I don't have much to say to the world. I've been whittled down to the basic individual interactions. Is that where I'm supposed to be? No such thing. That's just where I am at the moment.
I've known enough people that younger people sometimes find me funnily, almost spookily knowledgeable. "Stop being so insightful!" my friend's sister--both are roommates--says with a laugh. She's 21. I find it funny in that grim, poker-faced way. I'm not insightful. I've just read this book too many times.
But others have lived more, outlived me by decades. Have they just not paid attention, or been too deep in the bottle, to notice what I observe about their ancient cycle of pain, indulgence, guilt, and oblivion? This isn't insight. Wisdom's all around me, in the moves people make, in the ways their lives play out in such familiar patterns. What intelligence is behind me knowing that her mother will speak Urdu, but a Hindi speaker will do? That's knowledge. I don't feel smart. I don't feel witty. It's all replay. I know my brain too well. You don't act surprised at the player producing music from its files--or, for antiques like me, a disc (let alone a cassette or cartridge!). You don't act surprised at the gun firing bullets concealed in its clip. That's all I'm doing. Spitting out. It's not intelligence.
Dealing with authorities makes me familiar with them, their needs for respect, flattery, and obeisance. Dealing with the weak makes me familiar with the way to walk, the way to talk, the way that at the end of a session you can throw out a curse and they'll think you're an okay guy, not this little stuff-shirt shit. I pretend to be way more composed than I am.
"You! Are you white?"
"You must be some kind of Native American. You don't look prejudiced to me."
"No, sir. My people are all invaders. Mostly white, and Turk."
"Ottoman Turks! Like Genghis Khan, now he was some fighter."
"Some of my people followed him, yes. But if you'll excuse me..."
"Oh, I'm sorry about that--"
"Nothing to apologize for, sir. We're all here to talk."
Didn't know his story at the time. Came off as grandiose, but then a lot checked out. I've let myself be surprised quite a bit. It's good to let others have some space to define themselves. But that's not decency or intellect. That's just experience.
And I still find myself out of my league when it comes to certain fields. Like dealing with people I don't know but want to, and people I thought I knew who have become very, very different, or simply changed their presentation. Dropped their masks.
Best I've come up with is the mask of a calm face. I had a genuinely blissful, round face when I was a baby. Then came the desperate eyes of the clever, rail-thin teen. Now I'm a slightly narrow-eyed white with a beard and the face like some monk. My brow furrows at times, but I try to let my eyes go cool. Pictures of my old country grandfather, sitting there, open to the world but inscrutable if you lacked the comfort to ask him his thoughts. I can really appear profound and still like a calm, deep lake. There is no conclusion to any of this. Stillness, solitude, has become natural to me. It is an attempt to balance out the change in my life, I rationalize. But a part of me is realizing that I'm becoming more me everyday. There are some parts of my life that will only return, however, when I'm past the attacks and the danger and the crisis. I don't know where this is going. I'm trying to be okay with that. Looking forward to a life that's not so full of calming self-talk. I'm tired of soothing myself like I've had to do for my children, like I had to do for my brother after the beatings my father would give him. I want to cheer, but there is no joy. Shit is too serious to laugh, too dangerous still to cry.