Sometimes I’m afraid I don’t feel the same as everyone else. Sometimes I think I feel a certain way not because I feel it but because I am expected to feel that way, I feel myself once removed, watching myself, making sure I’m putting on the right sort of theater for the purpose or occasion.
Just like this passage in Catherine Lacey’s story “Remove Yourself” recently at 52 Stories.
I should have told you, I said.
My husband inhaled fast, tried to make a word and didn’t.
Well? he asked.
Do you have something to say?
I don’t know.
You don’t know.
I’m not sure.
He did the inhale thing again. Well, if it’s all the same to you I’m going to get back to work now. The next time you call you might want to have something to say.
And the line went dead and a machine-woman started speaking, asking for more money, saying please, saying have a nice day.
I slung my backpack on, walked down an alley, put my backpack down, and crouched over it to have an almost human moment. I felt like I got close to being a rational person right then, phlegm dripping in my throat, face turning red. In this situation, any rational person would be hurt and being hurt would cause her to have a real feeling, and that real feeling would make her cry in a real and serious way. A rational person would feel upset instead of just knowing she was upset. Her feelings would show up in her body as if she had no choice in the matter and this would cause her to realize she needed to find a way back to her home, to her real life that was somehow going on without her.
Reading that passage, dozens of moments from my life come to mind. Big moments like when my mother died, this same feeling, a feeling not of mourning, but of the feeling of mourning, of expectation of mourning. Break ups when I wanted the break up. Break ups when I didn’t want the break up. The deaths of pets. The exuberance of weddings and birthdays, my own or those of others. The births of children.
It’s hard to even write about, hard to even describe what it feels like. Maybe you know what it feels like. Maybe we don’t feel anything at all except the feeling of feeling, ourselves once removed.
The best moments in my life are the smaller moments, the moments where I feel no pressure to express, to smile or laugh or cry, moments like the moment in Lacey’s story where the narrator finds her husband at the chalkboard, the light tapping, just watching him work, the husband not yet noticing her presence, present only to herself.