Monday, July 10, 2006

I'm coming up only to hold you under

"Perhaps you can write to me."
My self-possession flares up for a second;
This is as I had reckoned.
"I have been wondering frequently of late
(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
Why we have not developed into friends."
I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark,
Suddenly, his expression in a glass.
My self-possession gutters: we are really in the dark.
    - T.S. Eliot

It seems as though I've been on both sides of this passage. Once, to Q, I cynically remarked that it seemed life is destined to be a cycle of getting disappointed by someone and disappointing someone myself. It is true on some level. I hold people to standards I cannot meet myself. And so it is hypocritical to be annoyed with others' lack of self-awareness.

I've been thinking about self-possession because it exists, for me, on two levels. The first is the flare that happens when a friend observes something about me, and it becomes absurdly apparent that they have failed to see the full picture. A remark like "oh, but you never wanted those things in your life" irks me, but then my self-possession is something of a salve, that comforts me with the notion that the statement is flawed from the start. So few of my friends, at this point, know my history in any real sense. I can count on one hand the number of people who have known me for a decade or more.

The other level is not as comfortable. It's more of this sense that everyone wants something of me, that there are all these reaching hands out grabbing things. It sounds so ungrateful, and I suppose it is to some extent. Maybe it's my upbringing in the cold Northeast, where it takes years to cultivate the seed of a friendship. It contrasts starkly with my family upbringing, which could be roughly summed up into down with brown. Any South Asian couple in our sparsely populated Northeast region was appended to our family. But something about the cold, unfriendly place where I was raised seeped into my blood. I was skeptical of all of my parents' friends. I saw how they banded together some times, but also how they quietly stabbed each other in the back at others. Watching my mother navigate amongst the other aunties, I would weigh in my mind whether this could technically even be classified as a friendship. These women seemed to be seeking out a community, but friendship was another matter entirely.

Something about that has always stayed with me. Maybe I would like to be a little less suspicious, a little more welcoming. But maybe not. A part of me feels that flare of self-possession is also a form of self-protection. Sometimes, people really are latching onto you. They have their own, completely benign reasons: maybe they have no one else, maybe they feel they know me better than they really do, definitely they feel closer to me than I feel to them.

But I am treading water at the moment, and I am getting tired. When you feel that way, and someone is reaching for you, you have two choices. Let them, and you both drown. Or, and live with the guilt: it's every soul for yourself out at sea.

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