“I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.” I’m surprised I can even say this, for how untrue it is. But I’ve been saying it a lot nowadays. People like to hear this after you’ve been released from the hospital. People like to hear how well you’re doing. People like to hear that they don’t have to worry, have to think, have to question, have to feel.
My family members smile, long waning smiles that look like wax smears. Their eyes are glazed and they mutter something stupid like, “That’s so good to hear”. Emphasis on the so. But then they wander away, relieved to be free of the burden that talking to me so often is.
I drain the rest of my wine glass as my mother looks sternly at me. So I pour myself another. My family still doesn’t know how to speak to me. It shouldn’t be that hard, I mean, I’m still a human. What do you normally ask a human but, “How are you?” and how hard is that for your own flesh and blood?
But instead of asking how I am or how I feel or who I am, all I get are worried looks and tense requests to pass the peas. It astounds me that they can be content to live their lives not knowing their daughter any more than an employer or college admissions officer could by reading a few black lines on crisp white sheets of paper.
I gave up trying years ago. Back then, I gleefully shared my soul with them and all I got in return were scolds and restrictions and disappointed conversations. They were ashamed of who I was, so I learned to hide my true identity from them and only show them what they wanted to see. They wanted good grades and high aspirations and a secure career. I naturally got good grades and had high aspirations and my career of choice is secure enough, so this sedated them without much effort.
But some things cannot be hidden. Things like collapsing and being admitted to the hospital for an eating disorder. Things like a lifetime full of feeling insecure and incomplete. Things like being locked up in my head for some time now. These things cannot be hidden.
My family marched dutifully to the hospital, fussing over the wrong things and speaking of things that I did not care about. They talked about every thing one could talk about except one. They talked about frozen pipes and high school scandals and the traffic on the way here but they never once asked, “How are you?” Like they did my doctors and nurses and roommates.
But now I’m out and it’s Christmas and I’m saying that I’m fine but I’m really sneaking upstairs after every bite to throw it up and I taste like acid but my perfume covers it up and my family comments on how nice I smell and look and seem.
How nice I seem. How silly is that? Don’t they know that you can get past how things “seem” by just asking and looking? But people prefer to look on the surface. They’re afraid that if they dig deeper they’ll find out something they don’t want to know. And then it would be their responsibility and for once in their life they’d have to do something besides smile and clap and watch. They’d have to do. And doing something is perhaps the scariest thing of all for a person who has been sitting their whole life.
And so they continue smiling their wax smiles and laughing their tired laughs and sitting their practiced sit. And they watch their lives and others pass them by as they sit, blindly asking vapid questions with a deaf ear. And they nod politely when a girl smelling of bile and guilt tells them that she’s happier than she’s been in a long time. They spread their lips in its familiar tracks and nod up and down up and down. They nod until the world is a blur and seeing is no longer a possibility. The girl is no longer their problem. They can’t see her. She must not exist.