The Sunshine Lair
My childhood bedroom boasted soft sunshine walls, a double-doored closet, and a built-in vanity. Just outside my second-story space, an open window overlooked our living room. My sisters and I would throw our dirty laundry downstairs through that window, aiming for the couch. We would run down the hallway, slip into Aladdin- or Beauty and the Beast-themed sleeping bags, and slide down to the first floor, three little girls collapsing into a giggling heap at the foot of the stairs.
After schlepping clothes to the laundry room, I most often returned to my pale yellow lair. Little bursts of interaction and excitement fulfilled me plenty, and I rarely found unhappiness in solitude. More accurately, little bursts of interaction and excitement, regardless of how fun I found them to be in the moment, invariably drained me.
As the eldest of three homeschooled girls, I could get away with accommodating my ever-draining battery pretty easily. My mom, sisters, and I spent a lot of time together. Even still, all four of us possessed strong introverted tendencies. Most days spent under our home’s red roof featured an unspoken contest of who would retreat to her room and books first.
Despite my love for quiet spaces, reading, and time alone, I talked a lot as a child. The need to be known nipped at my heels like a puppy. My mind soaked up words in stories, analyzed every conversation both in real-time and after the fact, and simply never ran out of words. As an adult, I still don’t run out of words or analysis, but thirty years of life has stripped away some of the energy required to speak them. When I’m at my most tired, I message my husband as we sit in the same room and say, “I just can’t talk with my mouth anymore today. We can text.”
Words swarmed in that yellow-walled bedroom as they waited for me to return from a few moments of sister-induced laughter. I’d re-enter solitude and the words would engulf me. They’d buzz in my ears, tingle my skin, seek to make meaning and draw understanding from the simplest of just-past interactions.
Even still, words swirl around me and inside me all the time. As one of my dear friends said to me once, “You always have words, Abs. I can see them behind your eyes.”
As a girl, I wondered if I could find happiness cloistered in my bedroom with the books, the clothes in the closet, the pair of glasses on the vanity counter. Maybe a cassette player with Adventures in Odyssey tapes, a desk, and stacks of journals would be enough to keep me safe. My attic-dwelling Emily Dickinson instincts started early.
I hypothesized that if I could absorb enough stories and write my way to self-explanation, I’d find that peace I longed for, that sense of being known. Maybe I could leave my room just often enough to appease others, explain my love, and earn some of theirs. Then I could retreat to the perceived safety of my mind.
I would still rather explain myself than share myself. I still feel the instinct to choose aloneness. In relationships, I often swing back and forth wildly. One day I want to share everything, seeking ultimate understanding in each conversation. The next, I want to disappear from relationships, retreating inward in certainty that I’ll never be able to make myself clear.
A friend told me recently that my head and heart need to connect—something I’ve known inside for a long time but rarely know how to attempt.
Because the words always swarm and the solitude typically soothes me, I find myself tempted to believe that aloneness offers me the best chance at safety and security. The world of the mind and the words offers familiarity to me, a familiarity easily mistaken for peace. The world of the heart and the feelings seems often to speak in code, a challenge I easily mistake for danger.
In order to bring my heart and head together, I am finding that I must leave behind a good bit of familiarity. I must choose to learn a bit of the language I mistake for unbreakable code, like I did last week when my counselor told me to Google an emotion wheel because I couldn’t come up with a word better than “sad” to describe my feelings.
Leaving behind familiarity seems illogical, like an abandonment of peace. Learning the code of emotion feels like danger, like I’m increasing my risk of failing at relationships. But a hope lingers, not as vibrant or vocal as the swarming words quite yet, but present just the same. Perhaps somewhere between, somewhere beyond, the giggling heap of sisters at the bottom of the stairs and the retreats to my yellow-walled room, I can connect my head and heart. And maybe if I do, I can connect myself to others too.