Have you ever heard it said that you teach people how to treat you? I first read it in an article about four years ago. I like to say that I live by this as often as always, but reality is in the funny reminder that I only do when I wish I had. See, I suffer from premature infatuation. This and teaching people how to treat you come from very different sides of the tracks.
Premature infatuation takes shape in more areas than just the obvious. Yes, with boys of course. But matters of the heart go beyond boys and before I learned about all that, it was with the girls I was friends with, the music I loved, the movies I adored, the actors that brought those characters in those stories to life – and so on. James Cameron released Titanic when I was 18 and it reeled me in like a drug. I was addicted to the passion behind the detail and the love that was woven between it all. I paid to pay attention to 180 minutes of tragic beauty, 15 times over. I kept each movie ticket stub and glued it into a journal I was meticulously invested in – along with the names of who joined me each time. The names whittled as the number of stubs grew and eventually I was going to see it alone, but I was okay with that. This was a lone infatuation. I wasn’t ever insecure or stalled by it, I never over-analysed or revisited it and I never gave any of it a second thought. It was my love and that sat perfectly with me.
Matters and passions of the heart have colours for me. This eager intensity that drove young-me was organically orange. It roused and riveted me; it never needed publicity and it never needed hiding. But that sure-bet beauty has gone cotton-mouth and I can no longer not wonder where it went. That innocence. That nostalgia. That confidence to be nostalgic.
Something I did or didn’t do sent those musings and that colour to a concentration camp where they barely survived its scorched-earth-policy, yet bloomed cynical hesitations that disconnected me from that part of my source that enables me to teach people how to treat me. Its cackle echoes the sound my cowering made when the bullies bullied. It ricochets off the walls like my crumbling did when they said me, my ideas and my passions were stupid, and it bleeds through cracks like their vehement verbosity did when it chanted in unison – “Hey fag! You walk like a girl.” But… that was all so long ago?! And, at the time, that organic orange never flickered. But now that the noise has gone… so too has the colour. I can’t see where or what it is anymore and I am not okay with that.
This wandering wondering led me here to this edge I’m at where I am able to see the coming season changing again, because of (some) others who are not unlike me. In a magic minute, one of them heart-sleeved something special my way that prodded my presumptuous assumptions of my lonely alone. It was morning-dew fresh as it wrote headlines for how much more breathtaking-bloom is still to come. My oddball is special, but not that special that it deserves no oddball friend. Reading words that looked and sounded like I’d put them together myself was purgative and mind-boggling, legitimising and laudable, and it reeled me in like a drug because it was brave. It was big. And it was buoyant.
We paw at the Gilberts, the Dyers and the Hays like they offer an oxygen we haven’t been given before… but we know it. We know it well. Because your self-help is you, yourself, and you breathe that in when you hear the things you’ve said lovingly before, said lovingly back to you by someone whose tapestry is coloured a little like your own.
Her heart-sleeve gesture was a socks-off moment like no other, because – as much as I will always be addicted to that passion behind the magic that loves living – it is rare. It sits quietly, too often, hiding behind colourless insecurities that echo sounds of the ugly I thought I’d beaten. But that can only win when I am not brave. When I am not big. And when I refuse to be buoyant. So thank you for buoying me into this pleasant
d/n-umbfounded, Cath. My premature infatuation led me here and your heart-sleeving proves that we really can teach people how to treat us.
These two virtues are not ships in the night, at all, after all.
Cynthia Ozick says that we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.
That thing is us.
This is inspiration awake.
It looks like an impellent indigo…
…and I like it.
© Dylan Balkind