If Only They Knew it was also My Birthday – Loneliness and Defying Conformity

Their knowing looks caught my eye a couple of times as I savored mediocre, overpriced seafood, washing it down with agua con gas, what they call sparkling water in South America. Their faces spoke volumes of pity amidst the dim ambience and lively holiday chatter from nearby tables. If only they knew it was also my birthday, I thought to myself between reluctant bites of yucca con queso and poor excuses for sushi.

It was Christmas Day in Cusco, Peru and I had made reservations at a “fancy” restaurant in the city center. I had just arrived in Peru that morning and I was traveling solo for a week. There was a table of four, two older couples sitting diagonal from my small two-person table situated against the wall adjacent the picturesque window overlooking the Plaza de Armas. What they had obviously noticed was that my two-person table was serving one that evening and what they hadn’t noticed was that I, too, was studying and wondering about them – how did the couples meet? Are they locals? Do they always go out to eat for Christmas?

I was lonely. I’m not going to lie. And the shitty food didn’t help – I would later be chastised by a local for even stepping foot inside this particular tourist driven eating establishment. Had I known it catered to foreigners, I would have certainly opted for something else. Had the table of older couples asked me to join them out of sheer pity, I just might have!

It wasn’t the first time I had felt such a way at a restaurant whilst dining alone but it was the first time it was a holiday and my birthday whilst dining solo. A month after deciding to divorce David, I was on a business/leisure weekend trip to San Francisco where I had made reservations at a French restaurant located in Chinatown of all places. The food was actually really fantastic but the waiter who took forever to approach my table because she admittedly assumed I was waiting for someone made my loneliness the giant elephant in the restaurant. If only she knew I was going through a divorce! I ate half my meal before flagging her down to box it up so I could take it back to my lonely hotel room – at least there I could be lonely without an audience.

Doing things alone have always been a part of my life and more often than not, a comfortable and sometimes desired act – going to the movies happens to be one of my favorite unaccompanied past times. I recall having a conversation with my mother years ago while enjoying breakfast at one of my favorite mid-city Los Angeles cafés. When I told her what I was doing, she replied with slight dismay, stating, “I don’t know how you do that!”

It may have more to do with doing things that make me uncomfortable until I’m comfortable with them or it may have to do with enjoying the solitude of my own company versus the draining camaraderie that sometimes comes with others’ presence. I have a hunch it has a lot to do with doing the thing that society tells people, like the San Franciscan waitress and the old couples, is strange and/or pitiful. I find there to be a liberating factor in defying conformity, no matter how strange, pitiful, or lonely I might appear or feel.

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She and I Against the World

The majority of people in my life assume that I’m fine, that I’ve “gotten over it.” The truth is not a day goes by that I don’t feel the absence, the gaping deficiency in my surroundings, and the dark, irreplaceable hole in my heart that used to be filled by my mother.

On a recent trip back to Kansas City, I obtained a portion of her medical records, which revealed some things that I wasn’t privy to, for example, her depression. I had no idea of my mother’s depression prior to her terminal cancer diagnosis and I could go on and on about the guilt that this ignorance instills – how couldn’t I see or recognize that the most important person in my life was depressed, but this isn’t about me. It simply brings to light pieces of the puzzle I didn’t know existed, pieces that I hope to find a home for but understand may never find their resting place.

I began A Righteous Revival as a means of keeping my mother alive. This blog has grown and blossomed into so much more but carried her memory in every post. It was just the other day, I text a close confidant in my life, “My mom was the best. This world seriously lacks without her.” Everything I do lacks without her, but she lives through me. I often ask myself, “What would my mama do?” I recall past conversations with her or imagine what current conversations might be like. This is particularly difficult because I’m not one to comfortably assume, however, I do know my mother would not have voted for Donald Trump and would express passionate opposition to his first three plus weeks as so-called leader of the free world.

My mother spent much of her youth and adulthood feeling like the black sheep of the family and I heavily identify, especially as of recently. I am the young, willingly sterile, divorced, west-coast liberal, travel enthusiast who you’ll never find lying down like a doormat or settling for anything less than I deserve or know to be right. Oh, how I wish my mother were here to witness the legacy she began, to find comfort in our similarities, and to feel that I am not alone in these sentiments.

Too often, I have found myself in situations where people are mistaking my honesty and my passion for anger or aggression. It doesn’t always pay to be direct in this world and I know that’s something my mother could relate to. So often, I’ve found myself in situations where it feels like I’m being told to shut up and sit down like a “good woman” would do, being put in what a large portion of society feels is my place. I never shut up and sit down, but it sure is exhausting to do the thing that others don’t want you to, to stay true to yourself.

The political climate of America today has a way of bringing about these desolate feelings more often than usual, especially when you find yourself surrounded by conservative white folk who turn a blind eye or likeminded liberals expressing complacency and defeat. I don’t fit into either of those categories just as I haven’t fit in to so much of my life. If only mama were here to break bread, smoke a joint, and mull over current events with. The world truly was a better place when she walked it, when it was she and I and not just I against it.

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