There are pieces of writing, written almost carelessly on a Tumblr or a WordPress, that I know I will remember forever. This is one of them. This particular gem has resonated with me so much that even four long years later, I looked it up on Tumblr and it still makes my heart ache.
“I hate seeing people turned into beggars for affection. There are certain types of brokenness I can stomach better than others… But the image of women humiliating themselves, growing ugly and pathetic in pursuit of affection that has been denied to them multiple times wrenches my stomach. I need days to recover.
I have to remember I’m not like that anymore, but I remember acting and looking like that, I remember hating my own behavior but continuing nonetheless, because I felt starved for affection and thought it better to eat scraps than to go hungry.
Mephibosheth, crippled grandson of a fallen king. I read his story last night. Now I wonder what it was like to have been in his place. What a degraded state of being… He would have been a man reduced to a beggar, in function if not appearance, and he would have been the kind of person most likely to break my heart – a hunted man, simple, starving to be safe.
King David had him carried to the [King’s] table. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your father Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” The end of Mephibosheth’s story quiets me, after I’ve spent days and nights tense at the agony of other broken people and angry at the memories of my own humiliation. Mephibosheth’s life is in part the story of an orphaned child and crippled feet, but more so, it is the story of a frightened man who expected nothing but was given everything in the house of a king.
I used to be outside the house. I used to be “afflicted… lashed by storms and not comforted.” But he’s brought me home, and I’m not any of those things anymore.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been working the door at a nightclub in Taipei. It’s more of an interesting exercise for me, and I certainly don’t find any inherent shame in working in night-life – sure, people are more obviously dysfunctional in the clubs and bars, but in the day we all just hide it better. While checking IDs and seeing all the tumult that goes on in front of a Friday night club door, this piece floats to my mind more than ever. And while the novelty was once amusing, lately it does wrench my heart – to think of the hundreds of subtle little humiliations going on under my very nose; the stink of a hundred morning-after regrets hanging in the air, menacing.
And this affects me so much – not because of the reason you may think. Not because I think that I am better than these girls. It’s because I myself have not yet moved out of the storm. I struggle every single day with the insecurity that I am not loved, and in the past it has made me lash out in ways that I regret. I remember my own humiliations, and when I think about my propensity to repeat them, I feel afraid.
I see a pair of girls roll up to the club every weekend that I haven’t talked to in years. The reason for our separation was so petty, I can’t even recall. One girl, in particular, was one of the first people I met when I started making my initial forays into Taipei nightlife, over two years ago. And there she still is, every weekend – with her mascared eyes – just doing the same fucking thing; acting the same way; as if over 700 days hadn’t passed. Going to the same old fucking places, just like I was. One night – not at the door, but unable to escape at a mutual friend’s table at some other venue, we finally engage in some pithy small talk around; the air fragile between us.
“How’s life,” I venture.
“Oh, you know how it is. It’s just the same shit, different weekend. The same people; the same bars, the same champagne.”
She smirks, but her heart’s not in it. I start to form a response when she suddenly continues, in a rush –
“You know what – I hate it. I hate going out, I don’t even know why I do it when I always feel like shit after. I always feel so tired. I think I’m going to stop doing this to myself,” she says.
I offer her a close-mouthed smile, shocked. We both shift on our feet, uncomfortable. Then, as a diver who has suddenly realized that he’s gone beyond his certified depth limits, she hastily starts up a stilted conversation about mutual acquaintances; largely addressed to her male companion, who is hovering by, idly scrolling through his Facebook feed. I hesitate for a split second – trying to catch her eyes again – before reaching over the table for another drink.
For the modicum of “independence” that being a single female working in night-life may bestow, at the end of it all I’m a victim of this “white knight” syndrome, and most of the time I have to actively fight against the belief that it’s going to fucking solve everything. Someone will come and shelter me from the abyss that yawns before me, with reminders of my past humiliations paving the bottom. He’ll be the answer to it all, and I’ll look back at this time, when I feel that my issues outweigh – and laugh. It’s going to be all right.
But that’s not how it works.
“I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s treatise on blessing and affirmation in Life of the Beloved – and one of the stories he set down struck me. He opened a blessing for a young man with this statement: “John, it is so good that you are here”. I think that is one of the most powerful blessings in human existence – that simple phrase. It speaks into the truth that our souls are all weary vagabonds, searching for comfort. And only when we create that inner world for our soul to rest can we finally come home.
As for the Stephanie now, I see someone crippled by insecurity, cowering and awaiting death, by the fact that I relate to others out of desperation and greed. I fear that I will not exist without these people because at the moment I depend on them to validate my existence. I will go beyond myself; humiliate myself; hate my own behavior – because I felt starved for affection. Because I think – and my actions confirm – it better to be beaten for meager scraps than to go hungry.What a degraded state of being – how I am reduced to a beggar for affection, in function – if not in appearance, which is the most deceiving of all.
Growing up in Southern California, I’ve always been repulsed by the harshness of the desert; never saw the beauty of it as others claimed. The desert wind cuts into your skin, cruel and unyielding; the landscape is built to flay you open.
And in the same way I know that if I ever want to stop feeling like this, I’ll have to seize my vulnerabilities, insecurities and not only admit them, but lean into them; thrust them out into the open. The loneliness and the fears that will come to plague me – and I’ll have to consciously resist the hide under the same behaviors and patterns I loathe. When beset with doubt, I will have to look within, because the truth is that no one can lift you out from being a beggar; no one can give the wealth of inner peace.
Who I see on the other side of the desert, is someone who has been carried to the table; whose heart has been quieted. She is no longer hunted. Even when insecurities rear up; when troubles come – she is like Antoine St. Exupery after having been through the desert with the Little Prince – having an unshakeable faith in the goodness of what she deserves, and what the world has to give her.
“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well.”.
photos by Jill Chien, Mystic Mesa