“I don’t understand how I was so stupid, how I didn’t see or understand what was going on, even though I was right in the middle of it,” I said, moodily stabbing my fork into my salad.
“Well, to be fair, I had more friends, so I was OUT of it more – more connected with the real world, and how families were supposed to work”
I glared at my Sis, not in a way which meant I was angry with her, but in a way which seemed the only way to express the feelings that suddenly overwhelmed me. With one fell truth, she had reperspectivised the stark isolation which had robbed child-me of kids my age to hang out with, of peers with whom I was on any kind of equal footing, of friends.
She agreed, and we both sat in silent contemplation, the restaurant humming around us, filled with the light and chatter of people doing that thing they do when they’re together with other people they enjoy being together with – that peopleing thing I missed because I was weird and couldn’t bring anyone home for fear of what might happen, and subsequently rarely went anywhere. When I did, was on edge as soon as the family’s dad was around, especially when he acted nice. I was baffled by it, waiting for the facade to drop and for him to start acting how dads *really* acted…
There was a gang of us at church, when I was little. We hung out together on Sundays, causing ruckuses, getting told off, and filling the dusty pews with our childish liveliness. We were bright, excitable, unruly, a pack. We belonged, just at weekends, because none of us went to the same schools and we were without each other in the week. The adults knew to watch out for us because wherever we were, there would forsure be some kind of mischief, mishap or misadventure. We were unmissable.
Until we started going missing – house moves, parents moving jobs, life upheaving and resettling, chipping away at our little gang until just one remained. Alone.
The next ‘set’ of kids down from me were a little gang, too. They developed little personalities and built little friendships and started getting told off for causing ruckuses, filling the soft new chairs with their childish liveliness. They were bright, excitable, not so unruly, a group. The church leaders got their heads together and found a children’s worker to keep them engaged.
I was too old to join in with the little kids, and too young to join in with the adults. I faded away, haunting the place where those dusty pews used to be, where my gang and I used to play. Where I had once belonged.
Years later, one of the older members of the church told me she wished there had been more which could have been done for me, but I somehow got missed.
‘I know I’m going on holiday with my family for two weeks and I’m sure I’ll have fun with them, but I’m gonna MISS YOU SOOOO MUCH! I hate that there’s such bad connection there, and that I won’t be able to be as much in contact. Damn FOMO*’ – words I typed (or thereabouts) again and again and again to ‘my’ people in the World Between the Wires; the place where I had discovered deep and meaningful connections, acceptance, appreciation…friendship.
I belonged. I was wanted. I was about to be disconnected – kryptonite!
I was bereft, for two horrendously painful weeks; miserable in the face of familial warmth (and complexity) because I missed my friends so desperately – those hearts to whose mine was hardwired.
Aged 9, my teacher busted my pattern. She copped onto the fact I misbehaved just before playtime, the standard punishment being to stay indoors, alone, and complete helpful tasks around the classroom. I sharpened pots and pots of pencils, tidied trays, washed out tubs of paint and set them neatly to dry. I tidied bookshelves, organised, neatened and sorted, all the while appreciating the minutes of alone-ness which weren’t isolation, because I’d chosen them for myself.
The next time I misbehaved, her punishment for me was far more cruel – she made me go out and play football with the other kids. A punishment for them. I pleaded with her to change her mind, but she would not be swayed. I played a game and they grudgingly included me, forced to accept me into their ranks for a time, which rankled them, for it didn’t last.
I developed a new strategy – I’d leave the classroom just before break on some pretext, and squither my way under the drift of bags and coats which washed up against the edge of the corridor each morning. From my hiding place I watched the other kids leave. I sat for long, quiet minutes, wiling away time until the bell rang and the tide of noisy children flooded back in. No-one ever noticed – I had no-one to miss me.
My favourite TV show as a young teen, Ally McBeal, was full of hilarious writing, heartbreak, and astute observations on life. It gave me somewhere to escape reality, other lonely people to relate to, who somehow managed to make life work (or not), who nonetheless had each other. How I yearned for that, for an ‘each other’. One conversation from the show stuck with me for years:
Ally: Couple-hood is good, Renée. And maybe we should stop waiting for the right guy and go out with the wrong ones. I mean, it probably beats loneliness.
Renée: There’s nothing lonelier than being with the wrong guy.
I went out with a few of the wrong guys until I found one who I thought was the right one. Turned out Renée was spot on – there’s *nothing* lonelier than being with the wrong guy. But if I hadn’t been so desperate, I would never have ended up online, so…even though I missed out on one kind of forever, I gained SO many more.
WonderAunty stopped poking the fire, turning to face me as the embers did their best to rekindle. She had apparently been giving something her serious consideration, so I stopped what I was doing and looked up at her.
“You really don’t do well without people, do you? I’d never really noticed that before, but you really *really* don’t. You’re a bit of a fragile flower that way.”
Bemused, I asked “What do you mean?”
“Well, your mood just…goes off the edge.”
I nodded and smiled, able to because after five days when I was too ill to do anything but eat or sleep or sit (all of which had proven exhausting), I’d spent some time back at work, with people.
“I know,” I told her. “I absolutely wither without people.”
She smiled, assimilating this new thought about me, or re-framing an old one – I wasn’t sure which. I returned my attention to whatever-it-was I had been doing, wondering how alarmed I should be that I could so easily be tipped, just through having my extrovert nature foiled, and whether I should be pleased or concerned that she’d noticed so easily.
Newly unshackled from 5+ years of friendlessness in company of the same group of ‘others’, I made my first ‘school friend’ at college. After taking an instant dislike to one another, we were forced together by circumstance and decided to make the best of the situation, finding in each other a friend to last over half our lives (at this stage). That was ONE for ME, I thought gleefully as I realised the full, heart-swelling, astonishing truth. Someone wanted me. I had a FRIEND!
A year later I added a second friend. Two years after that, I added a third. Last year I added a fourth. FOUR for ME! In Real. Here.
The part of me which remembers spending long, very public hours being ignored (or worse, discussed, derided, destroyed), going from one circle of backs which squished together to exclude me, to another, which did the same, still can’t quite believe there are FOUR PEOPLE here, who want me. The rest of me, which is more analytical, can explain the circumstances of my exclusion and how it warped my soul to miss out on friendships for so many years. That part of me is less surprised, but still pleased. Thrilled, actually. Four. Lovely.
“I’ve never seen you look as happy as you looked in the pictures of your ‘Murica trip,” I was told.
I grinned widely, remembering the life-changing wonderousness of it. “No, you probably haven’t,” I agreed. “I’ve never BEEN that happy.”
The trip marked the end of my old life and the beginning of my new one. It made ‘online internet people’ into Really Real and In Actual Fact FRIENDS – ones without obligation or agenda, who knew so many of the goods, the bads, and the uglies, through reading this blog, and who nonetheless enjoyed my input, sought me out, cherished my friendship, and genuinely jumped at the chance to make me as Real as I made them.
I was faced with a torrent of irrefutable, inescapable, absolute PROOF – I was WANTED. I spent those three weeks in a haze of wonder and love.
As my return plane taxied along the runway at JFK, picking up speed, I felt as though one half of my heart had been glued to the asphalt, and was stretching agonisingly, to breaking point as the plane became airborne on trajectory for the place I could no longer call my only home. On return I shut myself in my room and cried daily for over a month, missing the people who had so rapidly become mine, and I theirs.
“I’ll look after that piece of your heart until you come back and make it whole again'” one told me.
“I love you. I for reals want you to come over and be able to be here,” another said.
“I miss you. MotherFUCK, I miss you. Genuinely, truly, awfully.” – a message, fresh today, which I could only echo, because I feel exactly the same.
“I need you, please never leave me.” My heart squeezed as I whispered back my response – “I won’t. I promise. I need you, too. We belong.”
With each person who is FOR me, for Real and for Good, the pieces which were missing have slowly been being replaced. I am becoming whole, kintsugi-gilded by their love – my FOUR; my family; my For Reals, my hardwired hearts – my FRIENDS.
Alone, I fail to thrive, but ‘together’ I am stronger than I could ever have imagined. I am made for relationship, and ‘together’, I am finally, gloriously, enough. It’s impossible to love in a vacuum, and I’ve finally discovered the secret and saving of my world – you; My People.
Loneliness and disconnectedness might be my downfall, but #LoveWins, my darlings. It really, truly does. I’m proof.
*Fear Of Missing Out – a condition from which I suffer chronically
This was a Finish the Sentence Friday post, with our starter for ten “My Kryptonite is…” posed by the lovely Lisa Witherspoon, who co-hosts this week alongside one of my personal favorites, Kristi Campbell.