I can hear that-- do hear that-- hissed injunction in my head; I can see the wrinkled nose, curled lip of my mom's face as she spits the words out.
Nearly every argument I would have with my mom, growing up, would come to that. Now, 20 years later, it only comes out every so often; but then, it doesn't need to. The damage is done. The words echo in my mind of their own volition, govern my every action, an unavoidable subroutine in my internal wiring. A rootkit of insecurity.
What would people think, indeed.
The problem, of course, is that one has no control over what People might think. They are free to think whatever they will. But that question, that hissed question, plants doubts. What-ifs. Paralyzing rivers of alternatives. And hubris. Because, of course, the very question implies that one might have *power* over what people might think. That if one manages the precise correct gestures, manages to say the right thing, then everything will be ok. They won't think whatever it is they aren't supposed to think.
Maybe, just maybe, if I can avoid every crack and seam in the sidewalk, nothing bad will ever happen to my parents.
It's an impossible task. And yet I am horrified to discover just how much of my energy over the last decades has gone into trying, at all costs, to avoid those psychic cracks. Trying to know what people think; reading every gesture, every line on a face for clues, tracing the arc of shoulders, the set of a jaw, following each flick of the eyes.
I cannot stand crowds for long; so many people becomes a torrent, a flood of information that I cannot use but see and hear regardless. My mind desperately tries to contain all of the permutations, all the possibilities of what they think. I freeze. I strive to be invisible, to pass unnoticed, afraid of what they might think.
The second problem is this: that question, posed in that manner, teaches that appearance is all. Much worse to *appear* stupid, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt. So. Stay quiet. Always give the appearance that you are whatever other people want you to be. Do the right thing, and then maybe they won't *think* about you.
It's unachievable. It's navigation by the unknowable.
I live in a cage of cautious fear, a cage that grew around me even as I struggled to run away from it. I knew the question was wrong. I knew the conclusions were wrong. There was only one thing to do.
Everything I ever suggest, you do the opposite! It doesn't matter what I say, you'll run out and do the exact opposite thing. That- hissed, too.
No, not opposite. But not what she ever suggested, either. I knew, even then, that if such faulty thinking told her that it, whatever it was, was the one thing I Must do, then it was the one thing I must NOT do.
My professor steepled his fingers and looked at me over them. "So, do you think you'll stay and work here?"
"It would be the easy thing to do..."
"Hm." He let the silence draw out a bit. "And how many times in your life
have you chosen the easy thing?"