02 The Five Friends

[This is the first draft of the second part of my Master’s thesis/book, Confession.
Comments and questions are always appreciated.]

I have five friends inside my head. I wouldn’t call them friends, exactly, but there are five and, more importantly, they each have an annoying tendency to make themselves known at the most inopportune moments.

I’m not crazy, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t lie in this book; it is supposed to be a memoir, after all, which implies some unearned, pre-established trust between the writer and reader. I intend to keep the promise to the best of my ability. These five people in my head: they’re aspects of myself that I’ve found easier to understand when I think of them as separate beings. I know they’re not real; as far as I know, though, I’m not schizophrenic.

Honesty, the first of my five friends, is a strident, tall young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. She has confidence, is a natural leader, and can be argumentative and testy when she’s passionate about something. Honesty is, at times, too blunt for her own good, but what she lacks in tact she makes up for in earnestness. She struggles with dishonesty everyday.

Loyalty is a mousy older woman with green eyes and curly graying brown hair. She’s somehow been designated unofficial peacemaker of the group, or she has taken that role upon herself; it’s unclear. She is soft-spoken and chooses her words wisely. Her quiet nature belays her fierce commitment to those close to her. Loyalty is most distressed by personal betrayal.

Belief is a twenties-something Native American man with dark hair and eyes. He wears a feather in his long, straight hear, which tends to be braided or plaited to keep it out of his face. Close to Earth and God, he denies reason when it doesn’t fit into his worldview. While insisting that all people are God’s children, he can be extremely judgmental with those who he decides are unworthy. Belief sometimes has visions and hears God speak to him.

Control is a fiery redhead with a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and a short temper. She has freckles and bright green eyes; she is younger than Loyalty but older than the rest of the group by a fair margin. A sadomasochistic perfectionist, Control must have everything just so or someone is sure to get hurt. She struggles with obsession, compulsion, and addiction—all signs of lack of control.

Attention, the last of the group, is a lithe, flamboyant gay man with platinum blonde hair and yellow-grey eyes. A former circus acrobat, he has always loved the limelight, regardless of whether his actions cause positive or negative responses. Recently, he’s taken up telling amazing—yet plausible—fictions and passing them off as truth. Though he doesn’t realize it, he’s passive-aggressive in every sense of the word; he hates asking for things and believes that others should focus on and cater to him just because of who (he believes) he is.

I explain all this not because I want to make up characters and pass them off as truth in a memoir, but because I have found no other satisfactory way to understand and explain the apparent contradictions between my thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Obviously, I cannot, and do not, look like each of these characters; nor do I act like them all the time, for that matter. I’ve given faces and personalities to these five attributes so that I can write a better, more interesting manuscript.

So, as you’ll see with the story’s movement, the five friends in my head aren’t exactly friends. But they all live here and when I get up in the morning, they all make up the person who is me.

01 Why words matter

[This is the first draft of the first part of my Master’s thesis/book, Confession.
Comments and questions are always appreciated.]

People talk about living a sheltered childhood as though it’s a bad thing. But isn’t that at least part of the point of childhood? To be safe and sheltered enough to make it into adulthood at all?

I had a sheltered childhood, some would say. For the most part, it was a happy one. My parents loved each other and their children, and it was good. My sister and I were born in the same room in the same hospital in Harris County, Texas, just under two years apart. When I was two years old, and my sister was roughly six weeks, we moved from Texas to Southern California for my dad’s work.

My parents sometimes tell a story about the importance of communication. The day our family left Texas for California was the day that my father’s mother found out about the move. Dad had told his dad about it and assumed that he would tell his wife, my dad’s mother. Unfortunately, that never happened and my grandmother was left with the shock upon finding out that her only son and his whole family was moving far away—on the day that said trip was to commence.

My parents say that my grandfather didn’t purposefully keep his wife in the dark and that he assumed that because he knew, she knew, too. Whatever the cause, I can imagine my grandmother was not pleased with her husband.

She wasn’t pleased with him after he died in 2000, either. She was angry. My grandfather loved to fly. He joined the Air Force but he was too tall to fit in the planes, so when he got out his own mother paid for him to learn. He lived to fly. When he became so unwell he couldn’t fly anymore at all, he died… or so I’ve been led to believe. Grandma was so angry with him for dying. For the longest time, she referred to him as “your father” or “your grandfather”—as if they were only divorced and she had to deal with him for the sake of their mutual offspring.

When I asked once why Grandma had married Grandpa if she didn’t like his flying, my dad said, “She didn’t know. When they married, he was grounded.” He hadn’t told her? It was something that important—and it was that important—and she hadn’t known? It just baffles my mind. 1948, the year my grandparents married, was an era ago.

————

Meaning and inflection may get lost in translation, but without words, there can be no translation. Words matter because without them we are alone. As a double-edged sword, however, we must be wary.

Sometimes I’d rather just get punched in the stomach or receive a bloody lip rather than deal with the mental trauma from insults other people hurl. I figure that, with a flesh wound, I’ll hurt and likely cry, but I can see a doctor and be patched up. When someone verbally assaults me, I don’t even know how deep the wound goes, much less how to treat it. I know broken bones require a splint or cast, rest, and time. But with an emotional wound, how do I really know what will help? The human mind is an amazing unknown.

There is an English proverb that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Actually, I think it’s an English maxim, but that’s neither here nor there. Whatever else it is, it’s most importantly a lie.

Words matter. It’s why many people refer to survivors rather than victims. True, sticks and stones can break bones, but words can leave invisible wounds. Tell me, which you’d rather treat: the visible wound, or the invisible one? Which do you think would be easier to treat?

What are words, anyway? Letters compiled in my mind. A means to an end. A means of communication. Misinterpretation and disintegration of lines which must (not) be crossed. Punctuation, a close relative of words, manages to screw things up every time, as if we didn’t have enough problems already. After all, that’s the difference between I helped my uncle jack off a horse and I helped my uncle, Jack, off a horse.

But who cares about words, really? In speech they are used so flippantly; in writing not flippantly enough. Why is it assumed to be more legitimate if it’s in a book, for that matter? Words litter the streets like leaves in early winter: brown, trampled, and forgotten. Sweet nothings tossed aside like a worn jacket on a warm day.

————

When Control speaks, she uses words like always and never instead of mostly or sometimes. Her world is finite, absolute, and complete. Belief uses faith, joy, and prayer to ease his guilt. Rationality isn’t his strong suit, and that doesn’t really matter. Attention uses whatever words will help keep him in the spotlight. Loyalty, however, is a woman of few words—a relief in this word-saturated world. When she has something to say, others know it’s important. Honesty can be brutal, but at least we know she isn’t lying.

Words lead to sentences lead to conversation. But communication is more. Isn’t it? Frailty. Fealty. Fetus. All words; all mean something. Words stand for something. Words represent things in their absence.

Without words, where would we be? Can we find meaning on a wordless Earth? Humans have an obsession with naming things. Not just other humans, but everything. Even in the Bible, the first thing that Adam does is name everything (Genesis 2:19-20). Not only that, but the first thing that God himself does after creating things is to name them (Genesis 1:5).

“What is that?”

“A tree” or “a stop sign” or “the sky.”

If the answer is “I don’t know” we’re left uneasy. We fear what we cannot name, what we don’t know or think we know. Though we take them for granted, words are in everything we do, everything we are. Without them, we are lost—trapped—in our own minds. At the same time, however, once we know the words, they limit us. That is why words matter so much—because they are often so limiting.

My friend, Eddie, says I need to lighten up. “They’re just words,” he says, “Relax.” But that’s not true, and I won’t relax. Words are never “just words”—they mean something.

When someone says “She’s such a slut” or “That’s so gay” or “You’re not the brightest bulb in the box, are you?” we conjure images in our minds about what those words mean and why. They inform our beliefs and opinions whether we realize it or not.

Words and their meanings are why I value honesty so highly. If I tell the truth, at least to the best of my knowledge and ability, others may make better-informed decisions, and I may know that I have done right by them and myself.