You Never Asked
An essay about communicating and children as people
I follow this cool nonbinary person on Twitter. They often talk about being neuro-divergent and polyamorous, things that resonate with me. They mentioned feeling anger about their trauma, about their past.
I retweeted them with:
“Having a place to live wasn’t what was best for me.”
I was a kid and like many, I was voiceless. Being a teenager is old enough to know some of what you want. I knew I wanted my own bed. I slept head-to-toe with my little sister for years. And shared a bedroom with her for a while after. It’s a wonder we’re not closer than we are now.
I knew that I wanted to be a ballerina. And a chef. And a country music singer since my voice was “So white.”
I knew that I needed to feel safe in my own home, but I didn't really know what safe meant. I think that some kinds of chaos are accepted. When I first talked to a free therapist on campus about everything, she recommended I read a book called, “The Secret in Black Families.”
I was nowhere near far enough into my healing journey to read that. The title alone made me feel sick to my stomach. I had the option of group sessions after that and I never went. It's possible that for a lot of Black students, their first time having access to mental health services is on a college campus. There was a survivor's meeting during sexual assault awareness month. One girl told her story in detail. Another jumped up and ran from the room. I felt numb and exposed. I had just come from having lunch with my mom at Wholefoods. There was a hospital nearby.
“I just got done visiting your brother.”
I changed the conversation. I let her pray for me in public. She anointed me in oil and everything. I love how thick her fingers are. They seem old and capable like her. She almost never raises her voice. Even now, I feel love but anger at her. She never asked me what I needed. She never asked me if I was going to be alright.
My partner has a hard time asking what I’m working on or doing. I have a hard time launching into a conversation about myself. We constantly struggle with this and have not made much headway. It ebbs and flows. I told him what I needed. “Just ask about me.” When I talked about leaving him, he asked, “What do you need from me?”
I thought this exchange was something I was good at. So good that I thought I could predict what she wanted as well. I realized after I read that tweet that I never asked her what she needed from me that night. I thought I had somehow figured out “how to be friends with your ex in a public setting.” I thought that I needed to be friendly and also standoffish. That whatever way I could be as outgoing as possible was exactly what she and I needed. But I never just asked.
“How do you want tonight to go? Do you want any public affection? Do you want to come to me to chat when you’re ready? Do you want me to dip before going to her house?”
I’m sure on this list was not getting so absolutely shit-faced that I only remembered 4 moments after the bar, none of which was losing my purse. I rode a divvy bike from the bar the next morning. Finally seeing that the sidewalk makes up most of their seating. I wish this bar was closer.
I never asked because I thought I knew. And in that way, I was only serving myself that night. I know part of me was also afraid to ask. What if she thought I wasn't good at being her friend in public? What if she thought I was nervous instead of calm? But I was nervous. And excited. There are times that I can fake it and make it but this was not the night for that.
Moon Girl, I’m so sorry.
I am talking with a friend about her bad day. I want to practice this phrase:
“What do you need? I can offer this and this.”
I think that takes some of the pressure off of the person to decide at the moment, but it also lets them decide. We often tell our friends, “I’m here if you need anything.” But it’s so hard to say what that thing is. My lips freeze around the words, “Would you like to just come to sit with me? We can do our own thing?” I’ve needed that so many times but have felt like a bother.
My mother never asked me what I needed because I’m sure she thought it was just Jesus.
As I get ready to plan out an entire art show (!) around this topic of religious trauma, I wonder what she would think? What would she think about the opening night where I’ll give an artist's talk? The opening night where beers will be served and people will gather outside to look at my art. My hurt. That there’s also going to be an open mic around the theme of religious trauma and “What gets’s passed down.”
Maybe I’ll ask her what the fuck she thinks about that.