“Honestly though I have always been rather private.”
“By private do you mean secretive?” We laugh out loud like girlfriends rather than doctor and patient.
“No I mean private. I have never lied to anyone. If anyone asks me a direct question, I always tell the truth.”
“That’s interesting, La. Why does it take a direct question?”
I think on it for a moment.
“I have just never been all thatbig on volunteering information. Answering is one thing. Offering up information is another. BOOOO!”
Laughter meets again high above our heads as I pull my legs to my chest and clasp my arms around them.
“I dunno Doc. I just never been huge on offering things up to scrutiny.”
“But you’ve said repeatedly that part of the reason you love your friends so much and why you consider them family is because they don’t judge you.”
“Then why the secrecy?”
I don’t really have an answer for that.
“Let’s redirect for a moment, shall we?” she asks me even though we both know it’s not really multiple choice. “How do you think it affects your friendships?”
“I would say it probably depends on the person.”
“So give me a broad overview.”
“There are some people that I feel know me well. There are some that, I’m sure if they really took the time to think about it, they’d realize they don’t really know me at all.”
“And could some of this at least be at the root of the fact that you feel somewhat alone?” I pause.
“Yo Doc I kinda can’t stand you.” More laughter. She pats my knee as she gets up to get tea.
“It’s human nature to want to belong to someone or something. You want to fit somewhere. You want to be. Many times we believe that in order to fit somewhere, we have to become more like those creatures we love. Most of the times it’s subconscious and completely harmless. The pitch of our voice may start to match our friends and lovers. We may start to share vocabulary or gestures that we hear or see repeatedly and unknowingly internalize. That is merely human nature. Sometimes it is more pointed than that. Sometimes we knowingly hide those parts of ourselves we secretly feel they can’t or won’t understand and accept. I think the special case here,” she gestures towards me with the antique white kettle, “is that for you it seems instinctual. Not at all premeditated. Not a conscious effort to keep secrets, because as you said yourself you don’t put alot of work into evading those direct questions, but this habit seems to be comfortable to you. So I want to get to the root of why.”
I take a deep breath.
“Ok fair enough. I’d say that’s a pretty good assessment.”
“That’s why I get paid the big bucks,” she says with her signature deep chortle and gestures to her costume jewelry. We laugh more, loud and long and it makes me feel more than comfortable.
“So let’s backtrack. You say your friends don’t judge you.”
“Not really. I mean, I am sure if I was doing something stupid or dangerous they wouldn’t hesitate to let me know I was being stupid or dangerous.”
“I’d certainly hope so. But that isn’t really judging. Your friends know some things about you that could be considered contrary to who they are or what they believe. And they are still your friends. How do you think it makes them feel to know there are things you are not saying?”
“Wow. I..” I falter. “Honestly I don’t think I have ever thought about it before. I always felt like if they felt I was keeping something and they wanted to know they would ask.”
“You don’t think on a certain level your behavior has trained them not to ask?”
“What do you mean?”
“Meaning, yes, your friends know you to be an honest person. They know you won’t lie. But did it ever occur to you that maybe they would want you to endear yourself to them just for the sake of desiring to do so? I hardly believe that these people have been in your life for so many years, with you through so many things, and yet they don’t desire to know about the things you keep to yourself. I mean they obviously know you well enough to know you’re not being gushingly forthcoming. But maybe they have also have taken a cue from you to not ask. It is basic human desire, hardwired into all of us, to want to connect to people. To know them. To share with them. But in order to truly keep that desire alive, it has to be an equal and balanced channel of giving and receiving. And unknowingly or not, I’m willing to bet, albeit completely unconsciously, you have cut that off. You have taught them not to be the very type of friend you really need. You haven’t been as good a friend as you can and want to be, La.”
I’m speechless. Absolutely and utterly speechless. She lets the silence linger for a moment in her office. It never grows uncomfortable. Mostly, it is just profound. My mouth is literally agape.
“Now,” she says breaking my stupor, “some instincts are purely animalistic. They are hard wired. You sense fear, your adrenaline starts to pump. Some are learned. So where did you learn this La? Why? Let’s get back to that question. Your friends love you. And you adore these people. That much is obvious. So many people say things like ‘I’d do anything for my friends’ or ‘my friends mean the world to me’ and they’re are just cliches. With you,” she points her perfectly manicured nail at me, “I think you mean it. You internalize your friendships in such a way that they become a part of you. They are vital. And that sounds intense and scary, but that can be a good thing if you have chosen the right people which, it seems like at this point, for the most part, you have. By your own admission, your friends don’t really judge you. And if they do, it is not to the degree that it damages your bond. So why so secretive?”
I think about it long and hard. In my over intellectualized mind, I am coming up with a million reasons that ring like excuses in my head. I’m quiet, considering my answer carefully.
“I think,” I start, fumbling with the hair at nape of my neck, “I think it’s because, once you say it, once you speak it, you become accountable for it, don’t you? I mean, no matter what the outcome, good or bad, that becomes part of the landscape of who you are. You have to be it. You have to own up to it. There is a power in speaking things that maybe I don’t think I am ready to face. I am not always ready to be publicly accountable, I don’t think.” I pause, my voice dropped barely above a whisper, “Especially if I fail.”
She nods thoughtful at my assessment, her fingers steepled beneath her pointy chin. After awhile a smile spreads slowly across her face.
“You know if half my clients were as smart and self aware as you, I would be a librarian.”
“Not smart. Just incredibly aware of my own deficiencies.”
“That, as they say, is the first step.” She winks at me. “So, one last question and then I will let you go. And I don’t want an answer. I just want you to think about it.”
I ready myself because I feel like she’s about to drop something heavy on my head, as she often does at the end of our sessions.
“Could that fear of being accountable, especially if you fail, be why you aren’t truly doing what you want to do with your life?”
Today I went to see my boss. I closed her office door and told her I was interested in transferring to another position. In another city.
In New York City.
She walked me around to the HR department, explaining to me the transfer process and what I would have to do. She handed me the paperwork I’d need to get the process started.
“You know they prefer to promote from within,” she says to me and she smiles.
And so it begins.