Self-preservation during a physically dangerous situation goes like this for me:
Do absolutely nothing
Peek to see if coast is clear
I am a master of listening to what the police say to do during an armed shooter situation. Hide!
In elementary school, I was the master of dodgeball. That is, I was very good at dodging. Because I never participated in throwing the ball, nobody would try to hit me in the initial action. But as the kids got knocked out, there would be me left. The one who never drew attention to herself. Not knowing how to catch the ball or even throw it, I escaped any attack. Until then. But I would run well as the last person on my team. But we all know how that goes.
I just couldn’t even defend myself.
So clearly when I took the Would you survive a movie gunfight?, I “died” the embarrassing death. I amazingly was the only one who didn’t get hit during the gunfight, because simply put, I was hiding. But someone smart decided to shoot the scuba tanks near me, thereby blowing them up, killing me in the process.
Well at least it’s not as bad as shooting yourself. Accidentally.
The very first person close to me to die was my grandmother, my dad’s mother. What I knew of her was this: she was paralyzed to a wheelchair due to a stroke when I was 2, her face was round framed by permed dyed black hair, and her voice struck fast and sharp. We weren’t particularly close. Yet the day she died when I was around 12, I felt a strangeness in the air like a whisper.
I was lying in bed. My eyes closed, willing myself to sleep. But I woke as if a softness had brushed past me. She was dead.
Then the house phone rang. Quiet hushed voices. A pair of feet pattered downstairs and the garage door opened. A car drove. I knew what my parents would say the following morning.
Perhaps my mind knew since my grandmother was struggling in the hospital. But that was my first encounter with death. And soon too at the funeral as my sister and I said words on the podium that was likely lost on everyone. “We’ll see you again,” we said.
There was death that followed. My step-grandmother later. A neighbor my age who died from suicide. A colleague who stopped answering his email. The oral surgeon who I was referred to by my dentist and entered his office with a slip only to be turned away by “he’s dead. he’s not taking any new patients”. My grandfather. A friend who suddenly died from a medical complication when her daughter only an infant. They’ll collect over time, I know.
Then in my work in design with healthcare. I was struck by the fear that people had with death. Even more so the way that society avoided any talk of death. People will do anything to prevent their own death if they must stare it in its face. But the moment that the face is hard to see, it’s easy to do all the bad habits again. Fear paralyzes us or forces us to action.
Chris’ adored dog passed away awhile ago. I have this issue where I ask questions about him all the time. Did he like his belly rubbed? What did he do when he met other dogs? Would he attack a bunny? Or just chase playfully? I know the answers to these questions, but it’s because I know it’s part of him. Plus I want to know how it was like to know him. So I ask.
And yet. My friend’s mother died last summer. I didn’t know much about her until the last few months she was suddenly in our lives, appearing frequently in my friend’s life. I want to ask questions like the way I talk about Chris’ dog. Did she talk to you about sex? Did she ever punish you harshly for something you did? Did she ever say i told you so? But there are moments that I struggle. Where I hesitate and the words filter through my mind. I need to say freely. Death isn’t the end of us. For those who left behind can choose to remember.
It all started because I started to wonder about a conversation I had with a friend years ago. “Kill” was the most poignant word related to the topic. Being who I am, I have logs and logs of all my online conversations. Partly to serve as reference, but also to serve as a way to time travel.
So I searched through the chatlogs for the usage of the word “kill” within a folder of chatlogs. A significant number of results popped up through the Finder search. As I flipped through each file, I became aware of one distinct thing. “Kill” was used almost jokingly like “I would kill for sushi”. Or perhaps in response to a conversation where we whined about something not going right in our lives whether it was fussy manager or a nagging parent. What dawned on me was this: I never used the word “kill”. Perhaps in contrast, I find the word strong and violent (which may say something about my friend). Rather, I just resort to feelings of “I am angry” or “I don’t like it”—statements that aren’t provocative themselves and simply are just inaction. When he did mention “kill”, I jumped to more peaceful statements like “you’re just feeling vengeful now” or “things will get better”.
Maybe it says nothing about me. That many people are like me. A bit more peaceful. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my gender where I have been shaped by society to embrace agreement and complacency. In my mind, physical violence has never made sense. Because it doesn’t do anything except express anger. It doesn’t resolve the problem. It just provokes it and leads to consequences. Even in the most flippant use of the word.
This friend though, I realize, embodies the words of violence even if they aren’t physically expressed.
But what strikes me is how the language that we use is how we express ourselves everyday. When I was young, I decided that cursing was dumb. I could use more elegant language to express frustration or anger. I used a curse word only once in my life when I wanted to make it clear to people in an emotional moment that I was very upset. But since then, I have avoided it, resorting to plain language that perhaps masks my anger constantly or curates the emotions into the world. I wonder though if I have lost something in the process.
Should I be expressing violence in my everyday language? To suggest action? Maybe it means nothing. But there’s something strange about it, to allow myself to imagine the physical violence that I so disapprove.
We sat on the park bench. The wind blew through our hair. For the purposes of the conversation, I tilted eastward so that I could see my companion clearly. As a result though, the wind flung strands of hair in my face. I felt itchy, but I knew that it wasn’t an hour yet and didn’t feel like the value was squeezed enough. So I continued following the conversation, letting it go wherever it will.
I had the lines of gratitude and see you again ready.
And then sometimes the conversation would stop. She would say something. Or I would say something. And no need to add more. Because perhaps the energy wasn’t there.
I could have learned more, but I felt the boundaries or the boundaries were created in my mind. I could have dug deeper, but I was hesitant to jump into that. And yet.
I sat in the silence. Just letting it drape. Because I could choose to say nothing at all.
…well, it’s just cycling. You can’t just apply it to everything in life, expecting life lessons.
But I think that I had a revelation during the 65+ mile bike ride, the Cinderella Classic that started at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
I had insisted on going first, afraid that I’ll fall behind. It was always that constant battle. I knew that I would be the slowest, so I wanted to ride off first so that I didn’t fall drastically behind. But I did. Kind of. And still that gap depressed me.
At first, I had set up an iPod to keep me company. I couldn’t hear that well over the wind (no headphones allowed so it was playing over the speaker) and the metal spinning of the bike. But it died within an hour.
I would be riding for at least 30 minutes alone. Only my legs powering my pedals. Sometimes other cyclists passing me. The lights changing red, green, yellow. The wind whipped at my face, halting me. And seeing dots disappear into the distance.
But the rest of my friends stayed for me.
“We did it,” I declared at the end. “Despite the rain. Despite the headwind.”
If I believed, if I saw in myself the power, perhaps all of the above wouldn’t matter. Perhaps the pain was only created by my mind.
Thinking that it was a work colleague calling me after 6 pm on a Friday evening, I picked up the 415 number.
“Hello?” I said.
“This is Scott,” the voice said. At least I thought he said Scott.
“Um okay…” I said, at that moment thinking which Scott it was. Maybe it was a former colleague from a startup asking for help.
“Um, Scott who?” I said.
“Garrett, [my friend’s name]’s ex.”
“Oh,” I said and completely regretted picking up.
“Today the divorce was finalized,” the voice continued. “17 years wasted.”
For the next 40 minutes, I regretted picking up. There are some days that I wish that I didn’t have this desire to help. I wish that I was more cold. I also wished that I didn’t enjoy confrontation. All those mixture of feelings led to this ridiculous amount of time plus the fact that I feared for my friend’s safety.
“I am so sorry,” my friend said later after I told her what had transpired.. “Block the number.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I should stop picking up unknown numbers.”
People talking on the phone while in the bathroom. The conversation enters into the bathroom was if nothing’s changed. Somehow flushing the toilet is accomplished. It’s unknown how one does it with one hand. Maybe it’s done on a headset. Maybe it’s just whispers into the unknown.
So according to recent news, it’s obscene. It’s rude. But is it akin to walking around naked with a disregard for any self-respect? Or does it harm others? To have witnessed going to the bathroom.
The conversation continues as if there’s no break. No need to call out the flushing. No need to call out the sound of the water flying about. It keeps going. Because the context doesn’t matter. The actual conversation will continue. Through the excretion. Whether it’s number one or number two. Through the flush. Through the flick of the faucet on. Then the soapy hands (how does one wash both hands? is it just one?). Then the rinsing. Then the faucet off. Toweling. Open door.
How is this even achievable to a level of valuable conversation?
For the record, I would put down the phone—whether it’s a phone call, Google Hangout, etc. Because I care too much about the phone (I swear that it would drop into the toilet or shatter into pieces on the tiled bathroom floor). It’s not that I care about the person on the other end. But it’s just known to me that the bathroom is my sacred place. For you know, only 5 minutes away from all prying eyes and curious ears.