When I was seventeen I felt at home everywhere. At thirty-two I'm not quite sure where I belong. That seems backwards, I know, so I'll elaborate further. Make no mistake about it, my teen years are nothing I wish to repeat. I was angry, sad, confused, damaged, and I didn't always treat people very well, which made me a rather typical teenager, I'm afraid. I was also very smart, creative, and (when I wasn't brooding) passionate about everything. I remember someone once told me that it seemed existence was hard for me. And they were right.
Without launching into the details of my troubled youth (I'm new to this public/personal disclosure thing, let's work up to that shall we?), I will just say that I was a screwed up girl that didn't know how to love or be loved, among other things. I was self-destructive for a long time and it seemed I had the uncanny ability to push good people away from me, while immersing myself in a lot of superficial relationships. This fueled the rumor mill (always more colorful than my actual life) and enabled me to be incredibly social while at the same time very, very alone. Again, typical teen stuff, right? I'm not trying to dish out some sob story and I'm not looking for comfort. It was what it was, and fortunately I've managed to learn and grow since that period of my life. I'm only giving this as background, because I've been feeling strangely nostalgic about those years.
Perhaps it was seeing my ten year reunion come and go (I never went), or the fact that my two teenage sisters were attending my old high school, but I started thinking about those years differently. Don't get me wrong, I hated high school and have a litany of reasons to back that up. What I've gained is the ability to appreciate those moments of kindness, people that showed me real friendship and humanity, in what was a very dark time for me. People who reached out, or listened, or stuck by me, even when I didn't deserve it, or recognize it, or return it. Most of those people will never know what they meant to me, because I lost touch with, or shielded myself from them so completely they never even knew I cared. But those small moments made it possible for me to survive.
And despite all those things (it seemed were) conspiring against me, I felt comfortable almost everywhere. While I couldn't deal with emotional intimacy, I found myself plopped down on the floors of bookstores, or wandering the California coastline as if I owned it. I routinely drove into Big Basin, pulled over, and walked into the forest until the magic of the day crept over me, and I would write, or draw, or think, in peace. I'd go to parties held by people I hardly knew and feel as though I fit in. Now, I feel I can hardly introduce myself to a member of the opposite sex without prefacing the conversation with, "And just so we're clear, I am not hitting on you." While the friends I have are certainly dear friends, I find too often that large parties with lots of strangers are exhausting, not thrilling.
I am more certain of who I am and what I want than I've ever been, but I no longer feel that youthful defiance, which afforded me the luxury of never owing anyone an explanation. Let me revise that a bit. I still don't feel I owe anyone an explanation, but as a woman in my thirties I am bombarded with questions of whether I plan to marry, or why haven't I already; do I intend to have children, and don't I feel the clock ticking (even my boyfriend's mother, whom I adore, makes the occassional wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-you-made-me-a-grandmother brand of comment to me, though not, notably, to her son).
Then there are the unspoken judgments: the look that says, "You're 32 and haven't finished your Bachelor's degree? Why don't you have a proper career? Why don't you have a husband? What have you been doing all this time?" I admit, it's possible I've got a heightened sensitivity to this sort of thing, since I think about this stuff too. And, for the record, I graduate with highest honors in June, and with any luck I'll return to the non-university world and actually receive a paycheck doing something at all related to what I am interested in doing. Whether that means teaching English and creative writing to poor kids in Central America, editing a literary magazine, or turning right around and applying for an MFA program remains to be seen.
So, why this backwards trek through memory? Last night I received an email through one of those websites that tries to put you back in touch with your old high school mates. I did mention I've been feeling nostalgic right? It was from a girl named Nancy that I had once been close to, but haven't talked to in well over a decade. She was a genuinely good person, who routinely surrounded herself with good people, which I think is ultimately why we drifted apart. I didn't know then how to deal with genuine people. I was accustomed to those with agendas of their own, those that took, and hurt, and lied. She was nothing like those people. Nancy spontaneously looked me up and sent me a message, in which she mentioned that she had been talking about me with another friend, Dave, some months back. This floored me.
Dave was a guy I met through Nancy when I was only 15 (if memory serves). We'd been driving to Santa Cruz and I was looking through a stack of Nancy's photos when I came across a picture of this quirky guy (Dave) with a giant cookie shoved into his mouth the way kids do with orange peels, so it covered his teeth. The short version is that Dave and I met, and got along really well. He was smart and funny and kind. He was good to me. He was good for me. And in the end, I treated him like crap. I think the logic I was operating by at the time was something to the effect of: If he loves you, push him away, you don't deserve it, wouldn't know how to deal with it anyway, and besides you'll probably hurt him and he's too good for that. Bullshit logic, I know. But Dave sent me into a panic. I felt good around him. I cared about him deeply. He was the first person to give me a set of journals, which I still have, to encourage me to write, purge, create.
Did he love me? Surely not. It didn't last long. I didn't give him that chance. Or rather, I didn't allow myself to take the chance with him. I think I secured that failure when he invited me on a real date (not just the two of us hanging out, but a dinner date with several of his friends) and I backed out on him at the last minute. As in, I was the jerk who stood up his prom date kind of lameness. The reason? I freaked out. The thought of sitting next to him, under the scrutiny of his friends, was too much for me. I thought they'd see me and know that I was not good enough for him. I was more willing to hurt him and ultimately lose him than I was to be publicly outed for the fraudulently decent person I felt I was. It was ridiculous. I know that now. I was afraid that he might actually help me to let go of much of the hurt and anger I had been hoarding. Frankly, at that time, I wouldn't have known how to live without it. It was my armor and had served me well. I wasn't ready to give it up. Of course, I didn't realize this until much later.
Dave and I kept in touch, briefly, afterwards. He went to school at UCLA and I remember, what I think may have been the last time I ever spoke to him, when he visited me at my parents' house in Cupertino. He looked at me affectionately and told me that when I was twenty I should look him up and that we could probably have a really great relationship. Needless to say, twenty came and went, and I never saw him again. Over the years, I have found myself idly googling his name (unproductively) or looking through those people finder search engines every so often. I wanted the opportunity to tell him I was sorry and to let him know that he was one of those people in my life that showed me real kindness when most of my life was full of darkness. I wanted to say thank you. He helped to restore my faith in people, good people (like Nancy) when I hardly believed that was possible. I was simply too young and too damaged (and stupid, I'll say that too) to recognize him for who he was and what he might have been to me. I thought for sure I'd never have the chance to say these things to him.
And then, last night, I get this email from Nancy and she and Dave have recently had a conversation about me, which, at least in some small way, led her to write me (I hope they said a few nice things). I wrote her back and look forward to catching up. And I perhaps the universe has decided to give me the chance to finally say to Dave all the things I've written here, but haven't been able to say for so long. Wish me luck.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
I'm not actually sure what has possessed me to start blogging. To be sure, it has nothing to do with any New Year's resolution as I have resolved to have none of those (and really, do they ever last past January 3rd anyhow?). Is it that I faithfully read Neil Gaiman's blog? Is it that I have friends who are blogging and I wanted to jump on the blog bandwagon? Perhaps it is as simple as needing a place that might force me to write more consistently, but I think I just want to know I am putting something new in the world; something with at least the possibility of reaching beyond my own personal sphere. And so it begins...