19 September 2022

If I loved you, that's my fault

And like that the oppressive British climate crisis summer is done and we now start worrying about the cost of heating our homes, the same heat we were trying only a month ago to get out by any means necessary, sleeping in the loft conversion with the covers and duvet thrown off of the bed entirely. I purchased two Uniqlo polyester suits, which are advertised as 'wool-like', and had them tailored to fit for my fortieth birthday with money my parents sent me. They feel great, but like I am cosplaying some other future, some job I applied for in 2019, but wasn't shortlisted. Still, they make me feel like I have some positive energy, some sense of being able to hold it together enough to dress for myself, the thing for which I mercilessly judge other men my age. I'm forty now. 

My family was quite religious growing up and errant displays of religiosity were important to set us apart, although I'm sure that's not how my parents would have described them. We did things like praying and kissing one another before meals. I remember this feeling quite awkward to me when I was younger, particularly when we were eating at a restaurant, Perkins, let's say, the Midwestern pancake diner, and I could, my sweaty hands holding my brother's and sister's hands on either side, sense a waiter behind me coming up to ask if we would like ketchup and unsure what was happening, my father thanking God for some blessing or another and taking more time than I would have liked. And then everyone kissing, my parents kissing each other on the mouth and everyone else across the table. Whatever embarrassment I felt was immediately matched with shame for that embarrassment, whoever denies me before men, I will disown before the father

I've been rolling this around in my mind since my parents were here this summer, and I felt the way you do when you have a partner and parents and sentient children all looking at you at the same time. In my research area, we talk about context collapse, where on social media you need to be an authentic person before different audiences at the same time, and how much stress this causes as you try to both remain professional on Twitter and somehow stay true to your own eccentricities. The truth of the matter though is that you have to do it all the time in real life; for example, when driving a nine-passenger mini-bus in the highlands of Scotland, I was struck by an oncoming camper that broke the sideview mirror and all I wanted to do was swear loudly and be inconsolably frustrated and bitter for a couple of hours. That would have been authentically me, but it was not an authentic me that was appropriate for all of the audiences in the nine-passenger mini-bus. Instead, I pulled over and assessed the damage and then continued on like it was nothing, an achievement of forty-year-old me, now also authentically me, a man who will not say what he's thinking when what he's thinking won't make things any better. 

When I believed, I assumed everything would change when I stopped believing, but the same world grinds on, the world where God has everything planned, and we all must suffer those plans regardless of how we feel about them. I don't believe, but the believer in me keeps living, like one of those TikTok videos where the parasite animates a hollowed-out scorpion. You can follow the plan without belief, it can be indistinguishable: indeed what made you think the plan had anything to do with belief in the first place? 

There is no plan, of course, there was never any plan, but I can't seem to let it go. I can even hear I never loved you and still believe. No, you did, you're just saying you didn't because you're angry, but you did, you must have. I look at some picture from the past, some place i can remember feeling loved, loving, and think, that will come back. Maybe not today, maybe not this year. But it will come back. It's faith. It's something I don't control. I chose to leave belief, but believing hasn't chosen to leave me.