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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Imaginary Friends Pt. III

Memo, Tebo, and Julie eventually became my best friends. Sure, I had actual, tangible friends – I wasn’t really a loner at school or in other social situations, but at home, I definitely was.

Between my mother’s understandable desire for “adult time” and my brother’s obvious disdain for his younger sister’s presence, Memo, Tebo, and Julie were really my only choice. Of course, there was also Barbie and Ken. The thing about Barbie, though, was that I had nothing in common with her, nor did I ever have some warped sense of “I need to look like her.” My mother was very good at making me feel good about my external beauty, as well as my internal, but even when the world and my peers were telling me there was something wrong with me, some sort of flaw or imperfection unfit for a fashion magazine or even a third grade yearbook photo, my mother was there assuring me otherwise. She was instilling the confidence I’d need to navigate a society that constantly tells an impressionable young woman what she should strive to attain in terms of outward beauty. Most of the time, these impositions are unrealistic.

In the third grade, the teacher placed our yearbook photos face up on our desks as I had gotten up to grab my belongings at the coat rack. As I spun around to return to my desk, a crowd of students had gathered around my desk, their stubby, little eight-year-old fingers pointing down at what was obviously my yearbook photo, their childish snickers audible from across the room. I reluctantly approached to see what the fuss was and there I was – buck-toothed and shut-eyed, smiling from ear to ear against a wicker backdrop, resembling a beaver more than ever before – the rodent my brother had likened me to at every chance he got.

The hot tears instantly reared their wet, ugly heads in the corners of my eyes as I pushed my way through the mean-spirited crowd, quickly flipping the photo over, and becoming angry with the teacher for placing them face up. My third-grade self needed someone to be angry with and I’d found the culprit as fast as the camera had found my Bugs Bunny smile.

My brother spent much of my single digit youth reminding me of the animal I most closely resembled and attempting to break me down. He was admittedly jealous of me his entire life and his deliberate insults were most likely a product of this complex emotion. At such an early age, though, I couldn’t piece those correlations together quite yet, so my brother’s affection and approval was continually sought even after he would chuck a basketball at my chest so hard, it would knock the wind out of me. His cute friend scolding him for throwing it so aggressively was a nice solace in a moment of such direct disapproval from someone I desperately looked up to.

It took me exactly thirty-two years to fully realize that behavior is more telling in matters of family than blood. And for thirty-two years, my brother’s behavior has told me that he doesn’t want me to be a part of his life. Perhaps the ultimate telling of this revelation was this past Christmas, my thirty-second birthday, when he failed to wish me a happy birthday. I was in Peru, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt as I’ve done so many times in the past, and thought I’d surely come home to a greeting card. I didn’t. My first thought was that for thirty-one years, he was always the first one to wish me a “Happy Birthday” in my immediate family. My second thought was that I should have realized the first time he called me beaver he wasn’t someone I should be looking up to.

The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

As I sit here circa 8pm on Thanksgiving evening of 2014, I contemplate holidays past and history that I didn’t even exist in as of yet. I’m buzzed off of Gernacha/Syrah blends from Spain, Lambrusco from Italy and Pinot Noir from California’s Central Coast and in a slight food coma from the feast I began cooking mid afternoon that consisted of green bean casserole, roasted balsamic cauliflower, lemon/garlic/pepper chicken and tilapia among a couple other dishes. My famous pumpkin pie followed up this feast.

I think about what I was doing on Thanksgivings past and with whom I was sharing delicious food and beverage with and that crazy, inevitable aspect of life called change. God, I feel like I’ve lived several lives with the changes I have experienced. Two years ago, I was in my Brooklyn apartment celebrating with my husband and a close friend from Italy who has never celebrated this American holiday and last year, I was celebrating with my sister, Sandy, and her loving Mexican familia in a Los Angeles suburb. The circumstances and changes that led to each of these holidays are a blog or two of their own but the point is that life certainly is beautiful when the positive is what is focused upon.

This year, I am in the midst of a drawn out divorce, my friend is thousands of miles away in northern Italy, my sister, Sandy is still celebrating with her beautiful fam and I’m in love with a wonderful man who joined me in the kitchen assisting me with tonight’s feast. We later sat on the living room floor of my lovely Los Angeles apartment to ingest and enjoy our hard work.

I don’t want to bore you any longer with the mundane details of my Thanksgivings but to point out that change is good. The only time in my life where I still have yet to view it as “good” or having some sort of “reason” is the day my mother passed away but I have accepted that I may never see that as such.

The day my mama passed, I made a comment to everyone that I didn’t want to live any longer in a world where she didn’t exist, that I would have given anything, including my own life, to have my mama back. My brother later pulled me aside, pointing out that this was an insensitive comment to be making in front of the man that I “supposedly” wanted to spend the rest of my life with, David. I understood his point at the time though now, I still feel as if I would give anything. I want to live but I would give anything, including my own life, to have my mama back. I suppose even though I understood his point, it didn’t mean that my feelings changed and now they’re even more affirmative since David is no longer a part of my life.

The holidays stir up so many mixed emotions within me. I used to look forward to this time of year and a small part of me still does but the larger part of me wants to sleep away the last couple months of the years. It’s just not the same anymore. Knowing my mama was thousands of miles away, carving a turkey in a suburb of Kansas City was enough. Knowing she was sitting around my grandma’s dining table, cracking jokes about country music and sharing her opinion on the state of America’s security was enough. Nowadays and the holidays that follow, I presume, will never feel like enough. How does one ever accept this? How does one avoid the simultaneous depression?

While I’m at it, I’d like to share one of my deepest fears – I vowed my life, my love, my holidays to one man at one point in my life four and a half years ago – Once that vow was broken, not only did I lose him, I also lost another family, his family. I fear becoming that close to someone again, sharing such sacred, personal space and relationships and having it all just taken away in the end.

I know I cannot live my life burdened by this fear but I can talk about it – the loss. Losing is painful, utterly painful. I’ve said before how losing someone to life is often more painful than losing someone to death because losing someone in life is a choice whereas death is out of our control.

Losing someone to life presents all sorts of feelings of “not good enough,” “not enough,” and “just not enough.” And no matter how rational one becomes or mentally secure, loss is painful. It’s mentally, emotionally and at times, physically painful.  Even the effort that goes into trying to convey the pain is painful, in and of itself, because words can never begin to express or describe this missing puzzle piece, this gaping, black hole in my heart, in my life.

I’m finding myself closer and closer to someone, experiencing overwhelming feelings of love and caring I have never experienced before, even with David, even during our marriage. These feelings scare me shitless and not turning around and running aimlessly in the other direction is a daily battle that takes place mostly in my mind. It’s very lonely up here. I cannot destroy something wonderful because that would, frankly, be too easy. I refuse to take the easy way out!

*Sigh* time will tell, I suppose but in the meantime, I appreciate you listening to my inner most workings. I know I’m not alone in this and for that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful for the kitty cat that’s curled up in my lap, keeping me warm and the amazing friends I am blessed to call my family. Happy Thanksgiving y’all and much love.

Am I Lonely or simply, Alone?

The sun shone vividly in the dull blue, cloudless sky this afternoon as I made my way to the Annenberg Space for Photography in West LA to view the highly revered National Geographic Exhibit. As I approached the building, two employees informed me and some other patrons that we would have to wait in a line as they had reached the building’s capacity. It wasn’t a long line and I was second in it.

As a couple exited the museum, the woman at the door ushered for two more people to proceed inside. The older gentleman in front of me stated that he was waiting for someone and that I could go ahead of him. I offered the group behind me to go ahead since I was solo and that is when the confusion settled in.

Remember The Symbolism and Melodramatic Conundrum of the Empty Seat? This unexpected situation wasn’t so different when the gentleman in front of me assumedly asked aloud when I did not enter with the younger group, “Oh, you’re with this group?” motioning to the group of elderly ladies eager to join their friends who were already inside. The employee holding the door also had an inquisitive look upon her face as I shook my head, offered a friendly smile and unashamedly announced, “I’m alone.” In response, the man in front of me curtly said, “Oh” and proceeded to non discreetly stare at me several times before I was gratefully escorted inside the exhibit.

I did not look at him as he did so but I do wonder what this man was thinking, what sort of assumptions or stereotypes were quite possibly running through his mind. Did he pity me? Was he wondering why I would be out and about on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in a city full of millions of people all by myself? Was his look one of envy? Did he wish his forthcoming company had stayed behind and he could enjoy the exhibit entirely on his own? I’ll never know but it is intriguing.

I have taken to joyfully going on “dates” with me, myself and I be it the movies, a leisurely walk, a museum, what have you and I thoroughly enjoy my own company. As I’ve stated before, I think it is important to know how to be comfortably alone and I believe there is a lot to be gained from doing so. This subject has come up on numerous occasions as of late.

After mulling over the topic with a male friend of mine who is in a similar situation such as I, he presented it to me in one of those simply mind blowing fashions that I had never quite considered before. You know, like one of those moments where you say to yourself, “Duh!” He stated, “I guess it’s just the difference between being alone and feeling lonely.” Prior to this conversation, I don’t think I ever understood these to be so starkly different and yet the more I ponder it, they truly are.

I choose to be alone, do things by myself but feeling lonely is something that occurs when I desire company, when I am in need of basic human interaction. My friend and I continued discussing this fascinating issue a little longer. The interesting question was raised, “How can one expect to share a happy life with someone if he/she can’t even enjoy and be happy with his or her own company?”

We went on to further discuss how unequivocal introverts who are quite possibly more comfortable going it solo even experience loneliness from time to time. Human interaction, albeit, is a necessity and it can be satisfied in many different ways by sometimes, the most unlikely of sources. I believe even complete strangers can provide the human contact necessary to appease the loneliness be it with a kind, simple gesture such as wishing someone a “nice day” or even eye contact coupled with a sincere smile. I honestly believe this is part of the reason why it’s been reiterated, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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