The Other Donald Trump. The Other Hillary Clinton. And the Other You.
I exhaled as the harry of the morning landed heavily in the leather armchair. I looked around without really seeing, allowing the warmth from the cardboardy cup to hug me. Thankful she hadn’t arrived. Thankful to be on time. Thankful for the balm of Ben Rector stilling the air around me. Yet a bit apprehensive….the curse of the introvert.
I closed my eyes to disappear for a moment. When I opened them, I saw her standing at the counter. I stared without expression, intrigued. And a bit disturbed.
I stood to greet her, biting the inside of my cheek like I do when I am uncomfortable. I tried to talk down the tears swelling my vision as she ambled in my direction.
If I looked anxious, she looked terrified. And beaten. Her hair thick and long and in need of a wash. She was inked: a flower on her wrist, a quote on her forearm, the word “truth” in lowercase letters behind her ear – visible as she tucked her hair. A tiny silver ring bit her nose, juxtaposing the round face, full cheeks, dotted by a mole just above the corner of her mouth.
Her copper eyes were hard with distrust but they lacked boldness. More distant than belligerent. She studied the table, rolling a string from the seam of her jeans between her fingers. When she looked up, she fixed her gaze on the others – watching their talking and their laughing, their texting, and their writing. She rarely looked at me in brief snatches.
Her discomfort assuaged my own as I smiled too big and tried too hard to ease her.
Striking me as a gal who wanted to skip the preliminaries, I gently asked her to tell me her story.
She left me. Having transported herself far away, only her voice stayed behind. She told of abuse. Every kind. Abandonment. She gave a sad laugh and remarked, “Turns out, I’m quick to believe promises that no one plans to keep. I guess you could say I’m slow like that.” There were lots of relationships. Lots of drugs and alcohol. Lots of disappointment and hurt and plenty of bad choices to go around. She talked on as though she had forgotten I was there.
I willed my own blood to become steel to keep from dismantling right before her eyes. Every molecule of me rejected her words. There was no home for them in me.
She was me.
The me I would have been under different circumstances. The me minus privilege. And care and protection and Jesus.
We only know the “me” that we are, but there is a you and a me of harder living. A less shiny version of ourselves. The one that could have been carved from disadvantage and dirty, dark rooms.
We did nothing to affect the conditions of our birth. Yet many of us have mastered the swagger of entitlement we feel due our race or our tax bracket or our education.
And we are comfortable in our sad delusion.
If I had been born to a mother who sold me for sex at the age of 11, I – Cookie – would very likely be a prostitute, addicted to drugs, who had many abortions and children with different fathers. Or worse.
Would I disgust you?
Would you help me?
Hypotheticals aside, this is real life in our area.
You and I can only see the world based on the finite configuration of blessings and hardships unique to our experience. And that only represents the smallest, slightest fraction of all the possibilities out there. We blab our voices and roll through life as if our window on the world is the same one others look through. IT’S NOT.
We only move beyond being tiny, whiny creatures when we will close our mouths and open our hearts to understand the other histories people bring to today.
Otherwise we are prisoners of our ignorance. Shackled to a small world.
Our tenure on this ball of dirt could have gone very differently for me and you, privileged friend. Is compassion – and sometimes gentle silence – too costly a toll?