catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 18 :: 2011.10.14 — 2011.10.27


Insider outed

There is a bit of the outsider in all of us, surprising us from time to time.  The man who just walked by you has saved a letter from an old love for the last fifteen years.  He pulls it out to look at when his spouse and children aren’t around, and he is thinking about it now, so he won’t be nervous for his job interview at 3:00.  He doesn’t know why he hasn’t thrown the letter away, or why he thinks of it again and again now.

The woman across the street hides in her top drawer a mysteriously bequeathed ring from an especially hated aunt, pulling it out to curse the power it still holds over her.  If you were closer you’d see her lips move as she tells the old woman off in her head, and then you’d see her look around, wondering if anyone noticed.

Your librarian sometimes gets up at two in the morning to read pulp fiction, and her co-worker does the same to watch dark crime shows that scare her.  Neither knows about the other.  Both have walked outside into the cold dark air to wonder about the sleeping neighbors and their dreams, and both have hidden when they thought somebody might see them out at that time of night.

You never tell people about the day you were driving home from a great day at work and suddenly a particular song on the radio filled you with such sadness and desolation that you had to pull over to cry — except that you’re not good at crying, so you choked over dry sobs and swore a lot and listened to your raw voice inside the small car.  You think a lot about that day, and when you see a car pulled over you wonder.

A few mornings after your last visit, your cultivated mother was so angry she threw the cat across the room.  The cat still came when the can opener sounded, and later curled up in your mother’s lap.  Something had passed between them that the cat understood better than your mother.

All of these people, including you, fit pretty well into their respective groups and alliances.  They understand the behavior that fits their tribe, and why.  They are insiders.  What they don’t understand is themselves, these moments, when they behave outside the norm and would prefer others didn’t know.  These are the moments they walk the outsider’s path, and these moments stay with them.

How many times have we blurted out a bit about ourselves that we weren’t sure we should share, only because the conversation was happy and the wine had been passed around the table and we thought to ourselves, “Maybe they will know why I do this; maybe they can tell me.” 

It doesn’t usually end well when we speak our outsider’s secrets — it is at our expense that the laughter and odd looks arise, and the wine turns sour and heavy in our stomachs.  Often that blurting becomes a secret, too, one we will ponder at different times in our lives, like maybe on the night our oldest has her first date.  Perhaps while we wait for the sound of her at the door, we will wonder what kind of person has raised her, after all.

In these dark wondering places we see how our inner selves can be turned around to show facets and figures we knew nothing about.  The outsider’s path is a lonely one, and we may strive to leave it.  We head out in the direction of the known and conventional…and find ourselves drawn back into a memory, a secret, an oddity that speaks of the unknown in us. 

The unknown in us, waiting to be discovered.  Perhaps the next time your mother wants to throw the cat, she will turn around quickly to see what drives her hand, and will see there the shaggy wild woman that is part of her.  Perhaps your mother will welcome her, this unkempt woman with eyes the light green of spring leaves, and take her on a drive through the countryside, where they will listen to rock and roll at impossibly loud levels. 

This, from your neat-haired mother, who, the next time she looks at you, will have seen how the shadows on the outsider’s path dance just a little differently than in the rest of the world, the shadows from the car window with the radio blaring and the wild woman next to her.  She will know just that shadow’s depth more about herself, will guess at just that shadow’s depth more about you. 

It’s just a little thing, how the shadows play differently for us when we’re outsiders than when we’re insiders.  But if in that moment with your mother, you too can see how the shadows stretch longer and curl and play at the edges — if, as you fail to cry on the side of the road, you can see how the shadows glow just slightly red and courageous — then you will know that little thing is exactly the thing you need to be more you, more human, more inside out.

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