*This suggestion asked me to write a two-three page description of a specific time that I struggled with a personal insecurity. I was instructed not to hold anything back, to be very specific. For instance, who was I with when the incident occurred? What made the experience significant? What did my thought processes look like? Don’t generalize to other times. This is the result:
An Unlikable Quiet
It was quiet. Too damn quiet. Silent between us when conversation should have been energetic, engaging, even liberating. What we had was the opposite. That car ride home was awkward. Nothing was clear; the entire day had been confusing and sad. In turn, I’d internalized my secret desires and perceived failures, my regrets and most significantly, the details of my past relationships. Externally, my fingers trembled. I couldn’t face her. Not directly. Silence was better, despite the ache in my chest and the fleeting movements in my stomach. Anxiety, I thought, glancing furtively to my left, toward Tanya.
She was quiet, too, staring ahead as blacktop took us home. Was she just concentrating on driving safely, or was she on to me? Was she suspicious of my behavior? My thoughts were random, jumping from one association to the next. I couldn’t focus on any one thing. At the time, though, was I even aware of what was going on?
But something was off. Something was wrong.
Instead of searching inward, I looked again towards Tanya, reminding myself of the obvious: she isn’t exactly the source of conversation herself. It was my way of deflecting the issue, of self- preservation. I’m always quiet,I thought,as if to justify my failures.
We kept up this charade for a while. The dark, obsidian-like highway continued its straight course, bringing us closer and closer to our destination. Both ahead and on the opposite side of us, several non-descript vehicles streamed by, blurring like streaks of lightening. If I’d looked to my left, I would have seen the sprawling desert landscape, or on the opposite side, the speed limit sign, which read 50 MPH. But I’d seen such mundanity my whole life.
Highway 17 went on and on, in relative silence.
“Dustin, what is wrong?” Tanya’s question first interrupted, then slayed the silence.
“Nothing.” My response was instantaneous, requiring zero thought. Almost like second-nature. After years of practice, I’d become good at convincing most people of my well-being. Some days, I deluded myself. As soon as the word slither out, I knew it for what it was: curt deception.
A deception she saw straight through. In seconds, her brown eyes met my blue irises, quizzically, skeptically, before she had to refocus her attention on the road.
“You know what? You’re not okay…are you?”
She was right. She knew me better than I’d realized.
“You haven’t been all day.” Afterward, she sounded more confident. “When we were at my apartment, I kept asking if you were, even though I knew something was bothering you. I knew you weren’t okay, but still, you kept saying you were. I knew it.”
The atmosphere grew even quieter, almost sinister. Still, I said nothing. She drove a little further and then powering off the radio, she killed the engine. We were parked parallel to my trailer. My thought process still awhirl, my stomach dropped, and I felt almost nauseous. Everything was coming to light now. I knew that, but I hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as I assumed. I needed to protect myself, to do so at all costs. She meant too much to me, despite the newness of our relationship. If that meant keeping quiet, playing dumb and hoping for the best, then that’s what I’d do.
Oh, jeepers creepers, I thought, or something to that effect. I was sunk. Realizing the inevitability of it all, I finally met her gaze. I engaged head-on. As I suspected, her eyes communicated everything. Everything that mattered.
I didn’t speak yet, though. I couldn’t. Once again, Tanya broke the silence. “I’m not even mad that you were dishonest with me. More than anything, I’m hurt that you felt you couldn’t come to me.” She paused, making eye contact. “I am worried about you.”
There was no malice or anger there. In fact, her tone was sweet and caring. What had I done to deserve her? The truth is, I didn’t feel worthy of much. I certainly didn’t deserve someone so forgiving and sweet. Either way, it didn’t really matter. There was no future between us. She would see to that by doing what everyone else had.
The reality of that thought deepened my sadness and filled me with despair.
“You’re afraid of losing me, aren’t you?”
The silence dipped further, to its lowest point. She was not wrong. That truth, suddenly vocalized, hit hard and fast. I could no longer deny it. I was afraid. I started to cry then.
“You think I’m going to leave because those other girls hurt you in the past.” It wasn’t a question. I could only marvel at how well she knew me. Not that it mattered, I thought, causing the tears to come in earnest. I nodded, unable to speak. That simple nod amplified the emotions and I started to sob. It was true. She was going to break up with me. They were all the same. Being in a relationship with me wasn’t worth their time or energy. “Dustin, I’m not like them and I’m so sorry they hurt you…but I would never, ever do that. I’d never hurt you intentionally.”
She stopped. Maybe she wasn’t sure how to proceed…? Needing assurance, I peered into her eyes again. What I found instead was a calmness and sincerity, both of which confused me even more. How could she make such a claim when she was going to do the opposite?
“Baby, I’m not going anywhere.” She sounded proud, self-assured. There was even a lightness to her tone, but there was a heaviness there, too.
“You’re not?” I could barely speak.
Tanya shook her head in a way that was almost sad. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily. Okay?”
Only then did I realize that I’d been wrong. We weren’t breaking up. Not everyone was out to hurt each other, to break hearts. If she’d wanted to leave, she could have done so days or even weeks prior. Relief then overcame me, and with it a torrent of tears. Tears of relief, gratitude, and undoubtedly more complex emotions. In time, the tears subsided, and I knew we’d be okay.
Then, walking hand-in-hand, we entered my trailer.