A good laugh is hard to come by. So is fitting in.
Well, for me it always has.
If you could go back about 10 years, I was sitting in the Dos Hermanos bar at the bottom of the Sears Tower after work from the crime lab on a Friday evening. I was 28 years old and while I had many social contacts, both personal and work affiliated, I had always struggled with a distinct missing component in my temperamental makeup. I could not easily laugh or fit into a group.
As I sat there in the bar, I was surrounded by about 6 of my colleagues, all whose company I enjoyed immensely. Julie was one I had known the longest, as we’d begun our training together 4 years before – 18 months of grueling lectures, lab practical exams, mock trial preparations, and supervised casework. After training, she had transferred to a different lab than the one I was to work at. She had come in for some new training at my laboratory and as we were at the end of this training session, we decided to go out to celebrate.
As I sat there with Julie on my left, and Dan (my friend/mentor/father figure who worked with me in my lab) on my right, I listened to the jokes being cracked and the laughter generated by the camaraderie of my co-workers- turned- friends. I distinctly felt separate from the jocularity and wondered what was wrong with me that laughter didn’t flow from me with ease that it did my friends. Well, actually, I knew that something within me was broken, but I did not know how to fix it.
I’d been accused of being aloof and uptight a few times in my life. But I insist that was not my doing. Growing up in a home that rejected the very nature of who I am, caused me to distrust others with my vulnerabilities. I accidentally closed off myself to people who had no reason to hurt me.
I didn’t want to be that way. I sat there that night, staring at my margarita, feeling a weariness to my soul and feeling disconnected from the very people I cared about, simply because I could not join in. My heart broke a little, and tears welled up in my eyes.
Julie, dear ebullient, wavy-blond-haired, blue-eyed, intelligent and wise-cracking Julie, noticed I was looking morose and said to me, “Casey are you crying? You’re supposed to be having fun”. I don’t remember exactly what she said next (some smart-ass comment to be sure), but I think she hugged me (I’d like to think she did anyway) and I do remember breaking down in tears, then laughing so hard at the emotional well-spring that came out in me. It was a very emotionally charged night. I was grateful to be surrounded by people who at least tried to comfort me, even if they could not understand it.
I think about how I am now. I still tend to be a little reserved, but I do find it a bit easier to be spontaneous and laugh. But when something reaches deep inside me and pulls out a belly laugh, I know it’s something I can’t take for granted. That’s something special right there.
The same goes true with people in my life. I think that’s why it’s so hard right now to fight against the melancholy that threatens to swallow me up whole.
Five years ago, I had a full life. I had friends. Granted, most of them were my co-workers, but I LIKED my co-workers. They happened to share a lot of responsibility, and personal history with me. They cared about what was going on in my life. They loved me, and I deeply loved them. Maintaining the friendships are harder now that I no longer work with them, but I do get to see them at least once a year on Halloween (like I did last weekend). And every year, the same promises are made – that we MUST get together more than 1x a year. I think this year I’m going to hold them to that.
Now, I see people in short windows of time. 5-10 minutes at most when I go get my kids from school. I feel so damn pathetic that it’s not enough for me. And I feel guilty that I need so much and my husband, who does a good job when he’s at home, can’t give me what I need for the 9 hours he’s gone to work.
I’m a social introvert (paradoxical, I know). I need people, even though I sometimes get too much and get exhausted by them. I was reminded of how nice it was to be a part of something social when I went to a NaNoWriMo writing event at the local bookstore last night. I almost didn’t go, afraid I wouldn’t fit in. I even called my husband on the way over there and told him I had no idea why I was going. I fully expected to be disappointed.
I was really, pleasantly surprised when I walked in to the coffee shop inside the bookstore. I had a nice little chat with the young male coffee barista, who made my Raspberry Mocha Kiss, and had a nice smile and wished me luck trying to find the writer’s group.
I did find the group, and I sat with 3 other women, one younger than me and two older than me. As we sat together, working on our novels, I was feeling quite happy to feel a natural ease with these women. They shared writing tips with me, suggested I stop trying so hard to be perfect, and seemed interested in my story and I was interested in theirs. I was also pleased to get some feedback from one who was an English teacher who fully believed I had what it took to be a writer. It was really kind of nice to hear that vote of confidence.
When two of the girls left, I sat with the third one who asked me what I did besides take care of my girls and write. I had to think about it a moment. Sometimes I forget that’s not all I’ve done in the past 5 years.
I was able to talk with her about the year and a half I took trying to research and help my daughter with selective mutism. I actually marveled at the comfort I felt talking to her about it. Being shy herself in new situations, she could relate to my daughter’s discomfort in social settings. It’s been a very long time since I had someone seem to care and seemed fully interested in what I had to say, and I could feel comfortable sharing our story with. And as I was telling my story, I actually felt a little proud of what I had helped my daughter work through. Sometimes I am amazed at the things I’ve accomplished. And I am definitely amazed at my little girl and what she’s accomplished (and the other girls for different reasons).
The conversation flowed smoothly all 3 hours we were there and it felt as if I’d been completely accepted as “one of them”. I realized as I left that night that I knew what it was like to be in a place that felt like I belonged and I wasn’t an outsider looking in.
I had gone home very happy. Feeling for the first time a community with others who actually shared my passion for writing. It wasn’t strange or bizarre or a “waste of time”. It was something they felt just as compelled to do. And it was lovely to fit in so well.