The Vomit on my Shoes
It’s amazing to me how many people suffer. Despite this, it’s as if everyone is wearing a happy mask.
When I ask how they are, it’s always the same.
But they’re not.
They have issues; their lives are a difficult mess.
Hurting, dying, hopeless
They have stories – difficult stories to hear.
Last summer I was a cabin leader and the girls in my cabin had messy lives. Terrible stories spewed from their mouths. They told me of their broken families. They told me of the awful effects they feel daily because of their “families.”
And they were only twelve.
It was difficult to hear which made a very long week for me.
All of us have messy lives but you wouldn’t know from the outside until they start talking.
They start talking and you start listening. They spill their issues like they would spill coffee.
Black. Stained. Unavoidable.
Suddenly, I don’t want to listen anymore. But they can’t stop spilling their coffee. I’m burning underneath their words but they can’t stop the word vomit.
The vomit pours out. It keeps coming from their mouths. Soon, they begin to dry heave.
They have nothing left to say but they keep talking.
Repeating. Again. And Again.
The motion is now uncontrollable.
I’ve emerged from innocence into knowledge.
“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
– Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
I wish I hadn’t started listening. It’s easier not to know. I don’t want to know anymore, but now I’m stained.
In all actuality, I’m not sure if I ever wanted to know.
I never wanted to know about the how the twelve-year-old has had to live without a mother, without a father, without family, without a two car garage and a white picket fence.
Because, from the outside, it seems as if everything is in place.
Maybe if I just shut my eyes and wish it all away she will have a nice home with a nice mom and a nice dad and no worries.
But I’m already stained. I know too much to reverse it.
I have vomit on my shoes and coffee down my shirt.
I carry their burden now.
But I don’t want this heavy load! It was okay before when they were carrying it but I want it off my shoulders.
I want to shove it off me and back onto that twelve-year-old. So what if I’m ten years older than she is? It isn’t fair that we both hurt now.
Why did she have to pull off her happy mask?
But it’s too late. You can’t un-chop a tree.
I sullenly stare at the vomit on my shoes.
It’s ugly. It smells.
It won’t come off.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
– John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
We’re all connected through humankind.
Maybe I don’t want that stain to come off after all.