Many years ago I was in a terrible bowling accident. My friends and I were at the tail end of a heated tiebreaker, and I was so focused on making a great show of my final shot—leaping into action, loudly declaring my impending victory, dancing and twirling my way through my approach—that I didn’t realize where my feet were when I let go of the ball.
This was the moment I was to learn how serious the bowling community is about penalizing those who roll with one toe over the line. They pour oil or wax or lube or something unimaginably slippery all over the alley, and should someone accidentally slide out of bounds while attempting the perfect hook shot, she will find her feet flying out from under her and her ass crashing down onto a surface that even an airborne bowling ball can’t crack.
A few weeks later whilst lolling about in bed with this guy I met at Macy’s, I explained that ever since my accident, I’m now woken up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my feet. According to my acupuncturist, this is from the nerves in my back getting slammed when I fell, and in order to sleep through the night I’d need a new, firmer mattress. “I have pains in my feet when I sleep too!” He said, raising himself up for an unreciprocated high five.
It’s not just because I’m not into the whole high-five thing that I left him hanging, but also because I was annoyed with him. I already find mattress shopping to be totally bizarre and embarrassing—lying on your side with a pillow between your thighs for all to see like it’s anyone’s business—but the fact that I had to do it with my salesman lying next to me, begging for a high-fiver, was more than I could handle.
I couldn’t help but notice that all the other salesmen simply stood at the end of the bed, rattling off mattress facts while their clients tested out a myriad of positions, but not mine.
He’d lower down next to me on his back, arms crossed over his chest, and thoughtfully chat away, staring at the ceiling like we were at summer camp. I mean, he was nice enough and incredibly knowledgeable about coils and latex and memory foam, but I was scared to roll over for fear he’d start spooning me. Was I too friendly? Should I not have asked him where he was from?
Did he think I meant something else when I patted the empty space next to me to test the pillow top? I obviously should have asked Freak Show Bob to get off the damn bed, or found someone else to help me, instead of sneaking out the door and blowing my only opportunity that week to go mattress shopping, but I didn’t want to embarrass him.
Our lack of confrontation management skills was no great surprise considering the fact that my mother comes from a long lineage of WASPs. Her parents were the types who believed that children were to be seen and not heard, and who looked upon any sort of emotional display with the same, horrified disdain usually reserved for cheap scotch and non–Ivy League educations.
And even though my mother went on to create a household for us that was as warm, loving, and laughter-filled as they come, it took years for me to finally learn how to form a sentence when presented with the blood-chilling phrase, “We need to talk.” All this is to say that it’s not your fault that you’re fucked up. It’s your fault if you stay fucked up, but the foundation of your fucked up edness is something that’s been passed down through generations of your family, like a coat of arms or a killer cornbread recipe, or in my case, equating confrontation with heart failure.
When you came screaming onto this planet you were truly a bundle of joy, a wide-eyed creature incapable of doing anything but being in the moment. You had no idea that you had a body, let alone that you should be ashamed of it. When you looked around, everything just was. There was nothing about your world that was scary or too expensive or so last year as far as you were concerned.
If something came near your mouth, you stuck it in, if it came near your hand, you grabbed it. You were simply a human . . . being. While you explored and expanded into your new world, you also received messages from the people around you about the way things are.
From the moment you could take it in, they started filling you up with a lifetime’s worth of beliefs, many of which have nothing to do with who you actually are or what is necessarily true the world is a dangerous place, you’re too fat, homosexuality is a curse, size matters, hair shouldn’t grow there, going to college is important, being a musician or an artist isn’t a real career, etc.