Safety

To be an author. To put pen to paper and weave tales that transcend spaces and times. To create characters who are meaningful to others outside of your own world. It’s a feat. I’m in awe.

Sometimes, when I’m reading, I find too much of myself in a character. The wrong parts of myself, the scary ones. And I stop reading so much as watching, regarding what happens to the character I see as myself, wondering where the line comes that will separate us, wondering how much of my own life will go on to mirror the character’s fate. Sometimes I feel trapped within the pages of the story, even after I have closed my book, and I can’t help but look around for the author of my own life. Do authors write the way I do? Do they live inside their own heads so much that as they witness real life, it is rearranged in a romantically abstract, distant way? Are any stories purely fantastical, or are they merely recordings of how things are being seen? If the latter is the case, whoever is writing for me cannot be far away.

I don’t want to be an Uma. “Love Marriage”. V V Ganeshananthan. I remember why this book was so alarming to me. Eyes that see Other Worlds, that come with ears that hear Other Voices. When her character fell off the road into bushes and screamed, I screamed too. It didn’t matter that no one could hear me, or that no scratches showed up on me. I could feel them on my face.

“I want to know what’s going on inside your head,” he said, and I knew he wasn’t talking about the chess game.

“What’s the last thing you wrote about?” he asked later, as we walked around looking for his car.

I told him about the ghosts, the rape, the kiss on the forehead.

“That’s deep,” he said, and I let his words hang without agreeing. “Do you feel protected now?”

“No,” I told him. Never, I thought.

What I wanted to say:
There’s a boy at school who has severe behavioral problems, but he isn’t defiant when he doesn’t listen. He just lives in his own world. One teacher thinks he has autism. He definitely has trouble functioning with the group, and usually it seems like he isn’t there. But then you put a worksheet in front of him and he can do it, even if you’d swear the entire time he was staring out the window, he’d been ignoring you.

“He just needs to focus,” one teacher told me.
“He needs to believe that the world is safe enough for him to be sane,” I said.

When he was younger, he used to be fine. That’s what mom says, anyway. But then, he walked in on dad trying to drown mom in the bathtub, and it was over. He shut down.
That makes sense. Some truths are too much to deal with, so we cocoon ourselves away from them. He cocooned his mind, he was young enough not to feel guilty about doing it.

What I wanted to explain:
Sometimes, I think that’s what I do. I dull myself, so I won’t have to process things. Sometimes it makes me seem very ditzy, and not there. I’m a purposeful airhead. I have to be, or I’d never be able to leave my house, trust anyone, do anything. So I just can’t think, or process, too much, and I’ll get by.

What I wanted to point out:
I don’t know you. You are a stranger. You present as a man and teach chess in the Bronx, and that’s it. But I am alone with you. We are in a car, your car, and you are driving: I am dependent on you. You think I’m attractive, you would have asked me out if I hadn’t told you not to. You could rape me right now. Because the men who already have hurt me, have all known me. As a stranger, you owe me nothing. And if you hurt me, it would be my fault for going with you in the first place. That’s terrifying. Even if I recognize this, I will not process it, because the more I think about it, the closer I am to jumping into traffic.

What I actually said:
“No, but it’s still a nice thing to have. I’m not safe, but  know that someone in the world cares about me.”

He nodded. Dropped me off. I made it to my next stop without incident, without attack, without Other Voices or paralysis.

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