98. Thousand Yard Stare

“The way we act like strangers
After all that we had
We act like we had never met”

‘Sunset’ by The XX


Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

I was hoping that you wouldn’t realise I’d gone, and that you would forget you ever knew me. People lose touch all of the time when they move house, change jobs, have a baby, get a new partner or phone, make the big announcement that they’re going travelling or coming off social media or simply just drop off the radar. This was none of the above. There was no drama, no shouting, no words to regret. But this situation was far from ok. I couldn’t take any more. Your contempt was exhausting. I was frustrated by being punished for something I didn’t do, for being adored, rejected or avoided on a whim, according to your moods.

After all the effort of hoping, looking for signs, wishing, trying, mourning for a future life lost, I realised it was pointless. You were never going to love or even comfort me again, so I gave in. You didn’t want me. I know that now.

I felt nothing. There was a hollow, new emptiness. It was as if all the hunger suddenly disappeared. My shoulders dropped. I slept again and had energy to think about other things. I was distraction-free, calm, serene.

I had quietly closed the door, locked it and walked away. I genuinely no longer cared about you or your life. Even knowing that I’d never look you in the eyes ever again, didn’t give me that twinge in my belly. You didn’t exist.

After a couple of months of absolute zero contact or any recognition from me, you began to make an effort to connect. If this is what the PUA’s are teaching, then they are way off, believe me. The one who is least invested holds the power.  Except that this is my life, not a game. I’m grateful to have got through this, and relieved to have dodged a bullet back there. I like who I am now, but unfortunately, so do you.

I’ve kept the good memories of how we were, in a little box, neatly on the shelf, because I might want to have a look in it from time to time, but not yet.




52. In a Sense

“It’s so easy to sing it to a crowd, but it’s so hard my love, to say it to you out loud.”

‘No Light, No Light’ by Florence and the Machine

I very often mumble or trip over my words when I’m talking, or say something that’s immediately mortifying. For a society that builds its socialising around alcohol, it has taken me decades to learn surprisingly little, except to not even try again. Pubs are not for me. Deep friendships have died within a short conversation, and for months I have dissected the interaction until I know not what is true and actually took place, or what I thought did happen. I find it so difficult to socialise in a group, so generally stick with one-to-one interactions or activities like craft classes or concerts where talking is not a requirement.

Yet, when I write, I have no hand-wringing fear of regret. I’ve always freely given myself in poems that were spoken in assemblies or sung as lyrics. Long-forgotten beaus with my love letters kept in shoeboxes for years. Twitter/texting conversations with the exact same content that would be in my handwritten diary – that is if I didn’t regularly destroy all paper traces of my thoughts.

An imagined intended audience, whether there or not, lifts the writing over an invisible barrier and releases it. Much of the time, it is an entirely fictitious stranger inside my own head. The permanence is liberating. I’ll never know a fraction of the people who’ve read or listened to things I’ve written, or their opinions about it.

I still cringe over something trivial I said to someone years ago, who no longer remembers my name, but not think twice about writing about a raw, desperate moment for anyone to read.

I’m secure, self-aware and know myself well enough to be receptive and grateful for feedback from immediate family and friends, but I wouldn’t censor my writing for them, like I try to do so often verbally and fail. But I want to respond, not react. Writing is way more comfortable a way of relating to others than talking. It is not the curation of a persona, but rather a way to sort out the jumble into a list of organised words, to communicate more effectively.

I’ve been told I can act, and take direction, but I wouldn’t voluntarily view any recordings until it was long over, if ever. I do dance like no-one’s watching, and they may very well be covertly filming it, but I’d never want to see it.

My screen name is the muddle inside my own head. When I’m upset, my head is a shed.

I know exactly why I do this and I’m working on it. Judgement, rejection, awkwardness, acceptance. The claustrophobia of crowds; to absorb and filter their emotions if I am expected to try to find common ground. I cannot fit into the space allocated to me. It drains me. Inexplicable crying at gigs. I’m invisible and rarely myself. Vulnerability and the possibility of meaningful connection gets easier with fewer people around me.

Give me a heads-up on how you are, so I can prepare and tune in. Surprise me with a curveball and I may be so immediately overwhelmed that I recoil and need to retreat with a quick exit. A permanent one if I find out someone did this on purpose because I need to learn not to be “so sensitive and take things so personally.” I might be crushed easily, but I don’t need to be fixed because I am not broken. I have a friend who recognises this; when I need to “de-stress my distress.” Time alone and my batteries recharge, that is if I’m not ruminating on some stupid thing I’ve said.

42. Sonder

sonder, n. the realisation that everyone is living a life as complex and separate as your own.

It was a shock to find out that I didn’t mean as much to them or was not as important in their lives as I thought I was. Lower down in the pecking order. I think the term that is kindly used is “people have different priorities.”

They said they were keeping it quiet in case it didn’t work out. Then they just assumed I already knew and was cool about it. Being discrete and respecting their privacy. Polite.

It’s difficult to be calm and collected when you’ve just found out that two people you’ve known since you were kids have, (deep breath), been going out for six months, got married yesterday, and the first you hear of it is right now at her birthday party when they announce they are having a baby together.

“We wanted to wait until after 12 weeks, to make sure everything was ok with the baby.”

The words hung in the air. Time slowed. My mind was speeding. Like the time I saw the taxi come towards the car and I knew we were going to crash into it but I didn’t do anything to stop it happening. I could have shouted to the driver to “look out!” or grabbed the wheel myself, but I did nothing. It felt like I had so much time, but it was a fraction of a second at most.

I joined in with the clapping and smiling. Hugged them when it was my turn and kissed my congratulations to her parents.

I had no idea. At all. Of any of it. I don’t recall that one had ever even mentioned to me in passing that they thought of the other in that way before.

I know people keep whatever they like private. I’m not entitled to know anything about anyone.

An anxious conversation starts up in my head. “It’s just that… you would have thought… it is me after all… I’m not just anyone… It has nothing to do with me… am I really that naive? Stop making this about me. I don’t factor in this. Get over yourself woman. It was their choice to do the whole “ta-da!” thing. I’m not taking that away from them. People can tell people whatever they like, whenever they want. Or not. It’s up to them. They’ve shared a house for years. Half the people here thought they were going out anyway.”

I feel like the young Briony Tallis in ‘Atonement’ when she doesn’t understand what’s going on, or know what to do with the information she has, but no-one will explain anything to her because it’s none of her business.

Right now it stings. I’m winded. I need to catch my breath. This is going to take a little time to process, of which I will have plenty, during these next few months.

In the meantime, I’ll top up some glasses and mingle with the guests.

“No, I had no idea. Yes, it is a surprise. A lovely surprise. Yes, I’m a bit emotional. It’s a lot to take in. Look, my hand is still shaking. I know! Like a whirlwind. You must be delighted. I never expected tonight to turn out like this.”

I hate surprises. My blood drains cold at the idea of spontaneity. I need time to prepare. My mind has to marinate, soak, absorb. I know myself so well. I know that my first reaction is not always my true opinion. I only have to be here for another 45 minutes, an hour at most. Everyone knows I always leave a party early, that I get overwhelmed by too many people. I am genuinely well chuffed for them, I really am. I can’t always have advance warning of a surprise though, because that’s the point, which for an INFJ poses a dilemma.

I just need time for it to sink in. I don’t know how I feel.