Friday, February 22, 2008

Fiction, Mood piece: Pathos

I’m 27, and I miss sleeping.

I’ve always been sort of an outsider, I guess you could say. My parents moved around a lot when I was a child. I don’t blame them for it; transferring to new jobs that paid better meant being able to provide a better life for my brother and I, but still… even though I laud their motives and know I’d probably make the same choice if put in their position, I never really got used to being forcibly ripped away from all of the things that I found comforting, time and time again.

It’s hard, when you are a kid, to come to a new town, a new neighborhood, or a new school, and it gets you from both sides. Not only do you have to say goodbye to old friends whom you’ll likely never see again, and say goodbye to the places where you made happy memories together, but it also sucker-punches you upon arrival. You’re ‘the new kid.’ You speak a little differently. You dress a little differently. You don’t get the inside jokes that have been circulating in your classes for years. You are smarter, or dumber, or different in so many tiny ways that might be imperceptible to adults – but not to children.

Children notice, and until you become one of them through assimilation, children hurt.

I suppose I started turning away from social situations and away from making friends at a younger age, and as a result of trying to escape children’s relentless mocking, I turned my mind inward. While other children played tetherball, four-square, or wall-ball, I sat against the edge of the building and made up my own games in my head. It wasn’t as fulfilling as playing with other kids, but at least it was safer.

Fast-forward some eighteen-odd years. I’m intelligent – graduated with honors from my doctoral program and completed some post-doctoral education too. I’m successful – I own my own business. I’m working on building the life that I always pictured in my head – I’m writing my novel, continuing my torrid love-affair with completing additional college credits, and feeling more healthy and fit that I have in years. But I’m also desperately lonely and have the vast majority of my conversations silently inside my head. The bulk of my non-internal social interaction comes from my one-sided conversations with my pet cockatiels, half of whom are still so afraid of me after six months that they flee to the opposite side of their enclosure when I approach unless I’m holding treats in my hands. I don’t have any long-term friends, and a recent move across the country to a new home has only isolated me more. I’m 27, and I’m alone.

I like myself. I’m talented, imaginative, polite, urbane, educated, and mentally stable. I don’t condone or engage in violence, show compassion for those weaker than myself, and regularly engage in volunteer service. I have a marvelous singing voice that a music teacher once told me could be the basis for a solid career in classical vocal music, and I like to think that I have a certain ‘voice’ of my own when writing. I am a fair hand at both interior decorating and flower arrangement, and because of my broad education I like to think I have something intelligent to say on almost every issue. Heck, I’ve even saved a life (even if you don’t count my regular trips to the blood bank). I’m stylish, even if conservative in my apparel – and always ensure that I look nice, even if I feel empty inside. Despite liking myself and almost every aspect of my life, other people don’t relate well to me.

Social interactions seem to follow a pattern. From what I read and seen, many young kids in high school have experimented with sex. Sometime in college they start having meaningful relationships, and shortly after college, they get married, and start families. Some move faster; some move slower - but the timeline doesn't usually budge more than a half-dozen years or so. Most of my acquaintances from high school and college have already gone down this path, or are in the process of doing so. They have wives, husbands, and young children. I want to do this... to have this, too. I stayed in college for an extra year, entered a graduate program, and even attained some post-doctoral education all hoping to stumble across the woman who makes me feel truly alive. I’ve never found her. I’ve never known a woman to flirt with me, or even have a ‘schoolyard crush’ on me. I’ve only had one relationship that lasted for six months, and I gladly accepted her ‘trust’ issues without complaint, because she was at least a woman who was willing to spend time talking to me. It was only after four months of dating that she trusted me enough to hold my hand. When I shyly tried to kiss her cheek one night after a date, she broke up with me, saying I was moving too fast for her. I’m 27, and I’ve never kissed a woman.

My only real joy is found inside my head. When I sleep, my mind gives me what life has not. She’s always different in the brief bits that I can remember. Sometimes she’s tall, sometimes short. She’s blond, brunette, raven-haired, or red-headed. She has freckles and green eyes, or maybe they are clear baby-blues. Once they were even lavender. I don’t ever know her name, but when I'm there, in that nonexistent place, I don't need to. All that matters is how she acts and how that makes me feel. She’s playful, sweet, and accepting, and when she turns her eyes on me, it’s like she’s making a secret joke that only the two of us understand. Her smile is overpowering. When she looks at me, laughs with me, hugs me, and tells me that she’ll always be there for me… with me… there’s a rushing sensation, lightheadedness, and strange sort of feeling – almost as if you were falling from a great height down, down into her eyes. And you can’t look away – even if you wanted to.

Sometimes, she forsakes things for our love – family, money, power. Sometimes I leave everything behind to revel in pure unbridled joy of being near something so… adorable. Sometimes we marry. Other times we simply sit together beside a fire, have dinner in a restaurant, or lie on a couch talking while she rests her head on my chest and I stroke her hair.

And then I wake up. I should be thinking of putting on my suit and tie, driving down to my office, pasting a fake smile on my face, and immersing myself in my work. Instead, I’m lying alone in my bed, in my rented room, with the silvery sound of her giggles still echoing in my ears, and tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, and in the shadow of my rapidly receding dream memories, the world seems a little colder and a little greyer.

I’m left wondering if somewhere out there, she’s having the same dreams. She looks forward to our next meeting, even though she can’t quite see me clearly. She wants to know where we’re going on our next date, what we’ll talk about, and whether I’ll finally find a way to let my subconscious kiss her.

I’m 27, and I just want to be happy.

Happy, like I am in my dreams.