I have always felt some unspeakable connection (unspeakable as in loss of words, loss of expression, a choking of emotion kind of unspeakable connection) with my eldest sister, Alyson. I do not know how she does it, how she knows what I need before I need it, a connection not severed by the distance of miles and state lines. She sends me, not trinkets, not gifts to be forgotten—but books. Books for holidays, for birthdays, and sometimes just because I exist. They are not carelessly given books. They are bridges between our hearts that gap the distance.
When I first started going to an actual university, I was timid and uncomfortable with myself. The introvert: Contained in my own head. Alyson sent me Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. I know, it sounds like a self-help book—and in a way that is exactly what it is. It is a book of short fiction. The stories of people’s lives—the stories of how they want to connect, how they try to connect, sometimes succeeding, but more often than not, failing. The stories of people caught in their own heads, fueling self-inflicted delusions, but always in search, always desiring that human connectivity.
That book changed my life. It made me a better person. It made me a better writer. Because I wasn’t as lonely anymore. I wasn’t as afraid as I used to be. Miranda wrote with such unshakably honest, such embarrassingly honest, abandon. She showed me I did not have to be embarrassed for all of the thoughts and feelings contained inside of me. I was not alone. It was safe to write them on pages and share them with others.
It was at this point I really started writing creative fiction and creative non-fiction. Something inside of me had come loose.
Recently, after a year I felt that I have grown the most as a person—the happiest and truest to myself I have ever been – my sister sent me Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? This book spoke to every receptor in my body, every feeling in my soul. My god! That woman can write! I am still in awe, tears still streaming down my cheeks from the last few paragraphs. I don’t know how she knew, my sister, but I can honestly say I needed this book in my life.
I have been writing a lot of memoir pieces as of late, memories surfacing, memories coming in snips and folds of time. Time, internalized, is not linear. It becomes fragmented with emotion—and it was coming back to me in stabbing shards. Jeanette writes, “She was a toddler, except that she was other ages too, because time doesn’t operate on the inside as it does on the outside”. Brilliant. And this book, the entirety of it as an epiphany, as a cacophony of feeling, as a learning of how to love is everything that I needed—a manual on how to wade through the past, on how to accept the things that have happened to me… and grow.
I love the lines, “The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. Yes, the past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need”. This book equipped me. This book made me realize things about myself, before unnoticed. And as terrifying as it is/was; this book made me revisit my past.
When reading this book I came to terms with my feelings/fears of containment—why I have a hard time being fully open with others, how I think a person will confine me, that I will not get to retain my freedom, my independence, my self-autonomy by sharing myself. To move on, to master my fear, I had to become a little girl again—just like Jeanette had to. She had to reconcile with her younger, demented self—as Salman Rushdie writes, “the harmony of the spheres”.
I remember being so small. So much inside my head, with not enough knowledge of words and language to articulate the innards. Just thinking about it now—“the kid kennel”—makes my heart beat faster and my throat choke with emotion. My parents had built a large kennel, or enclosed space—a grandiose cage—for our childhood pup, Spike. I do not know if it was negligence or lack of thought on their part—I do not really know or care for the whys. What I do know is that for some justification or another, they put my sisters and I in this cage—an inanimate replacement for a babysitter. We had a patch of grass, but really, you could only walk the perimeter of the pen. The grass was a jungle of dog feces and unshorn weeds. So we stuck to the dirt paths along the sides of the pen—pacing to and fro like animals at the zoo. The problem was—I was the youngest and the smallest. My sisters could climb over the barrier, learned to acquire their own freedom in the wake of unwatchful eyes. And there I would be: Small, alone, sucking on my fingers—encaged; contained. Left locked up with the dog. My sisters would try to give me emotional support from the outside, “You can do it, Ang! Just climb!” But I couldn’t. I wasn’t equipped. I felt so small. I felt so abandoned. I felt so defeated. Eventually the taste of freedom would become too sweet on my sisters’ tongues, and they would scurry like feral cats in elation, free of the shackles of containment, to leave me completely and utterly alone. I do not blame them. I would have run too.
And although these memories are so vivid, and although they still resurface every time I feel contained, caught, and afraid—I do not think they are wholly accurate or occurred for a prolonged period of my childhood. Though, their presence is prolonged. And I do not hate my parents for it. My dad was an alcoholic control freak who worked a lot, and hard, and who tried to exert some sort of control over all aspects of his life, including his daughters, because he felt helpless and had no real control. Because he never dealt with his fears and the feelings they evoked in him. My mother was sick—both physically and mentally. She learned both of those things from her mom. As Jeanette writes, “Yet I would rather be this me—the me I have become—than the me I might have become without the books, without education, and without all the things that have happened to me along the way.”
This is how I feel. I am not okay with the person I am because of my life. I love the person I am. I love my parents, flaws and all—for the fact that they are humans, that they are fallible. But I refuse to ignore my feelings and fears like they did. I want to explore them. I need to explore them. I need to go back and become that little girl again—to understand; to overcome.
Jeanette ends the book with the line, “I have no idea what happens next.”
Neither do I. But I do know that I am learning; that I am growing. That I am understanding myself and my fears one staggering, fragmented syllable at a time. And Alyson—I know we do not say this, but: I love you.