When I was 8 years old, we were homeless. I vividly recall going to the homes of different people around the time you’d expect that they’d be eating dinner, presumably in the hopes that they would invite us to stay.
It was embarrassing to ask if we could join them for dinner, but it was shameful to ask if we could stay there for the night. It seemed like everyone in the whole world had a house, a good running car (and sometimes two), and plenty of food in the kitchen. We had never had a dependable car or a lot of food in the kitchen, but prior to the fire, at least we’d had a kitchen.
One day I remember us pulling our old clunker car up the driveway of some people’s house with my stomach twisted in knots. They weren’t very nice, but we’d worn out our welcome everywhere else. It was raining so sleeping in the park, as we’d been doing, was a muddy mess, so we had no other choice but to beg for help. I can still remember the shame I felt.
As we walked up to the front door, the lady came to the door and stood there talking to my grandparents (without asking us in). I heard the man yell from somewhere inside the house, “what the hell are they doing here?” I wanted to die.
Fast forward to last week.
My husband and I were invited to dinner at someone’s home. When we knocked on the door, we were met by the woman of the house, who with a smile and a wink said, “what are you doing here?” I immediately heard that man’s voice from 50 years ago.
When I was in my twenties, I would have turned and run back to my car and peeled out of there as quickly as possible, never to be seen again at that house. I wouldn’t have explained. There was too much shame involved in that. I simply would have never, ever had any further communication with those people again. Period.
When I was in my thirties, I would have made some excuse about remembering that I left the stove on, and rushed back to my car to leave. I would have called to say that I was sorry but I couldn’t return because on the drive home I had somehow contracted a contagious disease. (It was for their own good.) Lying, as bad as I was at it, was the best I could do because the shame of explaining my situation would have been too much for me to bear.
When I was in my forties, I could finally say something like, “I know you are trying to be funny, but here’s why I’m not laughing.” I would’ve explained the shameful experience, thereby making my host feel terrible and setting the tone for the evening, which was full victim mode. I would have been quiet and moody and wounded for the rest of the evening, probably secretly hoping that the person felt sufficiently badly to never try to be funny at the front door again.
Finally in my fifties, I was able to hear that man’s voice in my head for a split second before changing the channel in my mind, and smiling at the hostess, and saying, “dinner smells delicious!”
Perhaps in my sixties, I won’t hear voices from my past anymore.