Here in London. Just arrived from the countryside of England. More specifically, a quaint little town that looks like you think England should look like with its cobblestone and sloping streets and shops. Not stores- they call them shops. We were in the countryside visiting my brother-in-law and his wife and son. We were all there: my husband, me, my in-laws. I actually adore them aside from the fact that I am more outspoken than they probably like, except when I’m not, when I am the me that I am most days, which is, to put it plainly: an introvert.
I know, I know. You are smirking. You are shaking your head. I have an easy-as-Sunday-morning time being in front of groups, being the leader, being the center of attention. Being the writer and the observer. But when it comes to really being with people, eh, not so much.
I would rather be alone, in my head, with my books, with my words and thoughts. So many thoughts. Thoughts thoughts thoughts. I battle it. I am a rare bird. I am weird. I love people and I can’t stand them all at once.
I like the idea of them mostly.
The truth is, or at least the truth for me now and perhaps the truth that has always been there, is that I can’t hear. Especially in groups. It is far too much work to understand and to try and keep up so I go far away into the land of my head where I am safe and its quiet and I can be alone and not be badgered with questions I can’t hear anyway. I feel dumb mostly. I feel like a child in a roomful of adults who pretends to understand their language and their nods and their tssk tssk’s but really just understands what it feels like to be loved by them in a way that doesn’t need language just an arm around the shoulder, a hand on the forehead, a smile to acknowledge yes, we know you are here.
I am lazy and not very domestic. No, no please don’t think I am being hard on myself. I am not. (I am in many ways but not in this way. This is fact.) Last night I offered to help clean up after dinner. This is what women do, right? This is how we bond. This is what we do. Right? Right?
I picked up some plates and shoveled old food into the garbage but beyond that no one would let me do anything. Later, my mother-in-law made a big deal of of my offering to help (she was just trying to be nice, I think?) Jen even offered to help. It was good. Right, Jen? You offered to help clean up?
I am sure she was just making conversation and at the same time trying to make me feel good and useful but I couldn’t help but think I am a strange animal in a foreign land and even when I am home I am a bird among the fish. I am a bird with one wing. I am a rare and fragile thing.
Maybe not that fragile but my fierce independence (not as fierce as I like to imagine) makes me cringe every time I am doted on. You ok, Jen? You ok? You ok?
It is so much easier for me to be alone. They are all out right now and I am alone. Hooray! I am at my best! I am happy! I can write! I don’t have to try and pretend to hear or be someone I’m not! Yay! Freedom! but if I want to migrate with the rest of the birds I must manage conversations and learn how to do things like cook and clean and pay my bills and do my taxes. Right? Right?
There is an Iranian custom called Taarof which is basically to say you keep offering someone something no matter what. Tea? Cookies? Tea? Cookies? Have the first bite of my pizza even though I’m starving? Have my jacket even though I’m freezing?
It drives me crazy. Not because of the inherent politeness it implies but rather the opposite. It always strikes me as something that actually doesn’t want to be done. Right before I got married, one of my husbands family members explained to me that you offer it without really wanting to give it or something to that effect. I tuned out because I got so angry. I have had enough of that my entire life. This morning, as we waited for the train to come back to London, I told my father-in-law that it was not singular to the Persian culture. I said it was Yiddish and Jewish too. It was a Jewish mother quality. Offer me food until I turn blue in the face with No, Thank you’s.
They asked me what the Yiddish word for it was. I said there was no specific word but that it was known as: guilt.
And yes I have had enough guilt to kill a horse, as my mom would say. My mom with all her funny phrases (thanks Mom!) I have killed enough horses in my day. No more guilt.
So I am a little more opinionated when I am. And when I’m not, I am quiet and in my head. I am a writer. Whose mostly deaf. What else can I be? I can’t hear most things that are said so I prefer to be in the company of my brain, thank you very much.
I am a snob. No, not with people. I mostly love people. Or like I said, the idea of them. With food. I am a snob with food.
I realize when I am with my family here in England who are all so easy and so busy taarofing and who could care less where or what we eat. Me? With all my past food issues and obsessions with it, I can’t just eat anywhere. (Of course I can!) I make a scene in my head. I sulk in my head (and probably a little out loud) that we have to eat at a place where you have to get mayonnaise and ketchup and salt in little packets. And you have to order at the bar. The bar! My husband asks if I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth sometimes to make fun of me. No, quite the contrary. Sometimes we counted pennies (not an exaggeration) to buy a can of tuna. Not always no, but in the worst case scenarios we did or my mom made something called mush. Mush was a mix of brown rice and lentils and whatever else we could literally mush together. So, why the snobbery now, Jen?
I have control over my food, that’s why! (Want a cliche? There. I gave you one.)
I get pleasure out of deciding where to eat. Out of making a production of where to eat and what to order and what kind of wine to have. When I feel ordinary and trapped I truly feel like a rare bird, starving and in need of nourishment. How can you expect me to eat this wilted lettuce and fried fish?
Yet I do. I eat it and I survive and am probably made better for it. Why should I be dictated by my food choices and my bad hearing? I will eat this fried fish and wilted lettuce and enjoy the company, even though I can’t really hear much of what is being said and I will learn how to slither into the world like a bird does when it must eat. I’ll swoop down and take what’s offered because that’s how life works sometimes. You can’t always sit in a corner and draw pictures with words in your head while the rest of the world carries on, trumpets for mouths.
You can sometimes. Just sometimes.
You can sometimes jettison back and forth between worlds but if you want to be married (as I do, as I am) you must somehow learn to eat greasy fish and chips in a diner that used to be an Opera House (a real life Opera House!) And it’s actually not that hard. You open your mouth. You take a bite. You chew. You swallow. You sip your wine. You listen the best you can with the ears you got and you take another bite. You dip your fry in the mayo from the nasty plastic (stop judging, Jen!) packet. You try your best to understand and when you don’t, you don’t.
It’s not that different from any other married person’s life, hearing loss or not. Man or woman.
So I am a little weird. I am a little snobby with my food and I suck at cleaning. I like to be alone more than not. So what? I am not so special. I am not that rare.
When I start to feel too rare and fragile and special I know that it is time to re-renter the world of People. I will not feel guilt for my wacky ways (they aren’t even that wacky) nor will I make excuses.
But I will compromise.
Birds don’t travel alone. They flock together.
When I start to separate, my wings outstretched, flying high above everyone, looking for things to write about and feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I will look for the nearest ledge, perch on it and wait for an opening. There will be an opening and I will slip in. I will do what I need to do to be a part of the world.