In the next few weeks, I discovered I could return to that quiet connected state whenever I wanted, simply by remembering. Paying attention to what I was doing, doing it as well as I possibly could, that helped, too, bringing in an aspect of internal silence like I experienced that moment down by the seashore when I was nothing and everything.
I continued reading 77 Truths. I aimed to stay with each one until it became tangible within me, though I admit, some had to germinate inside for decades.
The second truth: I am not my thoughts. That one was easy for me. No graduate from University of Windenburg College of Liberal Arts and Cultural Studies escaped with their thoughts intact: we’d all been deconstructed and reconstructed so many times in our search for the foundations of cultural constructs of gender and identity that we were lucky to ever find any thought we might latch onto and call our own, reflective of our true selves. In those days, especially, when I relished the feeling of stopping my thoughts at every opportunity, and, in doing so, found that I felt more and more alive, it was easy to accept that truth.
The third truth posed deeper challenges: I am not my feelings or emotions. I’d always found something within me that I clung to when I felt lost or sad or lonely. It was a feeling of home, but not one that came from my actual home, one that I simply recognized as me. It consisted of one part love, one part joy, one part mirth, and two parts melancholy. Decades later, as my hormonal balance shifted with perimenopause, I lost touch with that feeling for close to seven years, until finally, coming out the other side, there it was, waiting for me, like the open door to Grandma’s kitchen when the aroma of oatmeal cookies rushes out in welcome. By then, I’d embodied this truth, and that helped the panic to lessen. By then, I’d learned to be curious about what was there when the glass of my familiar emotional cocktail sat empty. At any rate, that was decades later, and during those early weeks, I simply wondered, “If I am not these emotions that give me my sense of me, then what is me?”
The fourth truth presented an even more difficult riddle: I am not my conditioning. Everything I had learned in college was that, yes, I was my conditioning–as each of us were. Gender, politics, bias, musical preferences, prejudices, beliefs, as well as a significant proportion of personality, and nearly all social identity, derived from familial, social, cultural, and educational conditioning. Strip away that, and what is left? I couldn’t even begin to fathom.
Still, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the blog. Clicking around on the various tabs, I stumbled upon the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love. I laughed at the title–what purpose did an extraterrestrial have for love? Weren’t they all emotionless super-brains, like Mr. Spock?
I read several posts. The writing was sweet, sentimental, and endearing. One post, dated a few years back, reflected on the joys of little things, focusing on his baby brother and the brother’s new puppy. It was surprisingly ordinary and startlingly human.
I began to realize that maybe I’d been wrong to think that someone not-from-this-planet would not be able to relate to me and the specific challenges I faced as a human. I began to realize that this might be the very person who could help me understand how I could be more fully human. That night, I became a fangirl of Septemus Sevens.
Throughout those weeks, my friendship with Max continued to grow closer. He was always there during my shifts, visiting with me, hanging out with the regulars, befriending Mojo, the neighborhood stray.
Mojo adored him from the start, and when I watched them together, I could see why. I tried not to feel jealous.
Max often leaned on the counter while I was filling orders, especially if it was one of those times when I was in the zone, watching me.
“It’s a joy to watch you at work, byu,” he told me.
“Even when I’m like this?” I asked, giving him my biggest, meanest, toughest scowl. He cracked up, and his laughter made a good day better.
One evening when I was hanging out there during my off hours, he told me he wanted to show me the flat upstairs, not the one he lived in, but the other one.
“Any day now,” he said, “people might be coming to stay here for a while, and if they come when I’m not around, I might need you to help them get settled in. Can you do that?”
“Sure,” I said. “How will I know who they are?”
“If they say they’ve just come from the cookie store,” he said, “then that’s them.”
The exposed brick walls and simple furnishings lent a cozy feel to the place, bringing back memories of college apartments.
He asked me to make myself at home, and maybe find something we could watch on TV, while he went next door to his flat to check his voice mail. I was flipping through the channels, and when he returned, I’d stopped on a sci-fi movie I remembered from childhood.
“What on earth is this?” he asked.
I’d been feeling remorseful about the insensitive comments I’d made about extraterrestrials during our conversation a few weeks before and watching the film with him didn’t help.
“Quick! U-bot! Protect us before they freeze us all with death rays!” screamed the actors.
“This is like every bad stereotype ever made against extraterrestrials,” Max observed.
“I know!” I exclaimed. “This is what I grew up with! Is it any wonder?”
“Is what any wonder?” he asked.
I turned off the film.
“Is it any wonder that I’m so insensitive and prejudiced?” I asked quietly. He scooted closer and looked at me with half-closed eyes, the way he does when he’s really listening. I told him about my dad and his conspiracy theories. I told him about my mom, who wouldn’t let me go to certain parts of the city, “because they might be there, and you don’t want to mix with them.” I told him about how I always thought that I was open-minded, generous, and nonjudgmental, but that, recently, I’d discovered that prejudices loomed behind nearly every thought, waiting to pounce.
“Did you get to the fourth truth yet?” he asked. “That is, if you’re still reading that blog.”
I told him I had. “But I think I am my conditioning. All these judgments I have–and they don’t even come from me but they’re so tightly wound up inside of me that they’ve become me! I don’t know what to do, how to free myself.”
He smiled. “I’ve been watching and listening, byu. You’re doing a great job!”
“Really?” I wasn’t sure. I went on to tell him that I’d found the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love, and that it was helping me to see common ground between us and extraterrestrials.
“Did you know that the author is gay?” I asked.
“Pan,” Max answered.
Pan? I’d thought he was gay. I had a roommate in college who was a panromantic asexual. Every day, he fell in love in an “Aimless Love” sort of way. It made living with him an adventure.
“Panromantic or pansexual?” I asked.
“I’m both,” Max answered, shifting the focus to himself.
“I’m straight,” I replied, needlessly.
“I know,” he said.
I reflected on the tall ladder of privilege I stood on: cishet, white, upper-middle-class background, educated.
Max looked at me with his earnest gaze. “You’re doing just fine, Mallory,” he said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re my sunshine.”
I took a long walk that evening along the beach. I felt so much. As I walked, I began to notice how I was not these feelings. These feelings stirred within me, threatening to overwhelm me, but I wasn’t these emotions. I wasn’t the guilt, I wasn’t the remorse, I wasn’t this strange giddiness that rose up every time I thought of Max’s gaze, every time I remembered his voice. I wasn’t my privilege. I wasn’t the prejudiced thoughts that battered me whenever the voice of my father spoke inside of me. I wasn’t the lies that movies told me.
Maybe, I was the girl that looked at the photo of a little extraterrestrial boy holding a puppy and felt, inside of me, the opening of my heart.
Maybe I was the fangirl who was falling in love with the words of someone not-from-this-planet who happened to be able to see into mysteries that somehow beckoned me.
Maybe I was what it was that was seeing this, feeling this, thinking this, experiencing this–and then, it all fled, and I fell into that silence again, where no thoughts tread.
As I walked back up the trail, a light shone from the window in the house on the bluff.
Someone sat at a computer desk.
I recognized him from a photo on his personal blog. It was Septemus Sevens, this was where he lived, and my fangirl heart raced.