the long walk home 10

It’s funny how well one can compartmentalize things. And how quickly some of us do that when faced with certain situations. I’m speaking generally here. It’s a defense, a method of protection.

Let’s live dangerously. Let me be more specific. It’s funny how, instead of looking at the pattern of him hitting you, you take each incident as it comes, then carefully crease and fold it, and put it away somewhere as if that nasty business is all over and you can live normally now. As if it weren’t true that, by your very action of putting it away, you hadn’t already scheduled the next time.

I have a friend who lives in a shelter. She’s been in the system for a long consecutive stretch of time (ten years, I think). In conversation, she always starts at the very outer layer of the onion, and slooooooooooooooooowly works her way in. If there are 99 layers to her onion, 99 being the innermost, then she’s on level three after five years.

It’s particularly maddening. Especially when, after one or two short sentences, she always asks “Do you know what I’m saying?” or “Do you know what I mean?” in such a manner and tone that even if she had said something like “The sky is blue. There are white clouds in the sky. Do you know what I mean?” you’d start trying to read between the lines.

I used to tell her yes, I knew what she meant, but then I wondered if maybe I didn’t. Was there more to the story? I began saying no, I didn’t know what she meant, could she please explain further. Her explanations, of course, shed no more light on the situation. In fact, they increased my confusion. … It goes without saying that she ended those explanations with “Do you know what I mean?”: “Well, the sky is light blue and the clouds look white, not gray. Do you know what I’m saying?” Maddening.

There are other ways which her experience in the system has affected her communication. She’s not the only one; I’ve seen similar things from others who opted to stay in such places.

I don’t talk to her much anymore, other than occasionally recommend that she leave the shelter immediately. For her own sanity. (But really for mine.)

She looks at her options and feels as if she has no choice but to stay. You might feel the same way if you were in her shoes. You might think, you can put up with the craziness until things work out eventually. And then you would begin processing the madness incident by incident, carefully folding things and putting them away after each one was over, without ever realizing or acknowledging the inevitable consequences.

It’s in my dealings with her that I realized that the first step to leaving a plantation behind is leaving a plantation mindset behind. Before leaving you must imagine leaving. Doing that can be harder than actually leaving.

Imagine being on a ship of fools in the middle of the sea with no lifeboats. In that place, can you imagine being able to seriously consider jumping overboard and swimming to a shore you’re not sure is there?

I’m coming to terms with the possibility that my friend never jump. I think that even if she could see the shore, she’d go down with the ship, she’ll make the leap.

Do you know what I mean?

24. August 2014 by sojourner hardeman
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