So much of wanting not to be alone is specifically about having someone enfold you in their arms, of being able to regress to being a baby, safe, cradled. I don’t believe this requires actually having history of being held. I believe it is universal even as so few people recognize it as one of their needs. Especially males find this difficult. Bless those that don’t.
My earliest memory was of not being held, and was of crying, and of being a baby so young I could not yet turn over. Don’t tell me this couldn’t be true. I was there.
I was familiar with the sound of crying and of the scrunched up face of my 2-year-old brother wet with tears when the crying sound happened. Babies imprint instantly.
Only this time the blond blue-eyed being looking down at me over the small enclosed bed looked different. There was no scrunch, there were no tears – yet the sound continued, followed by a peculiar sensation that I later knew to be wetness on my cheeks.
If the blond blue-eyed being wasn’t scrunched, could the sound be coming from somewhere else, somewhere closer? I felt the puzzle as surely as I can look out the window at this moment and see that the rain that has been threatening all day may finally be coming in.
At the moment, I realized I existed and I was separate.
My next memory is from when I was 3 ½ years. I invented a secret language, a language for separateness. My own language, not one to share with the blond blue-eyed brother or either parent. Children learn quickly who is safe.
So I looked for someone safe to share my language. Hannah at the butcher shop met my criterion. There was something different, soft, giving about her.
“Do you know what I am saying?” I then said a sentence in my new language.
She leaned over the counter and cocked her head.
“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated the sentence.
“Do you know what I am saying?” I repeated again, a little annoyed. It was a simple code and it seemed to me that any adult who really tried or cared would understand it.
“No,” she said.
My mother grabbed me by the hand, yanked me out of the shop and pulled me up the narrow cracked sidewalk. I felt another new sensation, like ants running down her arm into mine.
“Don’t you know Hannah is deaf?”
“What is deaf?”
“She can’t hear. She can only tell what you are saying by looking at your lips.”
I may have been stunned, but I knew I was not actually guilty. You can only be guilty if you did something you knew was wrong. I deflected the ants as best I could, and had my first lesson – that I remember – in disabilities and in the nature of justice.
Since then, in one way or another, I have been trying to communicate, not knowing if what I try to communicate is individual or universal.
I asked my parents about this memory when I was in my mid-20’s. Had I imagined it all? They said she moved away when I was three, and went to another small town where she stepped in front of a train. The theory is that she didn’t hear it.
I suspect she had no one to enfold her.
. . . .
And so we scream at the skies, as though they are responsible for the state of the world, for the monsters that harm others, for the blindness and denials and superiority, and idiocy, and murderous intents, and savage actions. I use the word “sky” here as a placeholder for your favorite god or goddess.
At bottom, it is that god or goddess that we want to enfold us, to take us back home, wipe our tears, stroke our back, perhaps make love to us. We want to go back home, this world can make us weary.
But we cannot, can we? Not yet. Maybe some day.
So I looked at the blond blue-eyed boy, who has himself now gone back home and I pray it enfolds him dearly, and knew he and I were separate. Existential realization in the first months of your life can be a heady thing.
So I looked at him and learned with time to fall in love and to listen, and that when you do not feel heard, you can still listen. That when you are not enfolded, you can still enfold at least in your heart and mind. That when someone does not understand you, it may not be their fault that they are deaf.
But you can, as I did, put your little toes on the ½ protrusion of the baseboard and your little fingers over the edge of the butcher’s block with its smear of blood, pull yourself up, and say again your personal message in your secret language.
It is what we can do. It is what we must do. Some people will hear. Some people do hear, they do, they really do. It is a kind of enfolding.