I want to use this post to talk about walls. For years, I have played the role as the brick layer strengthening my fortress while daring anyone to advance beyond the protective structure. This topic seemed to be a theme both in my recent conversations alongside the discovery of an abandoned house in Jamaica, VT that had a 360 degree moat around it. It clearly tantalized any onlooker to come closer, yet you were not able to ever enter. So, how do we keep people out with our structures? How do we dance with our walls? Make friends with them? Or, more importantly, how and why do we build walls?
© Shanta L.E. 2014
During my childhood, hardening was key for survival. For anyone who has ever dwelled in a city and/or encountered various dysfunctions within family life, you know exactly what I am talking about. For me, the show of emotion either inside of outside of my home was always connected to danger. Smiling too much was an invitation to unwanted attention so it was best to keep a straight face while walking down the streets of Hartford. Or something as simple as telling the truth when someone asked “How are you?” was always met with hard-handed chastising. As I entered adulthood, in many ways, my armor was my protection. Knowing how to answer a question enough to invite yet keep people out was key. The old adage of not airing dirty laundry was a daily mantra that I still struggle with from time to time. On the other hand, some say ‘Live out loud’, but again living out loud had a heavy price to pay depending on where you were and the specifics of your “living out loud.”
The open discussion of my walls is much like sitting in front of the mirror and looking into your own eyes. It can feel uncomfortable and scary, especially if one is attempting to recognize all of the ways they protect themselves. In this case (and for years), I have been sitting in front of a very public mirror that is reflecting me back to me. Then again, we all are to some extent. After many conversations I have had with individuals close to me & much pondering, I realize that I do an amazing job of inviting people in yet keeping them out like Bluebeard’s castle. I hand over the keys and yet there is a whole cellar that remains hidden. For years I called this the open-book trick, you can see the cover and a majority of the book, yet the index is hidden.
Perhaps we are all guilty of such things, but in the process of allowing individuals to know and love you—I have always known this is not the way. Yet, my fortress feels cozy/warm. I have often stated that I have cut myself on the walls of others throughout the years or called through a fence to them. However, in order to recognize such a thing, you have to be guilty of that very thing yourself (at least at times). Of course, how could I blame anyone for not protecting themselves against she who builds walls or wears armor under an inviting evening dress? Softening has never been a strength but I have allowed my vulnerability to play London Bridges with everyone I love and know. Of course, there are the many moments that individuals recognize such tomfoolery and call me out on it. Whenever they did, I attempted to create prettier and cozier walls.
No. This is not a moment of playing victim or feeling sorry for myself but just additional noticing. A tipped hat to the ones who asked me about the coldness of my walls. A bow to the one who warned me what would happen if I kept physically and/or emotionally fleeing from those who cared about me the most. A thank you to the individuals who told me that I needed to turn myself off and then turn myself back on again because they wanted to see more of the me that was hiding. Deep hugs for anyone who was brave enough to lean against my hardened walls and hurt themselves in order to communicate warmth and safety. While I continue to dance with my walls, I must say I become more aware of them. And over the years, in the midst of building them, I have also become willing to tear down that which I have built with my own hands.
So, I don’t have any witty or fancy answers to the questions I posted at the beginning of this post, but I leave them at your doorstep to ponder. Or perhaps you might consider this a metaphorical graffiti tag that is only intended for your most private self to see and reveal in front of your own mirror.