My ears are still ringing from the amplifiers. The rank smell of spilled beer and bodies moving cling to my clothes. The air of the loud bar presses against me as I watch from a distance the happy doings of the people I know as my friends. And without warning, I’m struck with a deep sense of loneliness.
Loneliness in a crowd is one of the most profoundly difficult feelings to have. And one that does not fade quickly.
In the midst of the throbbing crowd and the booming music, I felt cold and alone. Looking around and seeing my friends and family smiling together in a bond stronger than I understood, I felt distant and uncertain of my place within any of their lives.
It was momentary, probably lasting no longer than a split second. But the residual waves of sadness, grief and other complicated emotions was endless.
As each wave got bigger and pulled me in further, I found myself twelve years old again……
I’m sitting in the family kitchen of my grandparents’ house. It’s a large room for everyone to crowd around and enjoy an enormous Italian meal together. Memories of laughter are embedded in the walls and stains from tears of joy cling to the counter tops. It’s a place of cousins and aunts and uncles, with similar features and stories linked together through the bonds of family.
I am twelve and I sit with the adults, listening to their words weaving in the air, sharing stories and jokes. I’m comforted by their constant banter and intermittent break in words for a bubble of laughter to burst. My long pre-pubescent legs cross beneath me as I lean into the talk around me and am wrapped in the deep tones of my Papa and the rasping tones of my Nonnie. The sweet giggling laughter of my god-mother dances with the sweet, strong out-burst of my mother.
I’m comforted here, though I don’t belong. I’m only twelve and not yet old enough to be considered an adult. But here I sit, feeling no reason to leave though I know I could join the kids my age downstairs.
Below us in the living room, my cousins watch silly cartoons and they, too, giggle and talk. The blossoming language shared between children lift into the air and mix with the sweet innocent tinkling of their childish laughter. They play with toys, making jokes and share in the merriment that most children are born with. That innate sense of freedom and happiness.
The adults forget I’m there. Like a church mouse I stow away behind them, hoping to be completely encased in their voices, tucked away in the luscious sounds of their stories. It’s warm here, comfortable and serene.
I’m happy to not be remembered, tucked away under the adult context and expansive vocabulary that barely floats above my comprehension. But, I hear the quick out-burst from the lower room and I wince. I could be with my cousins and siblings, enjoying myself, laughing too. Being a kid.
I lean forward, stuck between my willingness to find comfort in the adult atmosphere where I’m not expected to participate and my interest in being silly and acting a child for once.
Then the meal is served and I’m swept up in the hustle and bustle of plates clinking and silverware tapping. I forget my momentary confusion, the pull between my old soul and my youth.
As I finish my meal and return my plate to the sink, my older cousin confronts me in his monotone way, asking why I don’t join the children ever and instead hang around the adults.
I react with a quick breath in, stung by his recognition of my awkwardness. It hurt to hear him ask because, I knew I was an odd duck. I knew I was an old soul who didn’t fit in anywhere. Not with the adults whose conversation was outside of my understanding. Not with the children who were joyful and silly, two things I struggled to find within myself.
I didn’t fit then and, little did I really foresee, that I would never truly fit.
He watched me, unfazed by my silence and cold look. It was one thing for me to know I was the odd one, but for someone else to point it out hurt deeply.
To this day, I don’t remember my answer, but I knew from then on, I was not the only one who knew I was strange. That I was an outcast, a member of a small group of people who never could find a place anywhere……..
I roll in the waves of jealousy and insecurity. I can’t find the air and continue to find myself swimming downwards. I’m lost in a tumble of negative feelings when suddenly I’m in high school again……..
The bell has rung and I’m hovering around my locker, lunch in hand. I’m working my way through my locker, slowly finding what I need as I eat my food and make my way through my meager teenage meal. What I’m really doing is stalling, waiting for the halls to clear before the teachers come and usher any stragglers down to the bustling courtyard where all sorts of social experiments are being played out through the lunch hour.
I planned, as I did everyday, to be lost in the library. To find my place in the back of the stuffy elongated room where I could sit in peace and read. I never shared a table there and never had to talk to anyone other than the kind librarian who never questioned my antisocial behavior. She accepted me and my quiet ways, leaving me to peacefully exist while I kindly waved a silent greeting to her before I ducked behind the shelves of literature greats bound in the pages of aging books.
My years of eating lunch alone in the library are punctuated by small periods of socializing out on the lawn in the furthest spot from the social frenzy of The Quad. In those moments, I would join a small band of social misfits and we would sit in silence eating and studying, occasionally breaking the silence with a crude comment.
Even with the small band of outcasts, I survived my high school years on my own as much as I could. I never felt I had a place within the hip, young crowd of teenagers all battling the same war just with different methods. We were all looking for confirmation of ourselves. To find that piece to explain why we felt the way we did about who we were. All of us, searching for validation between the bells.
While they looked for validation, I already knew what I was. I was alone……
The waves’ pull lightens and I feel myself falling again. Suddenly I surface in the grief and feel that I’m eighteen again……..
My blue dress lays at my knees, short and sweet for this special occasion. A wedding. A joining of two people. And a gathering of family. And friends. People I know, and people I should feel comfortable around. I sit on a low brick bench outside the family den on the lower floor. The guests mingle around the delicately lit pool, strung with floating flowers and candles. The music is slow and glides on the warm June air.
Everyone is happy and thoroughly enjoying this special occasion. Everyone, except me.
As I watch the conversations, the polite hugs and the raucous laughter, I feel lost in a sea with no visible horizon. I’m treading water and searching for something familiar. Something, or someone to cling to. I look and find nothing. I feel the strong urge to join the family on the dance floor, to stand outside the perimeter of a conversation waiting to participate, or to sit behind my father and listen, as I had as a child, to the stories shared between my family member. I also feel compelled to stay put, stuck in my fears and anxieties.
Awkward. Alone. Forgotten.
The sun begins to set and a slight chill chases the warm summer breeze. I feel like crying. I want so badly to have a life preserver tossed to me. For someone to save me from myself.
Suddenly a tall figure approaches me, a family friend and an older sibling, much like myself. He’s handsome with a lopsided smile. I feel nervous as he nears, worried I’ll say something desperate or stupid. So I smile, and nod at him as he sit next to me.
His mouth opens to speak and asks why I’m here, alone.
I glance at him, my smile disappearing. I don’t know how to answer him. I’ve never know the proper response to someone when they ask me why I choose to be alone. Why I choose to stay away. Why I’m so awkward, strange and unreachable. I don’t remember my answer, but I remember him leaving. And I remember being left alone, again.
The night never improved and I avoided my friend the rest of the reception. I didn’t want another reminder that someone else noticed my stand-offish manner. My inability to act like a normal social human being…..
As quickly as my time warp began, I surface and I’m still siting in the dim light of a loud bar. I sigh. Those deep memories of being quiet, shy and antisocial linger in my mind and bring tears to the surface.
I have never been comfortable with myself. I’ve never accepted that I am a solitary person, someone who enjoys time alone, with the same song on repeat and my blankets drawn up around me. And being thrust into the same social situation as I have in the past with those conflicting feelings of staying silent or joining the fray only brought back a sadness I hadn’t felt in years.
A sadness that lingers.
A deep feeling of loneliness in a world full of people…..