Dear World and House Out There That I’m Ashamed to Face:
Oh-oh, yes I'm the great pretender
Pretending that I'm doing well
My need is such I pretend too much
I'm lonely but no one can tell
Some people think this song, one that's been running through my head for many years, was originally sung by Freddie Mercury. Not me. I had older cousins, lots older, and so I know Mercury only sang a cover of the 1955 version by The Platters. I was aware of that, so always feel the song versions create a different effect, if you are interested in comparing them.
I believe it is probably true that 90% of us identify with my song, the one I’m talking about here, at some time or other. At least they understand the pretending part. I don’t know if everyone feels lonely at some point in life, but we do like to play make-believe long after we’ve outgrown our child selves. That’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s typical of our species.
On the other hand, I decided to look up what feeling lonely means, since I rarely feel alone and wasn’t certain how to define it. Rarely feeling alone most likely makes me part of the 10% who don’t feel negative effects from spending a lot of time without other people around. We are the lucky ones.
It’s the pretending part that I’m mostly interested in, but first I’ll finish up the description of a lonely person for you. Here’s what I found online when trying to understand what a lonely person experiences, although these adjectives aren’t what you’d call synonyms:
sad because one has no friends or company; isolated; alone; friendless; companionless
with no one to turn to; outcast; forsaken; abandoned; rejected; unloved; unwanted; unpopular
sad; unhappy; forlorn; despondent; lonesome
without companions; solitary
Well, since I’ve already said that most of us have felt lonely, we all know what it means, it’s common knowledge. (Wait, did I say most of have have felt lonely or that few of us have? Maybe I said most of us know how to pretend? This song seems to be distracting me.)
Probably it was excessive of me to list that many adjectives, now that I think about it, but I did want to document my research. I rarely feel lonely myself (as I think I’ve already indicated), probably because to me people are superfluous most of the time. They wander in and out of our lives, and we love them or hurt them, or maybe both. Or it’s the opposite: they love us or hurt us, or maybe both. So those eventual cracks in the company we keep are probably unavoidable. Just let them go, as the song advises.
I don’t care for that song about letting go, as if that were ever easy! Isn’t it from a Disney film? I can’t let go because the house won’t let (me) go.
This all should make it quite clear why I don’t like people. They can potentially see that I come from a very unworthy house and they well might shun me. They will know that I do not belong where I am now. Without people, I do not need to feel alone. My preferred company comes from animals. There are some wonderful animals in my life. Animals make the world better. For me, and for you.
Animals are also almost always dependable, even when they are apparently indifferent to humans nearby. I like indifference. It is peaceful. It is protective and I appreciate that.
Oh-oh, yes I'm the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own
This is the part of the song that really gets to me, won’t let me stop humming it: the world of my own. I like living in my world, don’t need much to furnish it, but the adrift part is unnerving. Let me try to explain why drifting is especially traumatic for me, as it help you understand me better.
When I was little I was different. I needed glasses from a very early age, and had jokes made about my four eyes. The jokes were never funny. I had books or new crayons whenever I wanted them, but my house was ugly and old, or old and ugly. That worse than the glasses, much worse.
All my friends lived differently. I was surrounded by old walls, scratched hardwood floors, ragged sofas, a sooty basement, and cigarette smoke. Few people saw those things, because my friends rarely came over, but I lived with those things daily. The only new things I knew were crayons and books, but these too eventually became old and unpleasant, used up, just useless things.
I have always worn that house inside me. Maybe I am that house. Open my doors and windows and you will see it all, even though I am trying, have always tried, to pretend, it isn’t there. Ashamed. Of being different, one of the lesser people, despite my lovely books and crayons, and sometimes even colored pencils. My favorites were periwinkle, logan green, heather. Crayons, I mean. When I had my prized possessions in my hands, the house retreated, went away. Just words and colors.
Still, I had to pretend I was living somewhere else back then, just as now I pretend I have never lived there. I have built a wall around myself as protection against that house, but stupidly, inconceivably, forgot that it was already inside me. I had sucked it in like a breath you take in a room full of smoke. Ironically, I seem to have ended up like the fellow from Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” who gets walled up by his host, in the basement. (I have a horror of basements, you should know.)
Maybe that’s the wrong story… maybe it’s not about being walled up, captive. Maybe it’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I do get my Poe stories mixed up sometimes, because I’ve read them so often I’m on my third edition of his complete works. Which you shouldn’t laugh at. Especially if my own tell-tale heart has ruined me for life, making me feel like a big pretender. Hating the house that built me, trying to tell myself it wasn’t in my heart, was no longer around. Damn song. Never can turn it off, like I can’t stop the beating of the house-heart. Giving my secret away. My secret shame.
I've played the game but to my real shame
You've left me to grieve all alone
Too real is this feeling of make-believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal
Which really means that you, house, have not left me all alone. You’re never more than two inches away, at best. You, house, are happy, I just know it. You’ve got yourself under my skin. Which is what I’m really grieving: I have to make believe you aren’t with me at all when you are haunting me. I want you gone.
Isn’t that ironic? I don’t mourn your loss. I mourn your continuing, undying, frustrating presence that makes me feel like I’m haunted, or deep in the basement behind a wall of bricks next to a big cask of Amontillado, of the highest quality. I mourn my future. And I am so sick of acting like you’re not around, as if I weren’t full of you and your flaws. Flaws that were or are flecked with the priceless gleam of something better left unsaid. You must have had your good points, but they were tucked away. Now thinking of you just makes me shudder.
What did I do to deserve you? You are nothing if not an albatross.
My heart grows weary of trying to conceal you; you are too big, anyway, were too big. I rattled around inside you for years, yet never met all of you. What I didn’t know I tried to avoid. What went unseen was a source of terror. Terror that could flap out of a dusty, musty closet or fly up the creaky basement steps. Terror that could drop its shroud on my shoulders, which were already aching from the weight of lives lived before. Lives not mine, I mean. It was a terrible terror that caught up with me a few times. Those were the worst of times and for all I know, they are not over yet. No best of times.
Still, I keep trying to pretend you’re no longer in the back of my mind and in the front of my mind and probably in the middle of my mind. It’s how I’ve gotten through life, this useless pretense of putting one foot ahead of the other because it matters. I have managed to cover myself almost completely in paper (not the sturdiest of armors, but still…), and for extra protection put some words on the pages. It wasn’t such an absurd idea. You’d understand if you saw how much paper fortification I have managed to come up with.
If people could be distracted by reading the articles, books, poems, or other things I published, I figured my best strategy was to keep them distracted. Let them think I was normal, not a person who harbored a lousy house inside her, a worthless person, a laughable one. Worse than the jibes about having four eyes. Working class.
I felt somewhat safe as long as I could produce the walls of words, head words, unlike any I had grown up with. Clean, new words that talked about things learned and seen after closing the door to the old house behind me. The architect of a different self, a modern, polished self, with polished hardwood floors. Life begun at eighteen, not a minute before. Worthy, at last, albeit unconvinced. Fancy talker, fancy writer. Me.
But not completely, because the garish Victorian-style wallpaper and the walls that were never could be plastered sufficiently into smoothness, those refuse to disappear. The same goes for the broken linoleum in the kitchen, the horrible lavender paint in the bathroom, the painfully thin panes of glass in the many windows, even the ironing board that should never have been in the dining room all those years. It’s been years since people iron things, right?
There was just too much of you, your responsibility weighed so heavily on me. (Yes, I know I have already said that. You are my mausoleum, though, like it or not. It’s been like living in a cemetery, which is also ironic - and pitiful - when you think about it. You know I’m right, that you were my ruins, and my ruin. I did some very stupid, bad, things in my efforts to get free. I was so ashamed of you. Ashamed of myself. Perhaps one of us should have burned the other down.
Yes I'm the great pretender
Just laughin' and gay like a clown
There it goes again, and my shoulders are slumping over, I can just tell. Here’s where the song is a bit different, because I rarely am laughing and gay. Not my style, as you might imagine. Plus, I need to keep up appearances at work, both in the classroom and at professional events. I need to look the part, suppress my inner house and my embarrassment. Otherwise, people would look at me and laugh, call me four-eyes, or perhaps poor-eyes. Because even though I had nice little books and a great crayon collection, I didn’t have any money or a nice place to live. My parents weren’t old and run-down, but the house was, and took revenge because of that.
Nevertheless, I do feel like a clown at times, just not as a figure whose function is to laugh and make others laugh. My clown feels like it doesn’t fit. Its clothes are funny, cheap, tasteless. They don’t fit me right, either . They cover my body, but that’s the extent of their usefulness. They look lop-sided much of the time. Like the windows of the house, they are rarely, if ever, washed. That what it feels like to the clown, even if it’s not true.
I seem to be what I'm not, you see
I'm wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you're still around
So maybe this situation or life has gone on long enough. Am I really just a wretched pretender, doomed to act like you’re still around? Has all my work trying to get free been for naught? Has my memory been condemned to watch the looped video nonstop? Should I be trying to remember you because you were built long ago and I will never see you again? Should I feel nostalgic and wish you were here?
Who are you and I trying to kid? I know you’re here, skulking around. Just waiting to clamp onto me with grim and grimy thoughts, hoarded until they exploded in me and destroyed my inner space? Cobwebs, leaking oil, garbage that needed to be taken out just a little more often.
You, I have to constantly pretend you’re NOT around, as you would have realized if you’d been paying attention these past few minutes. You think a little song, whether sung by The Platters or by Freddie Mercury (certainly not his real name - what was he hiding, anyway?), can stop me from seeing the truth? You’re like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Of Christmases Past.
I am so tired of trying to live somewhere else, trying to scrub and tidy up, dying to exist in perfection, but failing, always failing. You remind me who I really am, and that means I have no right to live in my lovely, fresh, pristine paper fort. Have no right to forget that I am the great pretender, and that my version is much worse than the others.
Drive your stake into my heart, please. I will explain everything to the world before you do that and then I will be ready to leave. You can have my shame, guilt, cravings, missteps, and remarks that were blurted out at the wrong time. Keep them, and I can only hope somebody else, some kind soul, will light a match.
Nelda Marie Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor of Archaeology and Architecture
American University of Psychopathy
Address on envelope:
The House on Main Street
4391 Division Drive West
That Town, NY