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curiouser and curiouser
the ambiguity of a hug?
by katherine l (aka clevertitania) (@CleverTitania)
6.6.11
general

I had a strange experience today, which lead me to thinking a lot about both the challenges and strengths of my memory, and my odd intimacy problems. Though I suppose it was a series of experiences technically, even if they all took place over about 15 minutes.

I was in the grocery store, just picking up a few things for the weekend. Oddly, when I went to load belt at check-out, and I really looked at my cart, I was a bit embarrassed. It was a lot of junk food, I admit. But on the weekends we work mostly off of leftovers and what can be made when we're all individually hungry. We do dinners during the week, but I have this attitude about cooking on the weekends when the family is perfectly capable of feeding themselves.

First I walked past a woman, pushing a toddler, and being trailed by a teenage boy. The teenage boy was almost past me when I realized it was my son's best friend in junior high. Now, this kid has spent several dinners and sleep-overs at my house. And while yes, I think he's grown at least 6 inches since I last saw him, as soon as I recognized him - which was too late to say hello without looking creepy - I felt stupid for just how long it did take. In the interest of full disclosure, I was paying more attention to his little brother. I'm bad enough about smiling at small children most of the time, but with my little sister now expecting, I'm definitely getting baby-brain.

So I left the main aisles, worked my way through dairy, and I was heading for the check-out when a woman in the meat department said my name. Well, technically she said Kathy. But there was a time, 10+ years ago, where I did go by Kathy. I abandoned it long ago, for several reasons, not the least of which is that Kathy Lynn sounds like one of the blondes on HeeHaw.

With my lack of any visual memory, I don't bother pretending. If I don't recognize someone, I always tell them honestly that I don't and point out said lack of visual memory in whatever way sounds the least like I'm 6th grader teaching a neuroscience class. I admitted that I didn't recognize her. Unfortunately she led with her name, which I'm also not good with, and then she told me we'd worked at the airport (I think she was my nightshift on 9/11, which was surreal to say the least). At that point I of course knew who she was - there were only 5 employees at our booth - and we talked for a few minutes. I was impressed she remembered I had a son. I vaguely remembered she had children but that was it. It's really not lack of consideration or caring; this stuff just doesn't stick. I have cousin's who's kids I can't remember the names of because they all start with D.

So our brief conversation ends and I'm feeling pleasantly surprised. I turn to head down the chips aisle, again heading for the check-outs. I took about 4 steps before I realized that I really did know the man at the other end of the aisle. And apparently my quizzical face was rather humorous, because I got a knowing smile back, accompanied by a short knod. I really hope there were no small children in hearing distance at the time, but I didn't think to look. He stepped away from the group of people he was shopping with, and took a couple steps toward me. I walked around my cart and met him close to half-way and we hugged the way we always used to on the rare occasions we didn't see each other for a couple of days.

The man in question I shall call V. During the period my sister and I call the 'insane years', V was most definitely a fixture. Half of our best stories of insanity feature V; in the rest he's a supporting character. V was the guy who was an amazing friend as long as you didn't count on him to be anything else than that. He was also the guy who was rumored to be a dynamo in bed and slept with at least 90% of the females within our social circle (and no, I'm not answering that, because in this context either answer is embarassing).

The period of insanity lasted roughly four years. If you averaged out the hours, I would wager that in the four years, the primary members of the group spent at least three and a half of them together. This is why I remembered V, when I hadn't seen him in more years than the coworker and in WAY more years than I'd seen my son's friend. His face may not be something I could imagine and describe, but it was at least familiar once it was in front of me.

V was definitely a member of the primary social group. If I could be considered a primary member, I'd probably barely qualify. I was more like the mascot, until my sister replaced me in the role. I almost always had a car, had some money, or was willing to deal with anyone's drama and help. It took 15 years of conversations with my sister to recognize our roles in the group, and accept that we were desperate enough to be included that we let ourselves get used and abused pretty thoroughly. But then again, we were all so far less mature than we thought back then.

V was the male slut, the one with a small but interesting criminal record and a lot of tattoos. He was the sweetheart, who always had a smile for you. He was also often referred to by that W-word that means adding "white" to the N-word that I would never use because I'm caucasian and not allowed. Except back then, I did use it. We all did. We were really foul mouthed little houligans. Which is why I hope there were no small children around for the conversation, because the only words to say when V is walking toward you after 15 years are "Holy shit."

V was also, as I suddenly recall just now, always a great hugger. He was good at making you feel like he was really hugging you. When I started this article I couldn't put my finger on why I felt guilty, but this realization flipped that switch. V hugs you like he means it. But 5 minutes after I said goodbye I found myself thinking, "Did he think I wanted to hug him and came around because of that, or did he actually want to hug me?" and "Was that forced or was he genuinely glad to see me?"

This unfortunate self-doubt is bread from three things. One is the conversations my sister and I have had, where we find the genuine evidence that our presence in the previously mentioned social circle was mostly tolerated for what we had and how much we were willing to give up. The second is my general neurosis that people who say nice things about me are always just doing it to be nice. And the third is an unfortunate experience I had a few years back.

One of my sister's best friends was engaged to a guy I'd gone to school with (you'd think we lived in a farm town). Because of the placement of our last names in the alphabetical order (both W's) we were often seated together from 5th grade through junior high (along with a couple of V's). So one evening we're all socializing, and I reminisced about the few good memories I had of those years. I didn't go on and on about it, and I certainly don't think I painted us as some close friends. In fact, of the boys in that group I could've told you he liked me least.

But I hear later that he was complaining about I was just prattling on about the 'good old days' when nobody really liked me back then. Now, I'm not an idiot. This same group of boys - who eventually all gathered around a single girl who looked a lot like Amy Farrah Fowler from Big Bang Theory - once pelted me with rocks while chanting nasty crap. They drew blood. I have no allusions I was 'popular'.

But I also thought that was jr high, and that the conversations we had when we were forced together were at least reasonably pleasant. A few of us had been big horror movie fans (myself included) and we talked about a lot of movies. I figured it was ok to look back fondly on pleasant discourse without acting like we're still 14 years old. But apparently, even if I was the girl in high school who had no idea people hated the sound of her voice, I'm still said girl and just totally oblivious.

These realities have literally made me question every form of intimacy I've ever experienced. Not because I think I'm still the 16 year old girl playing chauffeur for the cool kids, or because I think my fellow W is right (eventually he got dumped, and turned out to be both stupid and a prick in general). It's that these are some of the most significant relationships I've had in my life, these groups of people who probably don't even think about me anymore. It's how my social life has eroded into these strange little eras carved into the layers of sediment; and some of the eras are just way too empty.

I sometimes talk too much, it's true. But because I'm aware of it, I also try really hard to curb it. I probably laugh a little loud, but that's an involuntary thing and at least you know when I'm really laughing. I try really hard not to be a know-it-all, but I also do know a lot and I like to talk on many subjects. I consciously choose to look people in the eye, and intentionally scatter it enough to avoid creeping them out. I've left behind about as many men/friends as have left me behind. I don't consider this to mean that I'm particularly awesome to be with. I think the even number means that I've made friends who weren't right for me, and lost friends who couldn't deal with me, and all in all I'm at least as engaging a friend as the average person.

The reality is that my lack of social life is mostly by choice. Not so much that I choose to be alone, but that I choose not to make more of an effort to expand that circle due to many intimacy and rejection issues. But it's still a choice, and one I'm OK with for now. I do worry that these realizations about my past will make it even harder to put myself out there when I do decide to do it. And of course there's that nagging worry that I will try only to find out I'm so far far more annoying than I think am.

How weird would it be to poll the attendees of my local Tweet-ups on my irritation score?

But no matter what the future holds, I refuse to let myself think that was a one-sided hug. It was real, because I don't believe V was ever capable of superficial hugs, because he was always sweet and affection type, and because he really did step out and come towards me first. My memory might not be perfect, but I do remember that. And now that I've written it down, I'm golden.

Maybe I do need more of a relationship history to see my past in the proper context. But then again, I also need more money, more time, a personal trainer and mechanic who works pro-bono. I'm kind of used to not getting what I need. So I'll just continue to do the best with what I have.

Authors Note: I wrote the first draft of the previous piece three days ago. I had some (paying) work that prevented me from editing/posting it sooner. Since I do mention events in context of when they happened, I thought that should be noted.


ABOUT KATHERINE L (AKA CLEVERTITANIA)

When I grow up, I want to be; whoever Joss Whedon wants to be, when he grows up. I am a writer because it's the first thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning; aside from eating and using the lavatory of course. My work includes screenplays, short stories, film/TV/music reviews and socio-political commentary. The last one is a fancy way of saying I like to shoot my mouth off on many topics. I excel at using $1.50 words. They gone up, thanks to inflation. Isn't our economy awesome?

more about katherine l (aka clevertitania)

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