Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Priest at the Cocktail Party

Sunlight filters down through the skylight and stripes the carpet. The color of the carpet is the place where lavender and gray tryst late at night. It is soft but thin against my baby fingers. If I press hard, I can feel the floor beneath. It is not a carpet that forgives falls. I have learned this truth through experience. I am crawling up the stairs to my bedroom. The slant of the light tells me that it is early afternoon. I am concentrating hard, placing hands and knees strategically. The carpet prickles the flesh at my kneecaps. I am neither content nor fretful. I am focused on my goal of making it to the top of the stairs.


This is my first memory. It is also the last memory I have that is not invested with emotional content, and for that it continues to reassure me forty-five years later. I am something of an emotional weather station. I can tell you the emotional temperature in a room, sure, but I can also gauge the emotional wind speed and barometric pressure. I am able to predict whether emotional fallout will arrive as rain, snow, ice, or that wintry mix of which we all despair. Being me is tiresome indeed.

One of my sons is incapable of predicting emotional weather. He believes himself not disadvantaged but advantaged by his inability to read another person's subtext. He swims through life as if it is the climate-controlled water of a swimming pool: no waves, currents, danger. Just make sure to use your arms and legs to propel you forward, and you will always get exactly where you want to be. Like the horses who drive carriages in New York City, my boy wears blinders that obscure all but the view forward. 

Sometimes I yearn to be him. I didn't ask to be the way I am, after all, to be able to sense who at the party is clutching at a painful secret, who is fantasizing about having a relationship with another person's spouse, or who is furious at the once and future best friend. I might choose to keep silent about what I see, but that's never enough. The other half of the story is that people, even strangers, gravitate towards me. They know. They share their stories, the unprettier the better. Afterwards they look relieved, the sky scrubbed clean and new after a storm.

But I am left alone, gulping down the dregs of my wine. It's no wonder that I hate parties, that I dread them as soon as I scan the invitation that heralds their arrival. I am the priest in the confessional, only I never once chose to open my door to you. You open my door to me, and try as I might cannot close it. It is your Pandora's box, and ends up mine, too.

So if you, elderly lady at the supermarket, are telling me about your long estrangement with your son who lives in Phoenix with his second wife and her four unruly children, and I happen to close my eyes briefly, do not mind. I am crawling up the stairs to my bedroom, one dimpled hand here, one chubby toddler knee there. I have somewhere to be, you see.


Amanda said...

The priest at the cocktail party, but also, the unicorn in my virtual midst.

The heart I know has also flinched at the hurt happening next door, the fights moments from sparking, the secrets that read like neon to us.

Love to your tired and massive heart.

Mary Gilmour said...

I wonder if there is a male anywhere who can read emotional climate the way we must. A white male, anyway. Not a life saving skill for most of them.

I am glad you had a carpet, prickly or not, to give you some traction.