Never young

My writing prompt today asks about childhood friends. My very first thought was that I didn’t have any. I played, sometimes, with other kids but mostly it was me and my mother doing…whatever. This was after we moved to New Orleans. Before that, in Lake Charles, I don’t remember anything more than being with my grandmother and my great aunts and my mother in bed recuperating from surgery. Come to think of it, she was in bed recuperating from depression after we had moved to New Orleans, so…a lot of that time was spent with her in bed.

Regardless, I don’t remember specific friends early on. I remember some kid named Tony when I went to kindergarten the first time, in Lake Charles. In elementary school, I remember some kids from the neighborhood – Leticia, and Karen, Melanie and Janice. I remember some kid named Russell who had a glass eye. I remember some of the boys, too – Dane, Armand, Barrett, Andrew. Andrew could draw, so he was fun. Armand had a glue fetish, so he always had dried Elmer’s glue on his hands.

I played marbles with the boys at recess time. My mother was not approving of that, and by 5th grade she told me that I should play with the girls more, because when it came time to start dating (huh?) the boys would see me as one of them, and not a girl, so I wouldn’t be asked. Alrighty then. I had no clue what she was talking about, nor did I care, so I continued to play with the boys at recess. Sometimes we played football after school, when waiting for our parents to pick us up. There were a couple of girls, but mostly the boys, and me. And I was loving it.

After we moved to a new neighborhood, in about 4th or 5th grade, a lot of my school yard relationships began to falter, because I was out of the neighborhood. After I changed schools in the sixth grade, most of those relationships died entirely. I just didn’t see those kids any more. It took me a while to get accepted in my new neighborhood, and I never went to the neighborhood school. After I started going to private school in the sixth grade, everything changed.

I’ve talked before about the issues surrounding my entry into the mostly white middle- to upper middle-class private school, and living in an all Black working class neighborhood. By high school, that had proven to be quite an issue for me, but it was largely invisible to my parents, who were all tied up in their own issues. I felt like I was pretty much on my own, although I suppose I had the nuns and teachers for guide rails on the roller coaster that I was on.

I had friends in the new school, some of whom I maintain connection with. We have a FaceBook page and we’ve had reunions. I know pretty much where they are and what they are doing with their lives. Most of the ones I didn’t like, or who didn’t like me, in high school are still people I wouldn’t pick out of a crowd to pursue a friendship. Almost all of them are straight, and married. Some married VERY well, and live in a world in which I don’t rotate. That’s nice. Happy for them.

I find that most of the folks I hung around with in high school are the ones I keep track of now. They are still the same people, still provoke my curiosity, still maintain a lot of similar perspectives as me. The bunch of us that I keep up with are mostly liberal politically, mostly accepting of who I am, mostly kind and not toxic. It just amazes me how early our personalities and convictions were defined, and how well those have persisted.

Along the way, we’ve lost a few of my junior-high and high-school classes…I think a good half-dozen of us have died. As I’ve said previously, there were only about 64 of us, so losing these girls is kind of a big deal. One of my friends, who is still with us, lost her husband. He died in his sleep. She knew my mother, and loved my mother tremendously when she was a teacher there. I felt the pain of her losing her husband, and she most assuredly felt mine when my mother died.

There were some other people I can remember, vaguely, from the parish church CYO group, or from summer music camp, but I can’t say I was terribly close or maintained any kind of relationship with those people. I barely remember any names, or even faces. As I’m writing that, it seems my life was kind of a blur during those years. I attribute a lot of that to what was going on in my family back then – my parents negligence, their preoccupation with their coming divorce, my father’s affair with a Chihuahua (short, brown, yappy thing with big eyes and a nasty bark).

In high school, I did have one number-one best friend. My friend Amy. She was my BFF for sure. Basically joined at the hip, we were a dynamic duo to be sure. She was a bit weird, I was a bit weird, it was a match made in Heaven. She was also the one who couldn’t invite me to her birthday party because they had never had Black people over to their house as guests before. *sigh* We somehow remained friends, after a short period of pouting and awkwardness, but lost track of each other after graduation. I have seen her on the FaceBook page, but we haven’t really had any intentional contact, and I think that’s just fine.

During those high school years, I was also starting to feel like something was very wrong inside me. First, I was less and less connected with Catholicism, and since I was attending an uber-Catholic school, that was an issue for me. Second, I was entirely disinterested with the frenetic drive of my classmates to get boyfriends. I could have given less than a damn about dating. I felt ugly and fat and ashamed, but more importantly, I found boys mostly ridiculous.

There were a couple of boys I spent time with in high school – Kevin, who was possibly a bigger nerd and geek than I was, and Wilbur, who lived around the corner. Kevin was somewhat interesting, and I enjoyed spending time with him. Occasionally. He wasn’t very demanding, so that worked very well. Wilbur was a dog, and I inexplicably felt the urge to run when I was with him. He was not as smart as he thought he was, and I didn’t respect him. I don’t know what happened to either of those guys.

There was one other guy – Michael – who I didn’t like very much but who really liked me. He always wanted to be kissing me, which I was like…whatever. *yawn* He wanted me to go to his prom with him, but I didn’t want to go and didn’t know how to tell him no. That’s a pattern I’ve maintained for a really long time, but more about that another time. I didn’t go, and I’m not sure I handled telling him that I wasn’t going very well. I regret that.

So, I never had all that many friends when I was younger. I had a hard time breaking into established circles of kids, and I recall that clearly around the time of junior-high school. It may have been happening before that, but my first clear memories are from junior-high age. That is the first memory of feeling like everybody else had gotten the instruction book on how to do things correctly, like there was some secret code that everybody else knew but me. I never seemed to do the right thing, say the right thing, be in the right place at the right time. I felt like an idiot more often than I felt like a person.

So, as an adult, I’ve still had my share of making friends and keeping them. It’s been better here in NC, which I don’t attribute to the locale but to my age, and emotional development. (I’ve done a LOT of work in therapy!) I feel as though I’ve still had my share of abortive relationships, some of which have ended in such animosity and betrayal they make me shudder even years later. But, I also have a small number of close friends who I would trust with my life. That is a huge, gargantuan big deal because I need to feel that if I can’t speak for myself, there is at least a chance that someone would make sure that my wishes were expressed. Trust does not come very easily for me, so again, having these people in my life is the very biggest of big deals.

When I was much younger, junior-high and high-school, and even college, people told me frequently that I really needed to grow up. I was a cryer – when I was in conflict or angry, I cried. I don’t know if that was merely attempted manipulation. I do remember intentionally trying to manipulate with tears, but sometimes they just came spontaneously. That was perhaps fear, perhaps genuine hurt. I don’t know. But regardless, I cried a lot, whether I meant to or not. If that was childish behavior, so be it.

Calls for me to grow up annoyed me to distraction, and I never understood exactly what that meant. I settled on just not crying, but that was a dismal failure. I couldn’t control my tear ducts, and my eyes would just overflow, even at the most embarrassing of times. It was particularly annoying when I was drunk, and messy. There are not enough tissues in the world for a drunk having a crying jag.

I continued to be told to grow up far into my adulthood. That always confused me because I felt that I was quite grown. I had been gainfully employed since I was 15, I was not getting hauled in by the police every few days, I had a roof over my head. What I didn’t understand, though, was that I was constantly beating my head against the wall of reality, refusing to accept things as they were. Refusing to see what was really in front of me, manipulating circumstances to suit my needs, regardless of the impact on anyone else. I just couldn’t understand why there was a problem with any of that.

These days, I feel some maturity has settled in, although I have my moments of flat out high-chair kicking foot-stomping tantrum. Most of the time, when something happens that I just can’t accept, I withdraw, shut down, but the motivation is still the same. I just know how unattractive it is for me to throw myself on the floor, pound my hands and feet on the ground and squawl. But I am doing that inside my own hear, and will be damned if I let anyone see it. So…silence. Invisibility (I’m well practiced at that). The wall goes up, and it’s tall, and thick, and solid. Nobody is getting through. Nobody.

The problem with raising the wall (it’s got a quick-release auto-activate button, pretty high tech) is that once it’s up, I’m more or less blind to any changes in the circumstances that triggered activation. I’ve take a still photo of the unacceptable situation, and there are no updates. I need to figure out how to maintain a live feed, instead of vacating the premises. That’s an old childhood trick – just leave when things get too dangerous. Your body can stay, just to fool everyone, but you are gone. Ingenious, isn’t it?

These days, I stay in my body more than I used to. I’m not sure if that means I feel safer, or if I’ve just gotten tired of navigating escape routes and then having to make my way back. That’s part of the problem with vacating the premises – I have to find my way back. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, sometimes the escape route is circuitous and hazardous in and of itself. Having to make the trek back is sometimes torturous, and what if I’m mistaken and it’s not entirely safe? What if the threat is still there?

Sometimes it seems easier to stay, or at least to simply close the blinds rather than erect the wall itself. That leaves me vulnerable to repeated threats, however, which explains how and why I sometimes repeat efforts that are futile. Explaining that is just great, but how about not doing it any longer?

So, there it is. Again. The crossroads. Do I stand my ground, or do I retreat? Do I persist in the effort to get what I want, or do I accept that it’s not to be? Is accepting reality just giving up? I have never know the answer to those questions. Some days, acceptance looks very much like giving up, other days it looks very much like settling. Either case seems to be largely unsatisfactory, although frequently met with affirmation from external sources.

I suppose some of that questioning brings me back to defining what it is that I want. That is usually a very fuzzy answer for me, and I find myself answering it from time to time like a Hallmark card – I want peace, I want world peace, I want no hunger or poverty, I want financial security, I want to be happy. Maybe I should be more about specifics, and more about the personal. Peace, and world peace, and absence of hunger and poverty are probably beyond my pay grade. I can work to accomplish that, but I am clear that I am one of many who is making that effort.

But, let’s get to the more personal, individual level desire. I want financial security. So, let’s see – what exactly am I willing to do in order to achieve that? Am I wiling to take a job that doesn’t particularly excite me, that may or may not allow me to use the skills I have? Am I truly willing to do what I’ve said in the past, that if it was a difference between living under the bridge and having a roof over my head, I would be willing to scrub floors? If that time was now (which I don’t truly believe it is) would I do what was necessary?

If I really want to get published, or write about social justice, am I willing to pursue that goal outside of a job that is not directly pursuant to that goal? For instance, if I took a job as a customer service representative, or a help desk associate, am I willing to use my off-time to write and revise and then submit to publications?

If I really want to be in a relationship, am I willing to start attending social functions, amd I willing to show up at meet-and-greets and group meetings of like-minded people are likely to be? Am I willing to seek out groups that do things I enjoy doing, just to increase my social contacts? Am I willing to expand my personal network of acquaintances and potential friends?

I have the choice of put up or shut up. I don’t complain much to friends and such, but sometimes I feel as though I’m not supposed to be living in such a state of isolation. The isolation is potentially how I will engage in a self-fulfilling prophecy of dying alone in my apartment, not to be discovered for days, while the dog eats my nose. That’s a fear I’ve had since I was a teen-ager, and it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a part of me that says weeeeel, maybe not.

The dog is well fed at the moment, so no chance of her needing to eat my nose any time soon. I’m not in danger of needing to find a spot under the bridge anytime soon. I’ve got food in the refrigerator, the power bill is paid, I’ve got a full tank of gas in my truck (although there is still that rear oil leak that I need to get fixed), and I’ve got clothes on my back. So, all in all, I’m not in bad shape. Unless I count that belly fat, but we’re not going there right now.

The point is, I have much to be grateful for. Much. I asked my therapist a while ago what her diagnosis of me might be. She said human. I diagnose you as human.


Gotta take the good with the bad…

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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