“When you were a kid I was always worried you’d fall down the rabbit hole, like Alice. Well, maybe not a rabbit hole, it was the desert. Maybe a snake hole. Which would have been a very different experience. But very you.”
My mom asked me something today. Kind of. She told me about a book she’s reading and how it made her think of me and my experiences in life; particularly around me being an outsider.
She always knew I felt like I didn’t belong. Not anywhere. I was always on the outside, trying to fit in but never managing. I could never figure out other people’s rhythms, other people’s interests. I was always more at ease with a book, but it didn’t stop me from wishing I was more like other people. But I never said the right things or I said them in a weird way or I said them too loud or or or…
Mom asked what it was like to be me and I’m trying to work that out.
It was lonely. It was not having anyone to talk to or share things with. It was being overly obsessive about seeming interesting or attractive, while knowing without question I was neither. It was depressing. It was having one or two friends and leaving them behind when we moved. It was eating nothing but a protein bar all day so I could stay at a size 0, until I grew ill. It was desperately wanting to be someone else, someone who moved through the world as part of it rather than as an extra appendage. It was being smart and being made fun of or avoided for it.
That’s what it was. What is it now?
Distracting. I still feel I have nothing to offer. I feel strange and off center and I still don’t say the right things at the right time. I still look in from the outside and never fit into group situations. I am awkward and entertain a self loathing that requires covered mirrors and only taking photos from angles that show as little of my face as possible. I wish I had more friends but wouldn’t know what to do with them if I had them. I never know what to say and I’m a terrible conversationalist. I don’t understand when eye contact should be made and for how long and I often screw that up. I wonder if/know that people are relieved when I leave. I can’t accept compliments as anything other than someone being nice, but I’m sad when nothing at all is said. I avoid confrontation at all costs because it sends me into a tailspin of inadequacy, fear, and helpless depression.
And all of this can make me high maintenance to those who love me, and then I feel guilty for that too.
And all the while I talk to people about writing, about their stories, about craft. I teach, I learn, I laugh with my adoring wife. Now, in middle age, I’m beginning to be okay moving to my own rhythms rather than others. Maybe one day I’ll be totally okay with it. Who knows?
Perhaps Mom was right and I fell down the snake hole after all.