shield – I can be quite intimidating myself, and anybody I get involved with has to understand and be prepared to deal with that side of me. I’d much rather run them off early than have them change their minds later.

  3. You are all of the things that you mentioned: the courage, the conviction, the fear, the sorrow, bravery and bravado, inspiration and intimidation. Conflicting needs and conflicting desires. They’re all wrapped up in the same little package and the sum of them all is beautiful. Conspicuously so, from out here; maybe it’s not so obvious from inside. But showing more or less of it doesn’t change that.

    I hope *you* love that whole complicated self as well. He deserves it, and he’s worth it.

  4. Ridiculed, mocked, alone. Which is better? For me, the ridicule or even potential ridicule is too harsh. So, I think I might be that ancient man, though that terrifies me too (I’m here from your July 5, 2011 photo). Yet, I’m not sure I would have it any other way.

  5. You say things EXACTLY the way I think them. For example:

    “But I also know I am often ridiculed and mocked precisely because I show courage when others do not. I know I am often ignored precisely because the things important to me are too threatening for others to acknowledge. And I know I am often disliked precisely because of my conviction’s integrity.”

    You are a large, bright light for me this morning as I read through your blog. Thank you.

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