Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist. There came a morning when I could not stand upright. Seeing me bent, and the wretched look on my face, she became somehow offended: “What’s wrong?” she asked, with a tone of annoyance. I was stunned. “I’m in pain,” I said. “My back.” It is a familiar discussion. I should get a massage. With what money? I should see a chiropractor; my insurance will definitely pay for that. Really? Okay, where is my policy packet? Where did we put it? We don’t know? Because I can’t look online; there is a technical problem and Molina has already told me they cannot help. And this is already known, already said many times before. And it is a handy little circle for anyone not me: Did you know people’s eyesight stops degrading after they get glasses? One prescription is all anyone ever needs. No, really, it’s not like people suddenly forgot something. But, yes, when I say I need new glasses, I’m asked why. And then the same people who doubt my eyesight degrades, such that they are puzzled by the idea that I might, after seven or eight years, need new glasses, suddenly think my health insurance will pay one hundred percent of the cost for this something that I don’t need. What it comes down to is that I need the family Costco card, and maybe a ride, and the answer is that nobody wants to outright say no, but I really should have learned to stop asking by now. A chiropractor? I don’t know if my policy covers that; we already know I don’t know. Which is the point of pretending we don’t know I don’t know. Because what I’m asking for is not exotic, or deep tissue. It’s a little bit of human contact, something I have done for other people many times over the course of these same years, and the answer is simply that nobody wants to come right out and tell me so explicitly, “No, I want you to be in pain.” Let’s not start on relationships; long before we utterly fell apart, my last partner simply refused because it was too stressful to help. For a little while, my daughter would walk on my back for me, but then my mother decided to start telling her, “Don’t do that. You’re too big. You’re too heavy.” So it has been over years since an adult has tried to help me with back pain. Oh, wait, there was the gift certificate for a massage, and while a scandal would later bring down the parlor chain, what was actually discouraging was the stress of pissing off the people who ran the place by using a gift certificate already paid for when I was too poor to afford the regular service subscription they wanted to sell me. There really isn’t anything to wreck a massage quite like upsetting your masseur by being having to repeatedly explain you are poor. Nor is there anything quite like trying to explain to those close to you that this sort of thing is discouraging; I don’t know why, but people around me think it’s a thrilling thing to have to tell people you don’t have enough money to buy what they want to sell you. But it’s been fifteen years since even loved ones have been willing to help. It’s just a little bit of touch, a little bit of pressure, just the slightest bit of relief. But it’s been over fifteen years since an adult human being has been willing to do anything to help other than tell me how to spend money that I don’t have. Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist. I’m not asking you to drive deep into my flesh, nor even to touch the skin. What I am asking is that you please help me. And for whatever reason, the answer remains, no. So, unable to stand erect, confronted as if I am committing some offense for not looking bright and chipper enough for not having slept as a result of writhing agony, there was nothing left to say, except, “I’m in pain!” And I cracked, faltered, and begged: Hold out your hand, palm up. Curl your fingers. There’s this thing people do. I’ve seen them do it, before. And you put your hand on their back and move it around lightly. Really, I’ve done it for other people, before, too. My God, it’s just a little relief, please, I don’t understand why nobody will help. It’s been over ten years, and nobody will help. Please. I’m … in … pain. And for all the humiliation of that plaintive, desperate tone, the answer left no room for doubt: “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Of course they will help. You just need to ask.” And then she turned her back and walked away. And I honestly do not know what combination of words will work. I mean, if all I need do is ask, then what kind of idiot am I that in fifteen years I have been unable to get anyone, friend, family, intimate partner, to help me with this pain. Really. I just don’t understand.
It is important to observe, when enduring depression, the overlap between those who want to help but say they simply do not understand, and those who will, when you’re telling someone precisely how it feels, pick up their phone in order to interrupt and show you the latest New Yorker cover.It’s probably for the best that you did not only yesterday discuss with this person the concept of timing in relation to when they choose to laugh out loud.Unless, of course, you did.Good luck.
Okay, so I just don’t understand why it is I cannot walk into a room and simply be allowed to do whatever it is I am doing. Look at me, I can’t even remember what I was there, for, because suddenly I needed to stop whatever I was doing and think about what books I might want for Christmas, as if the question could not wait another second, or, even more, mattered a whit, because we both know those aren’t the books people buy me. And now, what was that, did I just walk into a room and randomly be asked to peruse and approve a household change of some consequence? Really?Some days, all I want is breakfast. Or a cup of coffee. Or to find that book that was on the foyer table, like, oh, I don’t know, when between yesterday afternoon and right now did it actually disappear? And why do I always find them, in weird places, months later? Of course, maybe it wouldn’t take months if I was allowed to think about why I walked into the damn room in the first place. You know, like: Oh, yeah, that book I’m looking for; it’s not here, so I’d better keep looking. No, of course not. And, just for the record, if the question eventually becomes what the book is doing hidden away in the linen closet behind the broken DVD player we’ve never thrown out, no, we are not changing the subject to why there’s an old, broken DVD player in the linen closet.Oh, right. Whatever. It’s just, most days it’s true, the functional lesson resolves that the fundamental user error is in the fact of bothering to try, in the first place.When it gets to the point of pacing back and forth because the mere thought of what happens after leaving the room is so distracting as to forget why I would leave the room in the first place, there is a problem. Solutions exceeding my power are not mine to implement.
Watch people never learn. This part is simple: You’re in the way. But they are never in the way, right? Except the cat thinks you are. Well, they’re just not in the way. None of this would really mean anything, either, except in those moments when you hear someone trying to order a kitten around by repeating the same three or four words in grating falsetto that any observer with line of sight would notice only makes the cat wince. If you want the cat to come in from the garage, then don’t stand in the doorway and angrily explain why the cat shouldn’t be in the garage. If you want someone to tempt the cat back into the house with sound, such as food, then get out of the way. Don’t literally stand there in the way and wonder why he isn’t passing through. Meanwhile, the house is flooding with cold air, including the lower portion where the heat system does not work properly, and this, too, would be something to not even notice, except when finally walking away from the open door in disgust and complaining that it’s cold in the house.
There is a household discussion that has to do with why I never watch television in the living room. The problem with this discussion, of course, is that the answer to the question is essentially verboten: It is impossible to watch television in the living room.There is, indeed, a television in the living room, and the problem is not so much the arrangement of the kitchen such that there is a lot of noise from the one into the other. Rather, it is that nobody is allowed to watch television in that room without having conversations about something else: How much cheese there is, or going to the grocery store tomorrow afternoon, or, hey, maybe we should buy a new television; I can’t remember the other six topics, but it really is like a television show or movie in and of itself.If I managed to watch five minutes of the show, I couldn’t tell you what happened. In all the years I have known multiple people to behave this way, talking over a television program about something irrelevant and nonessential, then waiting quite literally a matter of seconds to do it again, it has never really made sense. Sometimes you can rewind and replay the same segment in front of them multiple times, and it starts to feel as if they actually resent that you are watching television, would very much like you to stop, consider themselves too polite to actually say so, and thus have no alternative save annoying you until you turn off the program and leave.And that is what it is, but in the end, yes, that is why I watch television downstairs. The answer, when I actually encounter the question of why I don’t watch television in the living room is to look at the only person in the house who asks me that and say―
“Because you won’t let me. Because if you are home and awake, and I am watching television in this room, you absolutely must speak to me now about whatever you can think of in the moment, even if it’s a matter weeks away having precisely nothing to do with me. Because I have just rewound the same fifteen seconds of this show, several times, in order to hear what they’re saying, and every time I restart the video you start talking again. Because when I tried turning up the volume just to see what happened, you actually talked louder in order to be heard. Because I can take a hint, a’ight?”
―and you just don’t go talking to people like that.
And then you went, when everything was virtually done, and deliberately wrecked the soup.Does anybody understand that when you’re supposed to be the sane people in the room, this kind of behavior really stands out?
I don’t know; it’s just heartbreaking in its moment. I mean, fuck, somebody wants you to cook something you’re known for cooking, and guess what: No, don’t do what you always do! You need to do it my way or else it isn’t right!Then fucking cook it, yourself.Seriously, I’ve just been overridden in my own goddamn kitchen!Fucking bullshit. You don’t want it, then don’t fucking ask. You want something else, then say so. But don’t fucking go out of your way to make me miserable in my own kitchen.
I live in an American household that manages to make potato chips unpalatable. Let that point sink in.
It’s never really that people don’t understand; we always say it as if they are somehow confused, when they are not. Like this:
• Why do people fail to understand that if someone should expect to be criticized every time they walk into the room, to the point that one can actually watch people look around for something to complain about, then no, that person will not want to be in the room with you.
It is not that everyday belligerence doesn’t understand; these people do. It is not that they are somehow confused about why the constant hostility distresses anyone; they aren’t.
If there is any one thing you ask people to not do, they will do it.
So, there is this thing people do, sometimes, and perhaps it is perfectly human behavior, except when it is so clearly statistically deviantα. Or maybe it’s just something about perception. Sometimes we exist in an environment where simple things are impossible: I am writing something; my coffee cup is empty; if you wish to take odds, no, I cannot manage to go refill my coffee cup without someone demanding that I stop what I am doing and undertake another task. And perhaps that summary sounds a bit pointed, but when you can watch someone get up and start searching the room for something to give you, they make some sort of point: Here is something that looks like it has a deadline in about four weeks; you need to stop what you are doing and do this thing right now.
And if you ask about this phenomenon, the one thing people don’t do is explain why they can’t leave you to what you’re doing; indeed, very often they come right out and—what, confess? admit? acknowledge? chide?—say the one has nothing to do with the other.
α There is, of course, a recursive dive into the question acknowledging that statistical deviance, real or perceived, is itself perfectly human; this is, to the one, a seemingly legitimate existential consideration, and, to the other, a nihilistic rabbit hole.