Belonging

J and I were closer than some sisters. We’d hang out in the high school auditorium, she with her Bible out. She would cover her ears when my mouth went off like a truck driver’s, ask me to ease up. Apart from the love of music we shared, we were as different as they came. She was pretty, very sweet, smiled easily; a feminine soprano to my contralto. She was Valentine’s Day. I, often in black, Halloween. But we were home when we were together. We often went off by ourselves during lunch. It’s been seventeen years since we last saw one another just before she went overseas. Not long out of college, we were each setting out on our adult way. I feel Jurassic sharing this, but we wrote letters back then. I didn’t have ready access to email. And so we lost touch. About ten years ago I ran into her cousin and got J’s email address. No luck. To think, she wasn’t even supposed to live far. I missed her so much. I’ve since pined about J to my husband who looked for her on Facebook. She and I had only our obsolete maiden names to go by on the dead-end searches for each other. Turns out you don’t want to hire me for a private eye, or my friend’s really good at hiding.

Because she found me last week.

Someone from the world of business wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn. Her married name was foreign to me on the sparse profile page but I recognized the earlier years of her résumé. She had pulled me up pretty easily just Googling what she knew of me. It was surreal. She sounded even more wonderful and kind on the phone than I remembered her. I had a part of my history, a piece of my heart, back. She even emailed me a photo of the two-dollar bill we had signed that she kept all these years. There was my handwriting: Ambrosia, the diner around the block, 6th period. December 4, 1989. I smiled also at the following words, had to share them with you:

I’ve thought of you nearly every time I wrote anything: letters, email, work. Do you know why? You were always a reminder to me to write as well as I can. I don’t know how this will sound to you, but all these years I would ask myself, “If Diana read this, would she like it?” And it would be in lots of different aspects too, such as grammar, word choice, use of jargon, colloquialism, etc. Your high standards back in high school have followed me to this day.

Although I was known as a grammar fiend even back then, I was surprised to learn that my zeal for the full experience with the written word had rubbed off on her like that.

I’m aware of the dynamics in my relationships, why I attract certain people, disinterest others, what I like in someone, what I most certainly don’t. But thinking back, I wasn’t sure why J had been my friend. I planned to ask her in the face-to-face we’re looking forward to. Not to fish for affirmation. More to undo what was like a math problem in my head, for that nice feeling of clarity in the solving. She answered me today before the asking:

You were endlessly fascinating to me 20 some odd years ago with the intensely hard edges one moment and inviting tenderness the next.

Isn’t it interesting seeing what others see in us?

This is an introductory post to the upcoming series that will continue to explore relationships. If you read between the keywords ethnicity and culture in the The Race Around the World, you would’ve seen the series was really about belonging. The heritage and color that mark us into groups are one way we seek to anchor ourselves. You’ll soon be seeing a string of guest posts from wonderful writers who talk about other ways they have struggled to belong. Sometimes life happens and physically makes it hard for us to engage the world. Whatever the circumstances that leave us feeling on the fringe, we find there is a deeper struggle at hand – one with our own self and our fears. For those who missed this piece cast in fiction, I will jump-start our series which we can call:

Outsider, Looking In

I go about nodding and smiling, playing the social conventions that keep my family happy with places to go, people to see. Sing when I’ve lost my voice? Crawl on hot coals? I’ll do it as long as the outings and birthday parties continue to fill the pages of my daughters’ memories. The laughter rings out from the circle of women, muted and distant. My lips move. I cock my head and my hair stirs in the wind. The gaiety refracts to runaway ripples by the time it reaches me.

I am on the outside, looking in. Always.

Somewhere along the way I disqualified from the human race. My body forgot how to sleep, my heart started working real hard. I have taken the girls to the park when my legs threatened to give out, hosted company with my skull threatening to explode. I stopped trying to explain my life to anyone, even to myself. It is a daily battle to summon the strength to be and breathe and jump and work as it comes so effortlessly to the rest. I look on, hungry for what others don’t even know they need. I sweat harder than any of them and find, with the sunset, I have walked in place all day. This is my normal. Dreams, my beloved dreams, dance beautifully just beyond reach.

So I stand here, an alien among the living. Palms against glass wall cool and taller than my deepest resolve. My eyes follow the wall to the top where it gives way to sky. And I know I will make it over, though I fall a thousand heights.

For everyone who feels benched or cut off. Alone.

86 thoughts on “Belonging

  1. I’m a bit confused. You have mentioned that you have a young son but the section under “Outsider, Looking In” mentions daughters. There doesn’t seem to be another contributor’s name attached. Do you have daughters as well as a son HW?

  2. How wonderful that you reconnected with your friend after so many years. The internet can be a a great tool. Alone and isolated from the world is not a good way to live. I’ve been reconnecting with the world in over the past twelve months and I am so much better for it. Thanks to the antipsychotic “seroquel” for changing my thoughts that affected these changes. It allowed me to reconnect with the world I had withdrawn from. And I agree that playing the game and going through the motions is not truly living.

    • The reunion is seriously amazing. I’m glad to hear the connections you’ve made have enriched your life. Not sure you read the second portion right but the piece was about a woman forced to go through the motions for the physical challenges that keep her from functioning.

  3. Wow D, this one spiraled. I was all ready to make my usual jokes about you being a Jurassic goth, but then it got happy about a long lost friend reuination (yes that should be a word), and it made me hopeful for finding people I’ve lost contact with and have thought about every day, but then you got sad when I thought you’d be happy. I can see now why you pine over hitting each ‘post’. I had to read the 2nd half a few times. I struggle weather this is you or if you’re telling a fictional story. I hope it’s not you, because that would sadden and scare me, but then again, I hope it is you being shareful (yes that should be a word) because it would give some of us hope that we’re not alone in our thoughts/feelings. We’re not all as happy as we seem. We’re not all living such kick ass lives as our social media pages portray. Maybe I feel alone, despite the contrary appearance. Or maybe I’ve read too much into it and you think me a fool. But either way, this post meant did pause me a lot.

    • What is it with you and the (increasingly) generous name-calling here? *Stick tongue out* But you happened to nail it. Goth comes real close to the teen grammar mafia. Do stay hopeful. I know of someone who found his half-sister via facebook. Crazy! I do like the word concoctions.

  4. I havr never done anything like everybody else, if others were doing something one way, I had to go and find a completely different way for it to be done. I think its people who are different that make the world great, I mean if everybody was the same life would be really boring and kinda suck.

    • LOL Love it. It is certainly the out-of-boxers who have moved and shaped this world.

      Scrawled in my drafts pile (not sure which post they were going up on) are some notes on how I have always found myself outside, and how I’ve been happy and comfortable for the most part to use that line of separation as a deep, sure foothold for my identity. Glad (and pleased) to know you are darn happy outside that box, thank-you-very-much.

      *wink*

  5. I read two different stories here (I also see how they are connected), and I relate so much with both of them. I have a friend from college, our relationship very much like the relationship you talk of in the first half of your post. Only I lost her, and have not yet found her again.

    I too have done so much of what feels like “running in place” for the sake of my children and family. Some days it feels like a hopeless race I cannot stop running. I work very hard every day to focus on the little things, the laughter of my children, the joy they find in the most trivial of things, a few quiet moments here and there, whatever it may be. It helps, it really does.

    • Leigh, thanks so much for the thoughtful, alert read. You got it: they are related (‘s why I said J and I were home when we were together). Oh, I hope you find your friend!!

      I cherish the things you remind me to hold onto in the mad dash of living and trying-to-write-in-the-living. Thank you.

      Xxxx
      Diana

  6. Well, there was a bunch of us who were inseparable during our teens. We lost touch for 20+ years. Then, in the space of a wee, reconnected! Then, one of us died one week before I was to visit him

  7. This post really touched me Diana.
    I’m not sure if it’s your life or a story, but it resonates with the truth of loss, alienation, reconnection, living with masks, and the universal journeys we face. I look forward to learning more. And yes, your precision and power with words comes through and would be what a friend or sister would remember about you. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your heart and journey.

    PS. I have felt like an outsider for much of my life too. I still wrestle with it and how to connect over the chasms of fear, loneliness, depression, etc. My blog has been a great source of connection, though not quite as satisfying as in person.

    Happy Independence Day!

    • Really appreciate the feedback, Brad. It is because most – if not all – of us have known what it is to feel like a red herring that I’ve been exploring relationships and boundaries. I’m so glad your blog has done that for you. It is a beautiful place where we can see your heartbeat (said see on purpose, not hear) and you have some steady readers. =)

      Love,
      D.

  8. D:

    I am so glad you are segwaying the race series into outsider series. This was the biggest revelation to me from the race series: feeling like an outsider may originate from skin/ethnicity-related prejudices/perceptions, but, ultimately, it is your perception of yourself and your place in the world that determines your experience. I have stopped and thought more than once since participating before falling back on old perceptions, and you know what, almost always, anything negative originates from my own self hatred/hang-ups, etc. So, thank you for this new found awareness. I am looking forward to reading. You are a cutting edge blogger. Just fascinating stuff.

    Fondly,
    E

    PS: Glad you reconnected with your childhood friend. I had a similar experience about six months ago. In my case, she and I had drifted apart before we moved away, and the feeling of being dropped/left behind always stayed with me. That reconnection was critical to my ability to move on from that feeling.

    • E, You keep giving me chills. Bring me a sweater next time. LOL. Hey, I’ve been thinking of you since I commented on your board last night. I wondered/suspected (nothing new, what we spoke of, what you confirm here) if the realizations you described on that post were behind (or parallel offshoots) of the wish to be accepted by and the hostility you perceived from Afr-Americans. Meaning, the dynamic with those outside your race was related to the struggles you can trace way back. Thx for the feedback on the helpfulness of the race (sure is great to know, was a hec of a lot of work =) ) and I’m so glad things turned out well with your friend.

    • E, You have said so well what I thought as I read contributions to this topic. Some do feel acceptance is dependent on race, but they fail to see the inner man or soul is really what makes the difference. What if we were all blind? What would we blame then?

  9. Diana, i love that you reconnected to your friend. I lived in six countries growing up and it was really healing to find my friends on FB after feeling like they were lost to me forever. I hope when you meet it’s a wonderful reunion (Once or twice when meeting I’ve experienced another loss, discovering what we had in common we no longer do). I appreciate you sharing your feeling of aloneness. I have often felt alien being the cultural mishmash that I am. Thank you for being vulnerable in sharing how you’ve coped at times. You sound like you are beautifully very much part of this human race.

    • Did cross my (and my husband’s) mind that things might not pan out in person but she and I seem to lead parallel lives in some big ways. Her husband is a holistic health practitioner and they are converts to homeschooling. And her boy is not that much older than ours. Really awesome. LOL Very sweet of you to affirm I’m human – though your loving regards went deeper than that. Thx for being here.

      Xxx

  10. Looking forward to your series my friend. This is a great warm-up, so to speak. How wonderful that you and your friend reunited after so many years! And yes, it is fascinating to find out what others see in us. We don’t often know though, do we? Happy July 4th to you…see you soon 😀 xx

    • Sometimes yearbook entries, especially the senior year, will reveal what other think. Try looking back at a few signatures to see what friends said.

      • Hi Beth and thank you for your suggestions, but here in the UK we don’t do such things as yearbooks, at least not in my day back in the 70s! We Brits weren’t good at that kind of thing, bit better now though I think. I always loved reading my kids’ yearbooks though (they grew up in California) to see what their friends said about them 😉

  11. As you know I have more than one ethnicity represented in my family with two adopted children and a “foreign” husband, but last week I had the shock of my life when I found a listing for my eldest adopted daughter in Findagrave.com. One does not always find the person before it is too late.

  12. Oh my – you’ve got two blogs here. The first one: My best friend and I, the sister I never had, lost contact in our early twenties for 10 years. All through that 10 years I dreamed about her, and heard her voice in my ears. It was amazing when we connected again (yes, on facebook). As for the second post – wow. Beautifully written.

  13. Yea!! Reunions are so nice. Glad you found your friend again, and looking forward to reading your new series on “belonging” 🙂

  14. Thanks for this. Both themes in the blog intrigued me, the former because I had a chance meeting with an old high school friend that turned out to be significant in many ways, the latter because this theme of being an outsider – of not fitting in – recurs in many conversations. I sometimes wonder if it is a part of the human condition. There are, however, people who seem to be ever at ease with others, but I wonder whether they, too, have this experience but are better at hiding it.

    • Right. I wonder the same. I believe everyone feels it, some for longer seasons, others in a defining way much of their life. There definitely are those who are gifted with social skills and attract people, but I think their challenge is on the flip side of us misfits’. They end up really needing that ongoing affirmation (spoken or not) it can become an idol and a (perhaps tiring) ongoing endeavor to stay popular. One way this might play out would be the woman who relies on her looks to have those doors open for her wherever she goes. Until those looks go, or age comes. Whichever happens first.

  15. I love your friend, J, and the way she is able to articulate your friendship and who you are to her. Not every friend is able to do that. It is a gift to be able to say to another how they have enhanced your life. I love how you found one another, as I have experienced the same, with the internet being what it is.

    • You know what, Jeanne? J is not a blogger but I will share your comment with her. She really deserves such affirmation. Thanks so much for reading with heart. I’m so happy to hear your own experiences resonate! You are busy giving. I hope you have received much from that friendship.

      Love,
      Diana

  16. Interesting, how the friends we made in our teens and 20s are the friends we have for life. There is something about the bonding process. As for on the outside looking in, D, I found this bothered me as a teenager but it ceased to bother me as I grew older. I think it has to do with being happy with who I am and not needing others for affirmation. But who knows. Maybe I am a hermit by nature. 🙂 Glad you found your friend, and that is one of the great benefits of the Internet. I’ve also found it great for reconnecting with family as well as friends. –Curt

    • Yes, Curt. There really is something about the connections we make in those years that are still formative but forge by self-awareness. I do know you can relate to the feeling of an outsider and remember your comment under the post at OM’s but hey, that is wonderful that you are more grounded in that area. =) Your comfort with yourself and others comes through in your interactions out here. I mean, we gotta grow and grow up sometime, right? =) Knowing your history better helps me appreciate the ease you have found.

  17. How wonderful to have found your friend, that person whose presence in your life part-formed who you are becoming. I have a a couple of someones from my uni days but all attempts to track them down have so far failed. I rely on a few slightly orange-ing, fading polaroids that capture a couple of moments that summer in France … And then there’s Ravel’s Bolero that takes me back to a winter birthday party and other memories of a different French summer.
    The past and the people who live there still echo in my heart today, distant beats that are close enough to miss still.

  18. I’m catching up a little on your posts, and just want to say specifically to this one, that I have always felt cut off and on the outside. But somehow it has slowly offered more comfort to me than a sense of alienation. Your reuniting with your friend certainly demonstrates how things happen when and as they were meant to. I enjoy your writing so much and, more than enjoy, feel inspired by its subtle honesty and conviction in the rhythm and reflection and wisdom in its words. Blessings. XO

    • Wow, this precious comment drowned in the feedback. You are amazing! Are you aware as to why the feeling of being an outsider has grown to offer you comfort? And thank you for the golden encouragement.

      Love,
      Diana

      • Hi, Diana, and your so very welcome! Yes, I think my post ‘Celebrate’ answered your question – easier for me to express it in poetry. The feeling of being an outsider “it intoxicates my life with meaning/and escape from meaning/and the passions that make me teeter/on the edge of becoming unrecognizable/to everyone but myself.” XO ❤

  19. Every time I stop in, I wind up asking myself why I don’t do so more often. Beautiful post. I’m glad the second half is fiction. It made my heart squeeze and even as I was reading I was thinking, “how can I reach her, tell her she isn’t alone?” This is a beautiful example of how our experience is, in many ways, universal even in the midst of the individual.
    Thank you for a lovely post. I’m happy that you found your friend.

    • You’re giving me chills, Cheri. What beautiful, rich feedback, full of heart. I cherish every word. And you put your finger on it:

      how our experience is, in many ways, universal even in the midst of the individual.

      This is exactly what I’ve wanted to look at with you all in the new series, and how I try to write everytime.

      Grateful for your time and support,
      Diana

  20. “Dreams, my beloved dreams, dance beautifully just beyond reach.” I love this, and I love that you organize these series. I want to read all of it; I’ll try. I’m running so far behind right now I often think, ‘It’s 2014? I thought it was still 2009 . . .’

  21. Pingback: Readers’ Choice | A Holistic Journey

    • So very sweet of you to ask, Beth. J and I are great. We turned out to have led parallel lives in many ways (even in the same city at one point!), each with just one son (who love each other’s company), and she is among the kindest, most thoughtful women I know. And thx for the link. I am familiar with both the blogger and the cook she featured. Hope you are well.

      Love,
      D.

  22. I tried re-connecting with a childhood friend who had meant so much to me at the time. I didn’t have many friends being shy, and feeling like an outsider, but we were so close like sisters. I searched Facebook, looking for her sisters first, and I finally found her. She was not on Facebook though.
    I wrote her and she answered me, she said she was going to write back and send some pictures, but she never did, even though I wrote her several times afterward.
    It bothered me that she couldn’t take the time to answer back, I was disappointed, because I thought we could resume what we once had, but I guess it wasn’t that important to her. She has her life and family, she had told me she was married and had a teenage daughter.
    Wow. I never could imagine that. I still see us as kids. It seems like only yesterday, but it was a lifetime ago.
    I still have her Email. She has mine. I am not going to write again. Will just keep the memories.

    • That is too bad. I resigned to the fact that relationships often have their seasons. The present is where we live, not the past. The wonderful friend I wrote about here had to pull back these few months, as she’s going through a lot, but I know it’s not personal and we’re running on parallel tracks, each working through stuff. We will come together again. Thanks for sharing. Speaking of email, I haven’t gotten yours. =) No hurry. Just wanted to help.

      • Oh, I am sorry. I thought I gave it to you.
        It is KthStefani@aol.com
        I do not mind hearing from anyone, and have no problem with my Email out there.
        I hope that she eventually will re-connect, but I’m pretty sure she wont.
        I think that part of her life she just wanted to forget, for some reason, she wanted to move on and move away.
        I will send her a message on her birthday. I forgot to do it this year.
        It will make me feel better, even if I do not hear from her.
        Whatever happened to her in the intervening years, seems to have been positive, as she sounded happy in her message to me.

      • I will do. The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I should have a freer week now, so I will get on that. I have so many people that I need to Email.. I am just running behind.

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