broadsideblog

Who Knows You Best? Really?

In culture on August 15, 2009 at 8:45 am
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I took out an empty Balvenie bottle the other day, knowing the janitor will see it. He won’t know it’s mine, but, as someone who empties the trash and recycling bins daily, he knows intimately what the residents of my apartment building read, eat, drink (and what and how often), order by mail, their fast-food preferences. By our discards alone, he knows us better than many of our friends or family ever will.

I asked a friend yesterday at lunch who knows her best. She didn’t hesitate.

“My mailman.”

Yes, even in our age of a dying U.S. Postal Service, it’s the guy who schleps all that paper who really knows what’s going on in her suburban home. As my friend said, he knows: 1) she’s Catholic, thanks to the church bulletins 2) when she was unemployed, thanks to the NY State Department of Labor envelopes, 3) when her son is seeing a physician, 4) which colleges he applied to and 5) thanks to the width of the return envelopes, which college(s) accepted him.

I asked another friend. She thought for a few minutes. “My IT guy at work. He sees absolutely everything in my email. He knows my bank information. He knows I’ve been having a little email flirtation with an old boyfriend. He knows what’s really true in my life.”

Right now my sweetie knows me better than anyone overall. But there are others who have seen specific sides of my character, particular flashes of neurosis or insecurity or fear or joy, that — as a prism refracts light into its separate colors — the particular situations in which we interact elicit:

My orthopedic surgeon. I didn’t plan to have an orthopod whose phone number I have memorized, whose receptionist I see so often I know when she’s changed her hair color or vacation plans, but two arthroscopies (2000, right knee, 2001, left knee, torn meniscus both times) and a shoulder repair (2008, bone spurs) means Dr. Maddalo and I have spent some time together, pre-op, post-op and in between. He once tried to stick a very long needle into my right knee to give it a little cortisone comfort. As he always does, he moved in to mark the spot first with a pen. As he hovered with the felt tip, I winced like a three-year-old. “It’s a pen!” he laughed, kindly. Being a writer and all, I did recognize a pen and could tell it wasn’t the needle. But I can be such a useless baby in situations medical that my inner infant roars to the surface like something out of Jaws. Lucky man, he gets to see it. He knows me.

My former fencing coach. A two-time Olympian and former Navy guy, Steve was no pushover. It was he who pushed me and some New York City friends into becoming nationally ranked saber fencers, pioneers in the 1990s as women in that sport. He wasn’t nasty or rude, but he’s a coach and it was his job to pushpushpushpush us into excellence. I was initially lousy, frustrated, really annoyed at how lousy I was. I disappeared from class for a month or so, sulking. I came back, determined to be better. He was delighted, a little surprised, or maybe not. He saw the competitor in me rise up and shout down the whiny sulking beginner. He knows me.

My mechanic. I’ve blogged here in praise of gruff, scarred, blue-eyed Bill. He’s kept me safe and sound for more than a decade. When I was single and very new to driving — I learned much later in life than most people — I could ask him all the stupid questions most girls ask their Dads or brothers when they are learning to drive at 16, or 18 or 21. He was patient and kind. When I bought my first car on my own and needed wise input, I test-drove 10 different models, from an Altima to a Miata, making copious notes on everything from headroom to the dashboard to acceleration. I narrowed my list to three, but immediately I really, really wanted the red Del Sol, a (since discontinued) Honda convertible. Bill knew I then lived alone, on a tight and fluctuating freelance income, had no one to come and rescue me if there were problems. He knows my town has steep hills that are treacherously icy in winter and how I love to drive, quickly, and take long road trips. He gave the Del Sol his blessing and, during the six years I owned it, it gave me some of the happiest moments of my life. Bill knows me.

My tailor. Azizi, a charming Afghan, has helped me attain style on a budget for years. When times were flush, he made me a coat of turquoise cashmere. When time were less flush, and I had to attend a black-tie event and wasn’t feeling terribly thin or beautiful, yet socializing with the young, lean and triumphant, he took an $80 taffeta skirt from Loehmann’s and made it fabulous.  He’s taken hems up, let out seams, cheered my first major writing sales, as he was building up his clientele and I was finding mine. Azizi knows me.

Who knows you best? Is it someone you’ve chosen?

  1. Good question! My first reply is: my husband. But there are some parts of my life that others know better…

    One is my physiotherapist. When I tore my adductor tendon off my pubic bone, she massaged places usually reserved for…uh…no one. While chatting about marathons and donut cravings.

    And then my best friends from preschool. We see each other *maybe* once a year, if we’re lucky. And it’s like we were never apart. Somehow, they manage to know me better than a lot of the friends I see every few days.

  2. Preschool. Wow. You might enjoy a book I just finished, “The Girls From Ames” about a group of women who’ve stuck together since high school into their mid-40s and feel the same way about how well they know one another.

    Today I got an email from my 9th grade boarding school room-mate, after 20+ years. She also knows me in ways no one else does as a result of that very specific shared experience.

    Our physio’s know us very well indeed. I wrote a NYT essay this year in praise of mine. They see us through some of the worst pain and frustration an athlete feels.

  3. This is a straight-forward question but dips at the last moment like a Mariano Rivera slider – unhittable, somewhat unanswerable.
    My wife, Beanie, has known me for 42 years and has witnessed many of my incarnations – with me and without me. Dr. S. has heard my complaints, ran his hands around my body, listened to and scanned, x-rayed, MRI’d my organs and bones – everything OK here. My children are grown and love me very much and we have become great friends.
    I look forward to responding to the daily articles at True/Slant. This brings out something in me that is personal and is probably unknown by friends in the community I have lived in and contributed to for the past 32 years. You mentioned in your profile that you were a “generalist.” One of the reasons I always checkout “Broadside” is that you expose just enough of your life to bring me into scenery you are describing. Thank you for making me more thoughtful. Tom Medlicott

  4. Here’s what makes me feel REALLY lucky: beyond my final husband (17 years & counting) those who know me best include two older sisters, a dozen or so women with whom I raised my own kids in the 60s & 70s and who remain close, 5 exceptional women (5, 10, 20 & 25 yrs younger) in my long-standing writers group and 15 or 20 in my book group now entering its 13th year. Any, plus some other friends & neighbors, pretty much know me inside out and still haven’t given up on me.

  5. Fran, you are one fortunate woman. That’s a lot of people who know you well. It makes me realize how private I am and the price this might exact. Or, maybe you’re just really likeable!

  6. Tom, thanks very much. I agree that answering T/S posts can elicit all sorts of reactions that others might not hear in our off-line lives partly because the bloggers here are all over the map, literally and figuratively, a feature I also enjoy.

  7. I guess it depends what side of yourself you’re showing…. I mean, my sisters know me best on my emotional side, my supervisor on my academic side, my employees on my professional side. We’re all so multi-faceted that I think it’s a difficult philosophical question to ask, let alone answer! That would be the existential answer to your question…

    But maybe the psychological answer is more interesting… the comments all talk about people they’ve known for seriously long periods of time. People they’ve really let into their lives and hearts. Maybe I just haven’t done that yet… I should get on that…

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