J and I were closer than some sisters are. 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’d often go 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 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 I asked:
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.