I remember, entirely without fondness, those nights in childhood when my “friends” and I thought it was a great idea to spend the night at one another’s houses. What could be better than extending the illusion bought during recess and other stolen moments of playing together that we were such great friends that spending 24+ hours together would somehow enhance the “friendship”? My own participation in this ritual and seeming rite of passage was reluctant – at the time I really thought I wanted to do it, and that if I did it, I would somehow grow accustomed to it and how awkward and uncomfortable it always was, particularly for a person like me (shy, quiet, accommodating and always aiming to please – willing to endure hell for the sake of keeping peace). And endure I did. If I once went to someone’s house, I might have been suffering in silent misery, as I often did, but if I had decided I was staying there, I stayed. The only memorable exception to this happened much later, when I was in high school. I had been invited to someone’s overnight birthday party – a girl who was friends with friends, not really my friend directly. My discomfort outweighed my sense of wanting to preserve social harmony; I went home, mostly because it was time to acknowledge that even the friends in that situation were not really my friends.
But one of the strangest scenarios in these overnight adventures were the times when you would get a kid who was like an overeager puppy – so excited to come and stay with you, talking about all the things you would do together when they got there, how you were their best friend ever… and so on. And once they were there, and darkness started to fall, they also whimpered like a little puppy away from its mother for the first time, eventually the whole thing escalating into panic attacks and tears that no one but their mother could calm. This resulted in middle-of-the-night phone calls to their parents, who promptly came to pick them up, saying, “Maybe we can try this again next year when XXXXX is a bit more socially mature.”
I imagined that those kinds of events had ended when I became an adult. Imagine my surprise to find myself in a not entirely dissimilar situation with a full-grown adult who did everything short of calling mommy on the phone to come and get him (and he might have done had his mum been in the same country). I don’t really know how to apply words to this – to describe how jarring this is or how intensely it really takes me back to that awkward place in which I spent so much of my childhood. Really looking at the whole situation, though, all the same pieces were there, and had I not wanted to buy into the illusion now as much as I did when I was a child, I would have seen, understood and never let things reach this stage. I could have set aside the eager-to-make-friends kid I had been and let my inner, overreaching “parent” take over (since, as we know, I have always been a bit of a senior citizen) and be reasonable. Yes, reasonable. I could have seen that it was the same pattern playing out – the eager puppy, full of excited plans, grand words, high and undeserved praise – all empty, really. Not that nothing had been true in the friendship – just that it was applicable in a “limited-time-only” kind of way (not unlike the KFC Double Down sandwich. HA!). That is, when we were “at recess” together or spending time in our fertile imaginations, things were beautiful. But reality is different. Long-term reality is apparently worthy of panic and backpedaling and fearful apologies that cite all the reasons why I should not feel bad, i.e. because it’s “not about X, and it’s not about Y” – but I know, because these are the first and only things mentioned, that it is exactly about and mostly about X and Y.
I am not sure that I have ever been in a weirder situation. I have been in situations that I became a part of because I wanted to believe in them even if I knew it was a foolish idea because I always hope things will be different than reality has taught me. Sometimes someone – a friend on the playground or a casual wanderer through my life’s landscape – will pique my interest enough, show just enough understanding and enthusiasm – that I set aside the doubt and step furtively into the house constructed of walls that some other person built. I did not construct these illusions – I just watched and went along with it because it seemed like such a welcome respite from everything else. Because I wanted to believe maybe the walls they built would somehow, finally, stand – and be solid.
I get something even from the failures (something positive) and reinforcement that I really need to listen only to my instinct and absolutely nothing else – but ultimately the negative outweighs the positive and is always an expensive lesson (both literally and figuratively) – sending me further into the guarded cocoon where I live out most of my days.
From Portrait d’Une Femme
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days