Two days ago, Pam, one of our staff members , came down with a mysterious stomach ailment. It consisted of periods of agonizing pain where she doubled over, made awful faces, and then hobbled to the bathroom. It was not pretty to witness, and witness we had to since, at the end of each episode, she insisted she was fine. As of today, she truly is fine. And we’re none the wiser about what caused her discomfort, although we are much more knowledgable about everything that happened to her after she went home, disgusting things that if I encountered them on a television station or in a book, I’d switch the channel or turn the page.
But Pam’s experience made me wonder about those who share everything about themselves with any and everyone. And how they always tend to wind up among a group of people who share almost nothing.
Pam says it’s because she was in a band (a Grammy-nominated one), and that, on the road, there is often no such thing as privacy. And you’re with these folks 24-7, so it just becomes natural to share everything with them.
Now this is not a fault. It’s just that I am at the other end of the spectrum. When I’m sick, I hate calling in to tell people in case they ask what’s wrong. To me, that’s private. So I email a generic message to the entire staff, and I’m not terribly happy doing that.
Perhaps it’s because I had chronic nosebleeds as a kid. I’d be sitting happily in class when suddenly blood would come rushing down my chin. My teacher would grab me up and take me to the bathroom, where depending on her theory of nosebleeds for that year, she would push my head back, push my head forward, keep my head upright, and/or pinch my nose. It was always embarrassing; everyone in the class watching me leave and then coming back with a sympathetic but still irritated teacher who’d had to leave a class of students for me.
So I decided at a young age, I’d had enough of public physical ailments, and I would try to keep mine secret for as long as I could.
It extends to other situations as well. One of the first things my ‘adopted’ niece learned about me was that her Auntie Faye likes her privacy. I’d be visiting their house and excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
“Go with you,” Lowell announced.
“Now, you know Faye likes her privacy,” I said.
Then she would cry. And it says something about my need for privacy that I let her cry instead of letting her come in with me.
Later, she didn’t cry. She would simply stand at the bathroom door until she heard the toilet flush. “She’s coming back! She’s coming!” she’d scream. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was still too close for comfort.
But in the end, it all worked out. Soon, if I excused myself, she looked at everyone else in the room and said knowingly, “Faye needs her privacy.”
Still, there are always issues to be worked out when the many-boundaried work with the no-boundaried. I deal with Pam’s lack of boundaries by talking over her and saying things like, “You’re grossing me out. And I’m going to be sick if you don’t stop.”
She deals with my many, many boundaries by looking at me quizzically and saying definitively. “This is not disgusting.”
It shouldn’t work, but, somehow, it does.