Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.
— Richard Blaine, Casablanca, 1942
How old was I when I figured out that I could read situations better than my parents? When did I understand that someone had to be the interpreter for them and no one else was around?
I first got screwed in business when I was treasurer for the Lynnfield Teen Council in grade eight. Our advisor passed me a letter she got from the library, I read it and replied “Okay. They are kicking us out of the library.”
“You got that just from reading the letter?” she asked, astounded. “It took Chris almost half an hour to figure that out.”
I knew how to read meaning. Someone had to. And I knew when a parent illegally took all the money out of the bank account and ended up blowing it on a few months of a director — the son of one of them — that there wasn’t squat I could do about it because 13 year old kids have no power.
Even today, I am almost always stuck being the voice of reason. People who are too emotional, too self-involved, too resistant to thinking want to vent or whine about the way they believe that things should be, about what they deserve and how they were screwed out of their entitlement.
The walls they have placed between their head and their heart, the compartments they have worked to create with barricades of rationalization, stop them from hearing what they already know, what they so very much do not want to know. They believe that success comes from machine like business, so feelings have to be set apart for vacation, only for moments of indulgence that don’t count. What happens in playland stays in playland.
They want me to be there, a sink for their feelings, respecting, mirroring and affirming them, then putting them into some larger context. They usually know everything I am going to say, but the luxury of indulgent caring from me is something that they have learned to take for granted.
I know this obligation viscerally. I’m the smart one, the queer one, so I end up having to negotiate other people’s fear, uncertainty, doubt and confusion. I can choose not to do that, to just go along, but when I do that, I have to take whatever level of thinking, sensitivity, concern and compassion they are willing and able to give, which most often doesn’t even try to stretch to consideration of my needs, feelings and desires.
It feels lovely to just indulge in your own feelings, to feel safe enough to whine and express your frustration, heartbreak and pain, without having to do the hard work of negotiating them for yourself. For many people who grew up with parents they could trust, parents who understood and cared, they lived with this construction, running to mommy and telling her where it hurt, letting her take care of the boo-boos.
That’s not a gift that I ever received. From a very early age, even as they all called me “Stupid,” I knew that I had to be the designated thinker, the one who managed, mitigated and moderated my own emotions or ended up paying an awful price.
Over the decades, I have worked very hard to not make everything about me. I know how that feels, know the burden of having someone want to help and then turning the attempt at assistance to be about their issues, their fears, their limits, about they resist engaging what is and staying in their own comfort zone, bounded by rationalizations and self-centred expectations.
The problem with that approach, though, is that in almost all of my interactions with others, I become invisible, hidden, a doing rather than a being, playing the role of concierge.
Who am I anyway? How do I get to be more myself in the world, open, vulnerable and cared for?
Am I just the designated thinker, or is there more for me, more to live, more to be? If I put down the burden, who will pick it up, do the work, care for what I have built, care for me?
For those who have learned to use me, change isn’t something they want to engage. They are struggling with their own stuff, healing in their own time, resisting what they believe they need to resist.
We humans are social animals, nothing without relationships. It is our relationships which shape us in profound ways, the way we are cast by them, a role chosen and an identity formed from molten humanity. We only have the raw material of our nature, but the way our dreams are handled and other dreams are projected onto us shapes the range of possibility we have, the torrid boundaries of who we can be.
My role as designated thinker, well, filling in the gaps left by my family was required, even as it squeezed me into small and hidden spaces, putty to reinforce the cracked assertions of those who bred me.
Bravery and boldness was not valued, so I learned to turn it inside, exploring the dark spaces of my own nature rather than the bigger, badder spaces of the world around me. Service was my due, holding together the cracked egos of those who could not join the external network, could not learn to thrive in society.
My role as designated thinker, bolstering the foundations by always being there to negotiate the breaks between function and happiness, was required as long as I had the resources to fill it. Being big was not supported, only small demands were the constraints of support.
Feelings, flowings, freeings, fascinatings, well, not there, not there, not for a being who needed to be pushed into doing, doing the thinking for all of us.
I know why people love the indulgence of having me support them, repeating the same hoary myopia again and again and again and again, knowing it is my job to think, to care, to absorb and damper feelings, turning them into comfort and lessons that do not have to be internalized because there is always a designated thinker to do that same work for us, boxed in by their own tropic pattern of development, of the spaces we limited them by.
All the pink and pretty dreams of colourful beauty, the seductiveness of emotional stories, freedom for the feminine heart captured and constrained by a role of stolid support, designated thinker, interpreter and contextualizer, caretaking our weaknesses so limited by them. No butterfly flight, only dogged patching of habits beyond the personal insight & healing that turns us into boosters rather than demanders.
Be reasonable, they tell me, do the reasonable thing, for we don’t need the brave, bold, beautiful and thrilling.
In reason, I find a purpose and in reason I find a casket.
I am, after all, the designated thinker.