The ice is falling off the trees in a way that I feel it’s dangerous to be driving along the oak, maple, and fir-lined backroads, ever cognizant of the chunks landing in piles onto the asphalt. When I’m underneath, zooming along the ups and downs of the previously free of ice roads, I hear spastic crashes loudly hitting the top of the car, or I watch gravity urging it on as it falls, almost in slow-motion, from the tip of an elegant drooping branch down to my windshield from above. A loud splat. I press down briefly on the knob behind the steering-wheel, clearing away the debris and am relieved, in my naivety, that there isn’t a crack in the glass.
A crack in the glass. Just what would that mean? I don’t mean literally, as literally it would mean taking the car in to get it fixed and then fretting over the expense. It would mean, in that moment, the insides would get out and the outsides would come in. Barriers removed; exchange. Now that’s union.
I was sitting, satisfied and content, at the kitchen table after dinner. Leftovers waiting patiently in the dutch oven on the stove, roasted potato rendering me complacent I sipped kombucha, “Hey, we should call Ray back.”
Ray: the owner of the other house we have been caring for in the holiday-celebrating way friend’s of friend’s (and friend’s) of ours have left the area this season. He’d left a message that had yet to be returned.
And so returned it was. Me, sitting idly by with my fermented beverage, listening to the sturdy, companionable way the check-in message was relayed to Ray’s voicemail, “ … and we’ve stayed the last couple nights over here and have gone back and forth to your place to keep it warm and check on Skippy ….” Wait a minute. No. You can’t just tell them that we haven’t been at their place taking excruciatingly good care of it. We need to tell them things that will make them feel good and feel comfortable and like they know they made a good choice in having us stay and in a way that they’ll think we’re completely wonderful people and would be happy to help us out in the future if an occasion arose for them to do so. And so we’ll have to be on our absolute best behaviour and act in a way that we think will be pleasing to them in order for them to think positively of us so you simply can’t tell them that we haven’t been at their place at the beck and call of their solar-powered home that can be rather demanding in the dead of winter the way the generator needs to be turned on if it isn’t sunny enough and oh my goodness, what are they going to think?! “… so let us know when you’re getting back and it will be great to see you then.”
Somehow in that racing of my mind I’d had an epiphany. It was as if a piece of ice fell and really did crack something, or, at least, managed to break through the veneer of this mask that all those un-voiced thoughts wore. I really am a people-pleaser.
It’s not like I need to throw names around. It’s not like I need to rush back through, in incoherent, open-mouthed gaze, every recent and historic instance of me doing something at my expense for the sake of someone else. I can simply observe this truth, and move on making different choices in the future.
I’ll admit, this knowledge slightly paralyzes me. It makes me clearly aware of a layer put up between myself and the rest of the world around me. Except maybe my mother. I do remember the last time I saw her, the evening before I was to fly out East, rushing around downtown Calgary through construction zones and one-way streets. “It’ll be faster if we go this way,” she cooed pleasantly, careful not to glance too obviously at the clock indicting our lateness even more than we already knew it was.
“That road takes us completely out of the way!! Being late would just be the worst thing ever! This is outrageous, why aren’t you listening to me!?” Me, practically foaming at the mouth, in that hyperbolic way that daughters and be angry at their mothers.
This, layer, this ice-like layer—how have I managed to let it exist all of this time? Its silent barrier freezing me into rigid notions of acting the way I think I need to in order for people to like me. I smile more affably when I notice someone could use reassurance, I return the dish sponge to exactly the place I found it thereby rendering my influence nearly invisible compared to if my Christmas host had done the dishes, and I wonder where the line is between kindness and my own reluctance to insert myself into life.
My instinct tells me that line is right around the place of wanting to alter tangible facts, or at least the way they are conveyed, in order to retain control of the way others could view the situation. A simpler way to put it: manipulation.
Yes my subtle fear that Ray would be unhappy to hear his home had been left uninhabited for even a dozen hours makes me want to be more hazy about the way we’ve been caring for two homes at once. Okay, okay, it was more like 36 hours. Yes, I can come clean. This subversive—and altogether delusional, really—method of control has simply got to go. I feel I can muster the courage to tackle it, bit by bit, and enter into a more complete interaction with the world around me. One where I don’t feel I need to have a guard up to ensure smooth sailing through life.
Outside the trees are losing their sheaths of frozen water. I watch as the encasing melts underneath the ice, at the level of the branch and seems to slide down, drip by drip, and out at the very tip of each twig. Maybe that’s how it happens, change. First at the level of deep recognition, and then slowly, with every moment of recognition and altered pattern, and even then only if this thaw holds up.