Here’s a little vignette. It just happened.
I was in a pizzeria, grabbing a slice. I’ve been trying to eat a little healthier, trying to shed a few pounds that I put on in recent months, and trips to the pizza parlor are guilty missteps in my quest.
But that’s not the point.
I was in the men’s room – a dingy, tight little space (don’t pee in New York pizzerias if you can avoid it) – and I felt a tightness in my chest. I recognized the tightness: it’s the tightness of rejection. I was feeling abandoned, rejected, by a woman. Bodily, I felt clenched, tense, on edge. Emotionally, I was angry, bitter. As if I had just that minute been rejected by a woman in whom I was deeply invested.
This hadn’t, to my knowledge, happened.
The feeling was fresh footsteps in the snow, though. Something had just happened – I could feel it. I just didn’t know, couldn’t remember, what it was.
No one rejected me. No one abandoned me.
Some moments passed.
I thought back. I had one conversation earlier in the day that stung just a tiny bit. But this wasn’t it. I knew that. It just wasn’t.
And then, it dawned on me. On my way into the men’s room (less than ninety seconds earlier), I had read an e-mail from “Erica M.” at yeah write, a weekly writing contest. I had just submitted this post as an entry (my first) in their weekly writing round-up.
The e-mail read, in part:
For the purposes of yeah write, personal essays give new perspective on some aspect of life, in which the writer includes dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting. Anecdotes, of course, are the little slices of life, be they the traumatic, the joyful or the mundane. You can learn more about yeah write submission guidelines, by visiting how yeah write works.
As written, the post you’ve submitted does not meet this guideline and for this reason, it’s been removed from the grid.
In the men’s room, I re-read my post. “Damn it,” I thought. “My post meets their requirements. It is dialogue. It has imagery. It has characterization. It has conflict. It has plot. Admittedly, setting is a bit obscure. But what do they want?” I had read other posts in their round-up, and while mine was the only one that was sexually explicit, it seemed (to me) to (mostly) fit in. Did they reject me because it was explicit? Because I’m male? What was the issue?
A moment passed. I moved on. This was no big deal. Who cares.
And then came that moment, above, when I noticed that tension in my chest, that bodily sensation of rejection. A sting so sharp I went searching for a cause, and a cause so proximate it seems insane that I had lost it already.
[I don’t contest yeah write’s rejection of my post. They, of course, can do what they wish. I like their contributors, and though I find their layout a bit confusing, I like what they (yeah write) do. With or without me.]
This is my relationship to rejection.
Here, I’d gotten an e-mail from a woman (Erica M.) whom I’ve never met, saying, essentially, “We (I) don’t want what you have to offer.”
And my response – my bodily response – was not unlike that I expect I would feel if V told me to take a hike.
That’s how trauma works: the body responds to one threat, or affront, as it did to some long-ago one that it remembers, ignoring the current context.