Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sharing is Scary

I learned how to lie at my mother’s knee – how to say enough, but not too much, how to craft a cover story that contained a germ of truth without revealing anything important or dangerous. I was taught this as a way to protect our family – no one needed to know that my black eye didn’t come from playing too roughly, but from my father’s fist. And as a way to protect my mother – daddy didn’t need to know that she used her secret savings account to buy that new furniture, he’d be happier if he heard that grandma sent the money. And I used it as a way to protect myself - if I didn’t tell anyone the truth, they couldn’t really know me, and that meant they couldn’t really judge me.

When I share something I’ve written, I always fear that it’s bad, that it’s boring, that no one will like it. But even more, I fear that somewhere in the words I’ve written, I’ve revealed something unspeakable and bad about myself. I wonder if someone will tease apart my words to find something is rotten in the state of Maureen.

Now that I’ve written all this, you’re probably going to read it and wonder what the heck is wrong with me, and recommend therapy to help me get over my self-confidence issues. But I felt I had to share my fears with you, in the hopes that you will be constructive and gentle with your feedback. The excerpt may not be much of anything, but for me, it’s breaking down a bit of wall to even share it.

James Conroy, Esquire, was distracted and scared, two sensations that had become
constant companions in the past few weeks. He still appeared to be the same to his
paralegal, to his fiancée, to the other attorneys at the firm, to his clients. But inside, there was a constant, low level of terror swimming underneath every thought. He felt like he was acting a role, like he was being filmed and his every action was accompanied by a Hitchcock inspired soundtrack that only he could hear. It was a fear he could sublimate, amygdalize...he would put it to the back of his mind while he went about his day, and he could eat lunch and meet with clients and laugh and joke, but then he would get a call from home or he would look at the picture on his desk, and the fear would come to the surface, unbidden and unwanted, and he would remember why he was so scared.

The wedding. He was getting married in less than a month.

When he had proposed to Tina, he was absolutely sincere in his belief that he was ready to share the rest of his life with her. And when he started to feel apprehensive about his approaching nuptials, he initially blew it off as simple jitters. When the feelings started to rise, when he started to dread even looking at Tina's face, let alone talking about seating arrangements or gift registries, when he started feeling like a man approaching the gallows, he decided he had to talk to someone. So he picked his mother up for lunch.

"Mom, I don't know if I can get married," he said. "I'm beginning to think I've made a huge mistake."

His mother tapped him on the arm, in mock outrage. "Bite your tongue, Jamie," she said. "Tina is a lovely girl and you are so good together."

"I know," James said, "and it's not that I don't love her, because I do, but," he paused, considering what he would say next. "Maybe I'm just not the marrying type."

"Most men aren't, honey, at least not before they get hitched," she replied. "It's scary. Men are told their whole lives to go out and conquer, and you get so many mixed messages about," she lowered her voice and spelled out, "S-E-X." She continued in her regular voice. James blushed and rolled his eyes at this. "But marriage is a good thing, Jamie. You have someone to be your partner to help you through everything life can throw at it you, and believe me, life will throw things at you." She sighed and examined her fork. James knew she was thinking of his father.

"But mom, I am not feeling normal scared. I'm feeling like this is the worst thing I've ever done scared. And maybe it isn't fair to Tina to marry her when I feel like this."

"Jamie, honey, your father, God rest his soul, got more and more scared as the day of our wedding came closer and closer", she said, stopping to take a bite of her Cobb salad. "It's cold feet, sweetie, and once you say 'I do' and go to the reception, you'll see your beautiful bride, and see the beautiful life you're going to have together, you'll realize that you did the right thing."

"I don't know, mom," he said, "My instincts are telling me to put the brakes on."

"Jamie," his mother said, looking at him tenderly, "I'm telling you, you are going through something completely normal."

"Normal," he thought to himself as he sat in his office. "This is definitely not normal."

He picked up the picture on his desk. It was from a vacation Tina and James had taken last summer, a week spent in Cape Cod at her uncle's summer cottage. They looked like the ideal couple - they were on the beach, and the warm orange light suggested that it was nearly sunset. Tina was wearing a white maillot style bathing suit, setting off her browned skin, and silky dark brown hair, and Jamie was standing behind her, holding her close to his bare chest, pale next to her skin. He looked good, strong and fit. He remembered that last summer, he was running with Tina every morning, and would go to the fitness center at the condo complex three or four times a week to lift weights. He didn't have wash board abs, and he wasn't overly bulky, but he looked strong and healthy. His light brown hair was windblown, but looked deliberately designed, like an Abercombie & Fitch ad. He was
smiling into the camera, but he could see the expression in his eyes, the distance. He wasn't entirely there.

He loved this picture, he knew, not because of the happy memories of the vacation
(although there were happy memories from the vacation), and not because he looked
good in the picture (although he did, as he noted with a certain amount of pride), or because Tina looked good in the picture (although she looked stunning.) He loved the picture because of what he saw in Tina's face, in the way she held herself, in the expression on her face. He saw Peter.

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