It’s taken me a long time to say this simply: I’m afraid of going to Zambia.
I’ve traveled plenty. Distance, culture, language, developing nations, transit marathons, chaos — fine, Adventure Mel can handle that. The professors and audiology/speech students I’m travelling with are good people. We’ll be helping hearing clinics near Lusaka. But I’m stunned how strongly I react to being in the hearing-space, how much I feel myself flashing back to the arrogance (“I’m smart, dammit, and I will make sure that you know it”) and apathy (“that thing I can’t hear isn’t worth my time/effort to listen anyway, so who cares?”) and isolation I associate with… middle school. The time before I went to school with other people who loved math and making-things, the time before I could immerse myself into collaborative work (because I didn’t have collaborators) and actually build connections, make friends. Lonely, angry, furiously pacing young deaf Mel; a space I’ve sworn I never want to go back to.
I am verbose and inarticulate, and know I’m spewing text here; I am still learning how to think and write from within a tide of feelings, learning how that presence gives me strength and richness instead of taking it away. And I wish — well, I wish for so much, but I won’t write that part here.
I finally talked with my parents (I talked with my parents! This is still kind of a new thing! Yay!) about my fear of going to Zambia last night, at dinner. Briefly. How do you unpack 20 years of suppressed and unarticulated anger and frustration (not at them, but at not being able to connect with the world) over tofu and shredded lumpia vegetables and kombu broth and hot tears splattering your jeans as you keep talking, listening, talking, realizing that you’re scared of meeting you out there, afraid of the exhaustion of continuously educating my companions – we need to lipread you, hearing aids hurt, these tests are scary, sometimes this makes you tired and you do not want to be with people — watching myself gear up to be SupaMel again (it’s been a while) because I feel like I might see my 7-year-old self in every kid who walks into the clinic, and I am thinking oh I must protect them because nobody else is going to understand. But that isn’t who I want to be, and that isn’t what I want to do, but then — what do I do, who shall I be? How do I want to be?
Audiologists and speech pathologists know about things, how to do things, what the textbooks say. I’ve lived inside that silence all my life, and squelched that hurt with work and overwork, and now it’s pouring out, and I need everything I’ve got to be here, and be kind, and constantly remind myself I want to walk this world with love — when I feel like lashing out, when I feel like I can barely manage civility unless I shut some parts of me down, let some portions of me walk away. But I’m standing here, dammit. I’m staying. Being present in a world I struggle to connect to, holding that great anger — my tears this week have soaked my pillow, my car, the chapel floor, my mom’s shirt, everything. I find myself going off alone every few hours and just sobbing, and I don’t know why, but at the same time I do.
But this is why I’m going. I am going to meet myself, to learn more about this aspect of my life I’ve always dealt with in a certain way (a lot of fighting, as it turns out). I need to be all me, be all there, and this thundering volcano is the source (I think) of so much… everything — and I think I can stand now at the scorching crater lip and be there and not walk away and see what happens. It’s not that I think I’ll figure everything out before June 2nd when we get back to the States. I don’t have milestones or goals; I just want to be there and let all parts of me be there and not deny my anger but still, somehow, I have no idea how — still stand in love, as weird and corny as that sounds. It’s actually what I want to do; how else do I describe it?
Oh. And I will be of use in the clinic, help people, write papers, all that. I will. But I will not hide in functionality or overwork or anything else. I’m leaving behind all the defenses I can leave behind, because I know that I’ll bury myself in work or writing or books or email if given the chance — so I won’t give myself those chances. And I’ll be kind, especially to myself, because… because. There is a small Mel self that needs a lot of kindness.
Our flight leaves this afternoon. I’m basically offline between now and June. We’ll see what happens, and… I’m looking forward to it. Breathing. Unknotting my stomach. So afraid. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe something will. We’ll see. I’m just going to work on being there — with all that I am… whatever that means.
Oh. And random linkspam, because random Mel still reads things, and it’s still a defense mechanism to distract myself (and others) from conversations and writings like this by waving shiny things around (“and now that we’re done talking about deafness, here are things that are totally more important shiny shiny whee it’s all ok!”): An alumna of my high school explains to her daughter why she works. And NPR’s analysis of college a cappella.
Pray for me, and all of us, if you pray. I don’t know what else there is.