I remember the way he asked, “how are you?” He said the words slowly and his eyes were steady. Never before had I been asked how I was doing with such a genuine curiosity. He actually wanted to know. He cared so much about how I was. Not like those How Are Yous that get spat out by that guy you kind of know in the grocery store, you don’t completely face each other and you’re both clutching your cell phones and thinking about how you hope this doesn’t take too long cause you’ve gotta be somewhere in ten minutes.
I’m good. How are you? I’m good. That’s great. Good to see you. Let’s hang out soon.
I do that so often. It makes me feel like a robot, a robot that has the capacity to feel sad and empty and fake.
But this How Are You was different. It was like he cleared a space on that canyon floor whose earth we sat upon, he cleared the space and then held it in his extended palms, offering it to me, few things have ever felt so mine. I could truly say how I was. I didn’t have to just say good, or fine, or alright, or that I was glad it was Friday, I could say: I’m sad, I’m heartbroken, I’m guilt-ridden, I’m scared to tell you how I’m actually doing because it feels like this is the first time anyone has ever asked me that question.
Instead of being thrown at me in passing, like pocket change to a beggar, his question created a confessional. My spine got nervous. I had never experienced this kind of permission before. Not even in my own journal. Not even when I am alone, not when I check in with myself before I start my yoga, not when I’m in the shower and singing Neil Young, not when the hood on my sleeping bag is synched tight around my face and my tears roll across its nylon, attempted estuaries that spiderweb and glisten under the winter’s sky.
Honest to God curiosity. True of heart friendship. Permission in its entirety.
His question gave me freedom and power, like when you were sixteen and Dad gave you the keys to the truck for the night.
The time came for me to respond. He could hear me swallow. I said I was good. I said I was fine. I said I was happy it was Friday. I got scared. I wasn’t honest. He knew it. But he wasn’t disappointed and he didn’t push for more. It was my space, I could do with it whatever I pleased.
I wish I would have used it differently.
The space and permission that he gave me is so rare and so precious, and sometimes it’s a chore to create for yourself, it just feels scary or self-indulgent.
I wish I would have been brave. I wish I would have filled that space with my demons and my lies, I wish I could have thrown up my sadness, but I was too afraid of making a mess.