When Robin Williams died last year, a newscaster read a quote from Williams.
I used to think the worst thing in the world was to be alone. I was wrong. The worst thing in the world is to be around people who make you feel alone.
When I heard that quote, I sat up in my bed because it touched who I am, who I’ve always been, and who I’m trying to break out of being.
I come from a staunchly religious family, Seventh Day Adventists, but I’ve never been religious. Growing up, I was never myself because by my family’s moral measurement myself was the Devil. So I learned to wear a mask at an early age because I feared my family’s judgment (the hell and brimstone variety).
I became good at being who I needed to be then, around my family, and later in the streets when I made myself ice and steel. Because I always pretended to be someone else for everyone else’s sake, I put myself in a position where no one knew me. No one even had the chance to accept me or love me because the kid my family loved, the thug the streets respected, he was a phantom. I was the mask maker, always separated by a thin layer, so that even when everyone in the room smiled for me, I felt alone.
I don’t want to be alone. I’m trying to outgrow the dilemma behind my false smile, but though old defense mechanisms rust and slow, they prove hard to break.
I’m in my own way because I never mastered walking the middle ground. I gravitate to extremes: I’m open and honest or I’m closed and afraid. When I’m closed, I reinforce my own nightmare. When I’m open, I’m too open. I forget other people’s boundaries, making the mistake of presuming that they should bare their nakedness as I am. This inevitably leads to catastrophes in love and betrayals by opportunists.
I have two reasons I struggle to remain open to the miracles that await an open heart even though it leaves me vulnerable. When I shut down, I do it to protect myself from others. It works; others can’t hurt me. The catch — if my unfulfilled life has taught me anything — is that I’m hurting myself. My problem with that is something I read about American slavery in a passage about training slaves.
A properly trained nigger does not need his master to keep him in line because he is broken. He will keep himself enslaved.
So reason number one I struggle to remain open: I’m not a broken slave. I’m an artist, a writer. I put the breath of gods in a pen and bring life to a page.
Reason number two: Sometimes I connect with people. These moments, no matter how brief and unpredictable, give me the greatest feeling I’ve found in my 35 years. Pure beauty tingling in my tear ducts. It’s what religion should be, what family should be. And I won’t give it up.