When I was a child and my sister was an infant, my mother explained her tactile defensiveness to me by using bedding as an example. When I rolled over in my sleep, she explained, my skin would register that the blankets were wrinkled, but my brain would ignore it so I could keep sleeping. My sister, she said carefully, couldn’t ignore the wrinkle. Instead, she would wake up and cry. And cry and cry and cry.
One of the things I worry about is coming back from the field and forgetting the texture of things here. Lately, I have barely been able to bring myself to record things in great detail . This has something to do with my lack of self-discipline, with the difficulty of the things I’m learning from people here, and with the way that, six months out and thousands of miles away from graduate school, the sense of urgency that once drove me has dissipated. I take pictures and notes, but when the time comes to carve out what really happened, I balk. Unlike my sister, I have never had trouble ignoring the wrinkles in things.
Life here is easier to live if its thought of in broad swaths, reimagined as a smooth sheet spread taut over a soft mattress or a strip of freshly mowed grass. Never mind that there are no soft mattresses here; never mind that there is no grass to mow. Those of us without recourse to this type of repression suffer or find other ways; those of us who depend upon it too much simply suffer in other ways. Even now, my sister cuts all of the tags out of her clothing, sometimes going as far to remove the thin threads that held them stitched in place. Not me. Every night I sleep in an unmade bed with the tags on my night shirts scratching against the back of my neck. Which isn’t to say that there are not still nights when I toss, turn, and cry and cry and cry, but the wrinkles aren’t the reason.