I grew up an only child. I had siblings–a brother and a sister–that I didn’t know about until my 20s. A few others died at birth or a couple years after. So, mostly, as a kid, I spent a lot of time with adults. Or just alone. Mostly with my Mama.
Mama wasn’t exactly a sociable person when I was growing up. She was, I think, well-liked. But she was mostly unknown by people in any real sort of way. She was the lady who would say good morning as she smoked out on the porch. When I was in college, she was the one lonely little kids hung out with, more approachable than many adults because of her innocent face and small stature. Always there, willing to braid hair or play Barbies.
I didn’t really learn how to do things with people from her. We never had many people over. Home was this sacred, quiet space just for us. I guess, some of that was probably because of shame. My father was an alcoholic. And we didn’t have much. What we did have was well-worn.
As a result, I was always pretty shy and private. I would play outside and be friendly to anyone who was friendly to me. But, mostly, I didn’t speak unless I was spoken to. I didn’t invite just anyone in. Only my best friend ever came over.
I didn’t have many real friends as a kid. I had lots of acquaintances. A lot of people who thought they knew who I was and what I was about. Most of the time, I felt really alone. Which is actually kind of good–because it fueled a wicked imagination, which led me to make up stories–to write and create. It also made me really close to my Mama and to the friends I did have. Still, there was always a barrier between me and other people–even my Mama. It caused me a lot of pain–only I didn’t quite realize it until years later.
In college, I continued to struggle…though I also continued to try to overcome my shyness. I studied Communications–which was the one major that required constant presentations. I had to deal with my anxiety and say interesting things to people with brains. I was involved in various things, too. I worked in the career center and (later) the writing center–which meant I had to deal with the public. I got good at figuring out people’s needs and finding ways to help them. I discovered that I was an introvert–an INFP–and that who I was…that thing everyone said was bad…was just fine. That people like me did amazing things and had a lot to offer the world. But it was still painful for me to live in that extroverted world that judged my quiet as aloofness or just plain laziness. It took me a LONG time to really get over that feeling of needing to fit in and speak all the time. After college, I started working in the one industry that I thought I’d never try. It’s full of flaming extroverts. My days often blur into giant presentations where every person is new, and I’m always trying to prove I’m worth talking to.
And yet, it works. I’m good with people one on one. My introversion makes me very aware of other people’s comfort and needs. I can be an extrovert if I need to be, though it is tiring. Most people never even know I’m not naturally that way. It’s easy when I’m passionate about something or if I’m excited to talk to someone. I like getting to know people, so that helps a lot. But I’m still kind of blown away that this is where I ended up.
Being alone is still my comfort zone, though. I like to be able to close the door. I don’t mind company, usually, but I like the option. I get headaches if I engage too long. I can be cranky to close friends if I haven’t had time to get everyone else out of my system. I’m often like a sponge, so–if I get hit by negative energy–it can be very hard for me to not absorb it. Other people’s bad days become mine. I can be too sensitive to it. Which is one of the many reasons why I wonder about being a therapist one day. I’m not sure it’d be good for me.
The point is–alone used to be this thing I took for granted. It was never a choice. It was just my life. I didn’t enjoy the things most people enjoy. I didn’t have the social networks a lot of people had. And I was okay with that, for a long time. I still am, I guess. I’d rather stay home and paint or watch Breaking Bad or go on a drive by myself than sit in a bar or talk to people about superficial BS. Sharing things can be amazing. But I have to be ready for it. I have to choose it. My default, to this day, will always be a preference for quiet. For the exhale.
But, even growing up, my Mama–a real extrovert (around me, at least)–always wanted to know what the heck I was doing in my room for hours on end. She couldn’t imagine that I could literally be online for five hours and not move one muscle. I’d stay up late into the night, chasing ideas and reading…connecting in that safe way that made sense then.
After a while, I started wanting things I never wanted. Especially after she died. Alone became painful. When I was around people, I could hold it at arm’s length. When I was alone, my pain became this rock I kept examining–its bumpy ridges cutting into me until I wore it down–smooth. I would sit in full theatres just to avoid myself. Just to feel part of something else. I kept busy as much as I could.
I loved. Often, the wrong people. And I filled up my life with them–so I couldn’t hear me.
I’ve lived with others now for about five years. I’ve gotten used to the tiny hairs around the sink, though I still complain when they’re left for me to wipe up. I enjoy eating dinner together every day. I worry when they’re late.
It’s my life–and there are plenty of things I’d like to change about it–but, mostly, I accept it for what it is.
But, every so often, I miss that solitary life…that life that–just a handful of years ago felt unbearable. I miss the uninterrupted nothing of my evenings. I miss being able to do absolutely anything I wanted at any time of the day or night. I miss the independent, neat freak girl I used to be. I miss home.
Mostly because I didn’t realize what I’d sacrifice when I gave up alone.
I didn’t realize how I’d change to suit others. How I’d compromise to fit something only I thought I needed to be. I didn’t realize that everything would change when I allowed someone else in.
Because I never really had. And maybe, I still haven’t.
Tonight–I’m alone in this apartment that isn’t just mine. There are stains in the carpet that I have no clue about. There are places here that I actively avoid because I feel like an outsider in that space. And his towel is touching mine. (Eww). And I wonder why he needs all that light and all those timers for his lights.
And I revel in my dimly lit, silent room. Where all you can hear is me typing–and every breath I take.
I miss him, and then I don’t. I miss some other me, and then I don’t.
But mostly, I ache for a home where all of it is just fine. And the line between me and everyone else isn’t so distinct.