taking myself seriously, part 3
Since I’ve been spending so much time on the website of my local public library lately – I’ve recently discovered InterLibrary Loan – I keep seeing the photograph of a performer for children who will be visiting various branches this month. He appears with his rabbit, who has an extravagantly whimsical name.
The first 5 times I saw this man, I cringed. When I finally noticed I was doing it, I delved into the underlying issue, which turns out to be . . . the expression on his face is joyous and open.
Joy and openness — on your face, unmasked! — is a clarion call to predators and mean people that you’re vulnerable, sensitive.
In my experience, joy & openness are even more enticing (to predators & mean people) than appearing already hurt or injured. Because if they’re sadists, they will revel in destroying your happiness.
This guy’s expression also implies hope to me. And that’s what really made me cringe.
I don’t recall seeing joy or openness on the faces of almost anyone when I was growing up. But I do remember seeing hope. And then seeing it crushed.
I cringed in fear of that happening to this man, just as, for 40+ years, I’ve cringed whenever I’ve seen someone looking obviously, radiantly hopeful.
I almost want to grab them by the arm, and urgently whisper, “Don’t you know what’s going to happen to you? I love that you can still feel hope & joy, but you have to hide them, immediately! Bad things are coming your way as soon as They see you!”
But then I don’t do that, because maybe in their lives, they’re safe from such things.
The person whom I remember seeing emotionally devastated over and over was my father. By his father.
My father never learned to hide the hope on his face, that — just once — his father might say something loving or kind or tender. Or perhaps just recount a memory that my father was actually in. But no. My grandfather instead talked about people long dead, back in the old country. People whose company my grandfather preferred to my father’s, even though my father was there that day, and those people weren’t.
Now that I’m back on LinkedIn, occasionally my father’s photo cycles through the section of “People You Might Know”. I like the photo and I did recognize I like it because he looks vulnerable. He looks like he could be tender. He looks . . . hopeful.
I think it’s because either his eyebrows are white, or just really sparse, so somehow his face looks like he had just received a pleasant surprise when the camera shutter snapped.
He looks like a man who could, possibly, enjoy seeing a performer do tricks with a rabbit. Say, if he was there with a grandchild, or grandniece or -nephew in tow. Someone to provide legitimacy. That sounds kinda cold, but my father never seemed to viscerally understand the appeal of pets. He’s not touchy-feely.
I’ve begun smiling back at the photograph of the man with the rabbit. Sharing his delight. I’m considering attending one of the shows at the library myself.
Just typing that out, though, I feel tears, and fear. What if parents of children there are mean to me? What if the kids themselves are mean to me?
There are precedents. Lots of them.
Is it possible that I could re-live a traumatic childhood experience, and have it turn out differently?
The library event with the reptiles last year was different in kind, not just in degree, because reptiles are not . . . cuddly. They’re not “cute” in the normal sense of the term. Lots of adults are scared or repelled by them, so 47-year old me (or 5-year old me) liking reptiles and very obviously not being scared or repelled by them meant that any disapproval that adults in the audience might have felt for me, didn’t bother me at all. We were equals, in a certain sense.
But a rabbit is a totally different thing. Rabbits are sweet, and cute, and cuddly. They have to be treated gently. Their fur invites petting. And girls like rabbits.
Does that mean I’m a girl again? Because that word itself opens a can of worms I’d like to leave in the past, if at all possible.
When girl enters the scene, we’re not dealing with small-time mean people like Mrs. Nocerino. Oh no, the big guns come out, and it’s my mother’s father, and my mother, and my father and my godfather and my other uncles and every other person who crushed my spirit. While telling me it was my own fault, because “everyone knows that girls are worthless and stupid!”
It’s not like me being a boy would’ve been any less painful.
There was no way to be me and also be (even minimally) acceptable.
I want to see that rabbit show. I want to be a little kid that likes cuddly pretty creatures, and that’s okay.
Maybe that’s more than enough to start with.