Little, nameless, (un)remembered acts (a PSA)
Posted on September 8th, 2014
Preface: I don’t like loud sounds. I don’t even like my name yelled through the house by people I love. (I don’t like loud anything, unless it’s very good music.) I don’t yell often. My speaking voice carries, and if I’m happy, you’ll know. But I have a stern voice, a mom voice, and a “do not fuck with me” voice, but a rule of thumb is the softer my voice (and the more formal my language), the angrier I am.
If I can’t speak at all, it’s usually because I’m so angry I’m afraid of what I might say.
I’m frequently asked about kH. How is he doing? Is he better? No, really, how IS he? What is his work situation like now? Is he looking for a new job? Where is he looking?
These people mean well. The questions come from my friends, his friends, and our friends. I don’t like answering them, because in all but a few cases, it’s not any of the querier’s business. But I can answer: “Better, thanks,” or “He’s making progress,” or “His boss still couldn’t find the appropriate regulations if someone smacked [this person] in the face with them,” or “Yes,” or “Everywhere.”
That I can count on one hand the people who’ve asked me how I’ve handled years of knowing my partner is suffering and being unable to do anything to fix it, parenting solo, giving up a job and all the attendant financial and professional pressures, homeschooling, doing all the housework–either speaks poorly of me or poorly of humanity in general. To those of you who do check in on me, please know it has meant everything and, many days, made all the difference.
If you know someone who is in a situation like mine, and you are asking how their partner is doing, please do not say things like, “So when are we going to see kH again?” or “Doesn’t kH like us? Why isn’t he here? When is he coming out again?”
These questions render me speechless, in a bad way. There is the implicit self-centeredness of the question. It can be said in a joking manner and it might be meant kindly, but in my ears it comes out as, “What about ME?”*
And then there is what it does to my brain. It makes my brain implode.
The first time it happened I was afraid of what I might say so I didn’t say anything. Nothing. No response. As well trained as I am to make polite chit-chat…I just…didn’t answer. I moved away and started talking to someone else. I can’t think of another time in my life when I’ve done that.
After that I decided to have an answer prepared, so last night when I got the same question, I was ready. Mostly. If I said what I’d intended (and I don’t remember what I said, because when I am upset, I don’t), it was along the lines of, “I realize your question is well-intentioned, but I don’t know how to answer it. Please excuse me.”
This part I remember: I went in another room and cried.
Because when someone asks, “When is he going to be better?” I have to face the fact the answer is maybe never. Maybe I will be living this half-life for the rest of my life or his. Maybe my daughter will never have an involved dad.** That’s my thinking in the time it takes me to blink once, twice, and decide if I’m going to speak. The next few seconds are when I have a panic attack because the prospect of this never improving triggers it. Every time.
If you really want to say the right thing, try this: “I wanted to let you know I was thinking of you guys and I hope things are getting better.” Because then all I have to say is “Thank you,” and I’m left with the warmth that comes from knowing someone cares. And I can pass that on to kH when I get home, instead of having to keep to myself the fact I don’t know how to answer questions about when he’s getting better. (That’s another panic attack, by the way.)
*The answer to that, if I let myself speak, would be: I don’t fucking care, because this isn’t about you.
**Shit, I knew I shouldn’t have put on mascara before I wrote this.