I have no recollection of our friendship. No, I mean I remember things. I remember the pterodactyl in the Houston museum. I remember your sister drinking on the boat, moored on the Ohio; and the Derby. I remember the Derby. I remember where you sat on the sidewalk outside Angelo's waiting for me. I remember the time you whispered your feelings and I didn't respond. When you held my hand all the way to my grandfather's funeral. And the time I played with your dog's white ears when we went for our first walk up the canyon. Falling asleep to music. And the morning when you drove away without your husband to start something new. I remember how the air smelled and felt—a little cold, a little damp; blue—and that we both remarked about the mountains. I remember our meetings in my office and the M&Ms we consumed that we shouldn't have, but that fueled our discussions and discontent. I remember when the beads fell out all over the sidewalk and we patiently picked up every single one of them. I remember when we couldn't stop crying. I remember the first time you made tortillas. I remember your grandmother.
But that is not the same as having a recollection. I have a good memory; I have always had a good memory. But I want to say that a recollection is more than the bits, the moments, the images and smells and sounds and softness. A recollection is a sense of continuity, the knowledge that your face now is the same as the face of the person in my memories. And when I look at you, I see all those years compounded, and I feel all those emotions invested, with interest, in the person you've become and the people we've become together.
But instead, I have no recollection of our friendship, and when I look at you today I do not see you yesterday—or, more importantly, tomorrow. Recollection may be the wrong word; but for something I do not have, how can I say the right word?
There is a game that mothers play with their babies. Peek-a-boo. It's a game I lost.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder fourteen years ago. I'd been seeing the same therapist for a few years, trying to work through the ends of my relationships—which kept ending badly, worse and worse—and I don't remember what I said, I don't remember why I was sitting on her couch confused or angry or in mourning, but she suddenly said it. Gently, kindly. She used the words “extremely high-functioning” to soften the impact. And then she showed me the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. You can look them up. They changed a little with the DSM-V. You can look those up, too.
Either way, I'm in there. My way of seeing the world, myself, the people around me. I'm hardly alone in this, of course. I have met other borderline people, and there is a dizzy moment when we recognize the familiar in each other. Like the time I saw a coyote in the alley between two homes. And our eyes met. Something wild in him. Something wild in me. But with him no practiced veneer to satisfy, placate, and not alarm.
Because I do alarm. Or, my diagnosis does. “Didn't that used to be called borderline schizophrenic?” Yes, it did. No, I don't hear voices. I don't do the things voices tell me to do. I am pretty sure you and I see the same reality. The same trees, the same green grass. I knew someone once who was color blind. He told me the grass was the same color as the blue sky. I had no way of explaining to him what the grass looked like, how it was different from the color of the sky. Words failed. The eyes see what the eyes see.
I see green where there is green. It is human relationships I am blind about. It is how I appear, who you think I am, that blends with the background.
Why am I telling you this? Why would I write to you “I have no recollection of our friendship”? Perhaps because you haven't heard from me in some time. And when we lose touch, our friendship ends. Each time. Even in a month's time. Or a week. If we haven't said the right thing the last time, the bits are all that's left. Continuity... It depends upon more bits being made, built, stacked up. And when we stop building and stacking, nothing topples, there is no wreck. Our undertaking simply disappears, as if I turned a corner and forgot we were doing anything at all. This isn't absent mindedness. I don't misplace our time together. But a moment before may as well have been a year ago.
I have left long relationships with only a brief sadness. I have moved on long before things were actually over. Not because I'm cruel (I don't think I'm cruel; I try not to be), but because when you leave for long enough, or I leave for long enough, you are only a memory to me.
And so every day, I wake up and I apologize. I take my breakfast and tea and I apologize. I wear jeans and shirts and I shave my face. And always I apologize. The apology wears me, day in, day out—and whether you tell me not to or whether you tell me it's okay, or whether you forgive me or don't ever understand why I say I'm sorry, in the moves I make, the care I offer, the way I step aside, I will not stop apologizing. For almost leaving. For always leaving. For worrying you will go away. For knowing I will move on. For being who I am. Because I am hard to get to know, and I am easy to dismiss, and it might be better for us all if I were invisible.
But then I look in the mirror and I straighten my collar and I stand up straight as my grandmother told me to, and I try to remember that these feelings—the feeling that joy and fear are the same, the feeling that feeling nothing is better—and the things I know—that you will leave, that I will leave, that any expression of love or fascination or interest in me is only you being polite—I try to remember that these are wrong. Because I've been told they are. You have reassured me. The way a caterpillar is told it's actually a butterfly. Except I have all these legs. And they trip me up.
Please don't mistake me. I have no aspiration towards being normal. I have no need for special glasses, a cochlear implant for my personality. This is my caterpillar life, and it has its beauty. To want for me to be like you—even if it would mean more confidence, joy without fear, love without simultaneous despair—that would be to overlook me. For who I am. For how I ache, for the work I have done so you would not need to. I am sorry for who I am, and I am grateful for being alive. My grass is green, my sky is blue. I love deeply though it causes me terror.
A lot is said these days about intersectionality, about neurodiversity, invisible disability. For people without mental illness, these are cards in the deck of inclusivity, of appropriateness, of leaving the day knowing you did right by someone. But for me... What do I do when I am borderline, but no one can see it? What do I do when I am “high-functioning” and can wear my collar straight and I can hide my shaking hands and quivering heart, and I can smile past our disagreement knowing that you don't think it's the end of anything even if it feels that way to me? What do I do when someone tells me with their words or their actions or their suspicion of my motives that I am white and male and tall and fit and educated and I have a good job and am respected and that I even look like I'm straight, and so I must not face any challenges? What do I do then, when I want to apologize for all the ways you have hurt me. When I have entered the room already believing I can never belong there. When I am certain you have no reason to trust me.
There can be no understanding, no justice, no love, no community, no miracles without many, many voices. And so this is my voice. And I will try not to apologize for it.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Talk about it.