I know I always start these things by saying it’s likely to be disjointed, but in this case I don’t even have a coherent roadmap in my mind at all; I’ve had a lot of things just bouncing back and forth across the confines of my skull over the last few days, and some of them just need to get out and I’ve got no better mechanism than to throw them here. Maybe someone will read it and enjoy it; maybe it’ll be another unread post out in the aether of the internet. Either way, I’m here battering myself over nothingness – and it’s especially burdensome, given that most of the thoughts are a decade old, some more, and they’ve gone largely unsaid and unresolved and- well, here’s things from my mind.
I used to have a lot of acquaintances. Not really friends, not really not-friends; people I knew and spent lots of time with or around and share fun times with. These connections were mimicry of the friendships I’d forged in years past on the internet — much the same, in that I didn’t really connect with these people, despite a lot of serious time investment and even a fair amount of conversation that dealt with serious things. I could never really pin down how I differentiated my close friends from these people; sometimes, a person would drift in and out of those designations, sliding along the path of my life with various levels of personal importance. Whatever the case, I didn’t hold back being who I thought I was, but in many ways, this period of life held me back from learning who I actually was, because I was so caught up in maintaining the identity that I thought belonged to me that I didn’t even notice that it was a mask anymore. I didn’t lie to these people, per se, but neither did I really allow them to experience the truth of myself — or, maybe, they didn’t allow me to experience it.
I remember that we used to hold parties a lot. We’d get a bunch of people together, a bunch of alcohol, and a good time. Music and video games and card games and whatever else; social situations that were the crux of who we were amongst ourselves, and yet, I always felt just a little bit outside of these. Like somehow, everyone had these connecting inner circles that drew the group as a whole together, and which I existed on the periphery of in every case. Sometimes, I’d sit silently in the party and just observe. Stand back in a corner and take in the ebb and flow of the scenes in front of me, drawing imaginary lines between the people around me; intimate relationships, unrequited loves, years-long bonds of friendship; intense, secret lines connecting everyone that wasn’t me.
I live in a small town. Within a certain age-range, everyone knows everyone not by six degrees of separation, but more by two or three perhaps. There’s a single train track running through a part of the city, and during this time, I lived near it; spots near the tracks – and near the college campus – aren’t prime real estate, and the closer to the tracks you get, the lower the rent (and quality of life) tend to become. I was a poor, self-alienating divorcee at a young age, since my first marriage began and ended before my 20th birthday arrived. Maybe this played a part in the self-perception. Maybe it didn’t, and I held on to it for nothing; whatever the case, that was a crucial part of my identity. I was the one who’d been cast aside, who’d seen friendships come and go in the time that people forged these seemingly-unending bonds with each other. I was the outsider in my own existence. I wondered a lot if I was mentally damaged — either because of the relationship I’d been in, or perhaps that went the other way, and my instabilities could be blamed for its failure.
I’d slink off sometimes to test the limits of my ability to do so. I’d get convinced, watching from my corner, that the party wouldn’t noticed my absence. That my participation was so irrelevant to the overall experience that I could vanish, and nobody would be the wiser. I’d wander off, sometimes half-drunk or more, and just get lost in my thoughts and insecurities. I found myself more than once – for a while, it was maybe a couple of times a month – sitting on the rail of the nearby tracks; I think the illusion of some kind of control, that I could simply sit there and be forgotten, possibly erased from existence, gave me a strange comfort. I’d sit and fume about the lack of a search party or the sounds of the music drifting out through an open door. I’d sit and stare at rocks and broken glass at my feet and let my gaze drift until I was staring down the tracks for miles of empty nothingness.
Every time I went, the result was the same. I’d sit and think and wallow in whatever ennui it was; I don’t think I’d say I was feeling honestly suicidal, because it wasn’t so much a fixation on seeing myself removed from life as it was one of wondering if I was connected to it in the first place. Then, starting gently, the rail would begin to hum underneath me. Small rocks would start to hop at my feet, and a distant whistle would echo through the cool night air. I’d allow my eyes to wander off down whichever stretch of tracks the sound seemed to come from, and I’d continue to think and simply drift in and out of whatever I thought I was feeling until, as the vibrations would intensify and the sound draw ever closer, a light would emerge around the bend of the rails.
In these moments, I probably should have felt fear. I was sitting in the path of something unstoppable and undeniably lethal; and yet, what I’d feel was clarity. The doubts in my acquaintances would melt away, and my concern over not being missed at some ultimately-meaningless drunken writhing mass of twentysomething tension would unravel at my feet. The faces of my few true friends, of my family, of the people I knew did care deeply about me, no matter how long I’d wandered astray, would flash through my mind. I’d stand and step back and slide into some bushes so as not to alarm a conductor to my presence; I’d wait for the lead cars to pass and I’d stand, arms outstretched, eyes closed, enveloped in rushing wind and deafening roars and the shaking ground and know that, for all of whatever I’d been musing on to no end, I was alive and experiencing something that was entirely mine.
I’d find my way back home and the party and the faces and the alcohol; people would ask where I’d been, and I’d say “just taking a walk” and the ones who knew me well would give a knowing glance and that was that. I did talk, at times, with certain people, about specific aspects of these wanderings, but never the reasons. Never the boiling thoughts and likely depression, never the way I felt like I was outside whatever it was we all shared. It took me years to open up about the truth of any of this to anyone, and this is the first time that I’ve even really gone into depth about it, and I’m not sure why I’m doing it still, other than to relieve the pressure of these memories that sometimes dance behind my eyes in moments of similar feelings. I don’t feel disconnected from everyone anymore, but I do still feel like I’m on the outside of a lot of things.
I grow distant. I know I do, and I don’t know if I can stop it or if I want to. Even now, with my loving and wonderful wife — with whom, let me be clear, I always feel deeply connected, even when we’re apart — I see myself drift in and out of other casual friendships and I don’t even know if they’re something I care to maintain. I am happy with my life, and with my wife and wonderful sons. I don’t feel a need to really, truly connect beyond that, most of the time. I do find myself wondering what it’s like to do so, what it’s like to be one of those people with scores of good friends with whom to swap stories and share time and simply be human together, but – as I did once before – I supplant the physical human connection of these with internet relationships, though the medium changes over the years. I feel more connected to some folks I’ve never met in person, and may never meet in person. I connect more with written words than spoken, with emoticons than body language.
I sometimes wonder, still, if there’s something wrong with me. If there’s some underlying mental something-or-other — disease, disorder, quirk — that makes me this way, or if it’s simply another piece of the larger human puzzle, that some of us are really, truly introverted to a degree that gets painted as diseased. But, I know that I am happy, and that there are people – more than I can count, probably – that care about me and that I care deeply about, so spinning my gears about it, as inevitable as it is, becomes an exercise that drives nothing. An exercise that doesn’t need to drive anything, because whether some doctor would label this a disease or not, I’ve found a place that I’m happy. And that’s what matters.