(The art of displacement)

by MB


In Spanish, when a person forgets something, the infinitive action verb to forget olvidar becomes reflexive, taking on the pronoun ending se such that the infinitive reflexive "to forget" becomes olvidarse. 

I forgot it. Se me olvido

When this type of verb is conjugated in the past tense, the pronoun se moves to the front of the sentence, becoming the direct object of the sentence. The previous subject of the sentence, the person who completed the action, (the 'forgetter') therefore becomes the indirect object of the sentence, such that "se me olvido" literally translates into "it forgot itself to me." 

Those two letters se do much more than change a verb from infinitive to reflexive - they effectively rewrite the event, exonerating the 'forgetter' and redirect the blame so that it falls squarely on the indirect object. It's not that I forgot it, it's that it forgot itself to me. 

Classically presented, I am a person who prefers to avoid conflict at almost any cost. This is a trait that is fairly common in perfectionists, as they (me/we) strive to mitigate the threat of a conflict as soon as they see it arise, for fear the conflict will taint the illusory perfection in the world that they have so carefully constructed. Conflict, even at it's bud, contains the potential to soil everything it comes into contact with - it is a disaster almost certain to cause mass casualties. 

I am aware of the numerous inherent issues with my above statement. Its implicit black and white thought process. The belief that a mess is not containable, that good (if not perfection) cannot cohabitate with bad. If it's not clean, it must be filthy. Lacking balance, it presents two unattainable options.

It dropped itself to me. I am absolved of blame. Either way, the outcome is the same. I am fixated on this idea, this grammatical transfer of responsibility. There are some things we cannot control, and that's ok. Our language accommodates for it, the possibility exists. I did not attain it - it did not attain itself to me. 

As a child, I was always praised for my "problem solving" skills, and for the persistence and tenacity with which I approached difficult tasks. I could not, even in elementary school, handle anything that I deemed less than perfect, and took it upon myself to solve any problem that threatened the very identity of the person I projected myself to be. This deep-rooted need to take on the problems of others was not selfless in nature - it was driven by my desire for complete control. 

I refused to tolerate discomfort. 

And when circumstances prevented me from achieving control, when I could not manipulate the desired outcome, I gave up. Exasperated. I couldn't deal. I can't deal.

Only now, reviewing the pieces of my past with the lens I have adopted, can I see how maladaptive the coping strategy of "not dealing" truly was.

Because we don't control everything. We don't even control most things. But we still exist. We make ourselves vulnerable within the parameters. I exist, this body exists, within certain limits. Some are visible to the human eye, and some are not. I relinquish control to the most obvious limits - I cannot fly, I will never be taller than 5 feet 4 inches in bare feet. I will never be anyone else.