Thursday, September 6, 2012

All the lonely people


There are a lot of ways I could spin this post. As a journalist, I know all about bias. My previous posts have all been written with a positive filter. Today, I’m gonna try to go with honesty.
My life in Ohio looks something like this: Monday through Friday, work til 5, when I’m bursting out the door ready for a nice evening. Ride home from work jamming to a mix CD from one of my friends from home, getting a little nostalgic, then pull up to my house, and get the sinking feeling as I realize no one is home, and

I.

Am.

Alone.

Quick, turn up some music, I think. I can’t handle the silence. Get out of the house; find a source of human interaction, even if it’s just to sit on the porch watching the cars roar by in their constant muffler-removed stream. I’m a textbook definition extrovert – being alone is only OK in small doses, otherwise it is exhausting and I arrive at work the next day starved of community.
One weekend, the urge to share my life with people -- not sofas and TVs and that torture device they call Facebook, always reminding you of the life you’re missing out on somewhere – led to some rather entertaining adventures.

One Friday afternoon was one such evening. I got off work early, as I often do on Fridays, and came home to my enemy – the empty house. I had plans later in the evening, but would have felt cheated if I didn’t find something to do with my early start to the weekend.

“I’m gonna try to find some hooligans at the park to hang out with lol. Literally.” – a text I sent my friend Ashley, five minutes before I packed up my Frisbee and a water bottle and biked the quarter mile over to the nearby middle school athletic fields and neighborhood park. As I locked up my bike to the rail of the picnic shelter, I drew a considerable amount of attention from a gaggle of middle schoolers sitting at the tables.

“Hey guys … do any of you guys like to throw Frisbee?” I asked, hesitantly, suddenly extremely aware of how out of my element I was. I got a murmur of no’s and not really’s in response, as the six kids in various stages of metamorphoses into quasi-adulthood a.k.a. puberty gave me the look-over.
“Well uh, I’m new in the neighborhood and I don’t really know anyone, so I was looking for someone to throw a Frisbee around with,” I said, trying again. Noncommittal nods. I started to turn away, surveying the rest of the park, looking for more willing friends-to-be.
“You seem really cool,” said a girl with sloppy washable marker designs all over her face and arms. Ah middle school, how I don’t miss you.
I laughed. “Well thanks.”
“I knew how to throw a Frisbee once, but I forgot,” she said.
“Yeah Maddie played some – this is Maddie. And he’s Kiefer…” they introduced everyone to me and I said my name.
“My brother plays Frisbee, but he’s an asshole,” one girl said, with a laugh. I tried not to wince.
“Where’d you come from?” Kiefer asked.
“North Carolina.”
“Did you move here with your parents? Did they get work here?” he asked. 
I squirmed a little, afraid I was about to lose all credibility with these kids.
“I’m … probably a little older than … I look,” I said, not entirely sure why I was embarrassed. And yes, they were shocked when I told them I was 21.
“Man, you look about 16,” Kiefer said. I shrugged. What can you do.
“Well, if you want to throw…just let me know. I’m gonna see if those kids over there want to play,” I said, noticing a group of younger kids playing basketball.

I walked over and dropped my Frisbee and bag on the side of the court, next to the jumble of bikes dropped haphazardly at the start of the game. I asked if I could play.
“Yeah, you be on his team,” said a 12-year-old girl, pointing to an 8th grade boy. We played my favorite style of basketball – no bounds, no fouls – for a half an hour before a) I scored a point and b) someone got hurt. I offered some water, and then shot some baskets while the kids sat in the glass-shard-littered dirt.
“How old do you think he is?” Cassie, the 12-year-old, asked out of the blue.
I nailed everyone’s ages (surprise, surprise … my track record on the age guessing thing hasn’t been so good).
“Are you 20?”
“Pretty close – 21,” I said.
“Aw man, 21 is the perfect age!” She said.
…Not sure what she knows about it, but I laughed and agreed.
I soon got two of the boys interested in my Frisbee, and we threw for an hour. The younger of the two improved his throw significantly, and made fun of the way I apologized for every errant throw.
As much fun as I had throwing with the youngsters, my heart was breaking from the conversations I overheard between girls who couldn’t have been more than 14, bragging about who and where they’d done it.

Sweaty and hungry, I realized I’d whiled away two hours doing hoodrat stuff with my new friends. The boys had lost interest in tossing the disc, so I packed up and started to unlock my bike.
The middle schoolers from the shelter, scattered around the swings and the water fountain, all looked over and waved, or hollered, “You leaving?”
Despite their rough backgrounds, these kids brightened my day, and I hope to run into them at the park again.

--

That same weekend the socialite bug struck again. I mustered up the courage to knock on Lois’s door and invite her to get lunch with me.
“I just ate,” she said, her face falling. Then she perked up. “How about supper?”
I swallowed hard, because dinner somehow seemed like more of a commitment than lunch, but I said yes, unsure that I would still be in the right frame of mind to engage Lois on that level in four hours.
Five o’clock came and I knocked on Lois’s door again. After double and triple checking all the locks in her house, Lois followed me to my car.
“Where we going?” she asked.
“Do you like pasta?” I asked.
“Oh no. I just like real simple food. Like … Captain D, or pork tenderloin.”
I went a little white at the thought of pork tenderloin and the bill afterward. “Captain D’s it is then!”

On the way to the fried-instant-reconstituted-frozen-fish-substitute emporium, Lois told me the first of many of her heartbreaking stories, all in her unfazed yet slightly paranoid stuttering manner.
“My mom and I used to go to Captain D every Friday. Are you Catholic? We’re Catholic. We had fish on Fridays, so we’d go to Captain D. That was before Mom died. Now I haven’t been there in three years. And then we used to go to – what’s it called – oh Frisch’s, every Saturday. Mom and me. Now I hardly get out.”

My heart was melting. As was the rest of me, since Lois had mentioned on the way out she gets cold faster than anyone on the planet, and always brings a sweater, even in 80 degree weather, so the AC stayed off.
“But I can’t stand the hum-midity,” she’d say.

We came up to the counter at Captain D’s and Lois ordered from memory the exact meal she’d last had with her mom in 2009, with no regard for whether any of those items were actually on the menu.
“I know what I want; you just tell me what it costs,” she said. “And I’m getting hers too” -- pointing at me. This she repeated emphatically as I reached for my wallet.
“Aw thanks Lois,” I finally conceded.
“Well it’s just that I don’t get out much and I really ‘preciate you taking me to dinner since I don’t drive.”

I aimed for a booth by a window, but Lois stopped and surveyed the ceiling.
“Better sit in the next one,” she said, pointing to the corner. I noted the A/C vent in the ceiling and agreed, already wishing I’d brought a sweater.
We tucked in to our meals. Well, I did. Lois talked into her meal.

Through a light mist of flecks of battered fish and fries spewing from across the table I learned that a) Captain D’s is just as unappetizing as I remembered, b) Lois’s mouth works a little like the levies in New Orleans … when a hurricane-force storm of thoughts comes, the dam bursts and an unstoppable surge of words pours forth, and c) Lois is lonely, but not a complainer.
This last part I want to emulate.

Lois is alone. And she misses her mom and her dad. And she’s downright paranoid about drug trafficking in our neighborhood and her neighbor breaking into her house and stealing all her belongings. And don’t start her on that one or she’ll run out of air before she stops. But she doesn’t complain. And she was so thankful for my tiny gesture of saying hello and going to dinner.
“Am I talking too much?” she said, grabbing a breath.
“No, Lois you’re fine. I want to know about you and your life.”
“Oh good. But just let me know if I talk too much. I don’t want to bore you. I just so appreciate you getting me out of the house. Cuz I don't get out much.”
We finished up and headed home. I was a little exhausted from the effort of understanding Lois through her stutter, but what she said on her way home about took the wind out of me.
“Since 2009 to now, since my mom died, so 2009 to 2012, you’re about the only person I’ve had to talk to,” she said.

Wow.

I cry myself to sleep every night because I can’t get over my loneliness and missing home, and I feel alone, but I do have some friends and I have hope that I will eventually have friends who know my soul. I can’t even put myself in Lois’s shoes, but I ache for her, and I’m thankful for the time I get to spend with her as her neighbor.

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you taking the time to get to know Lois and all her quirks shows a lot about your heart. I know you're going through a heck of a lot of transition right now, but I also know how much amazing stuff God teaches us when we're the most hurt/uncomfortable/lonely...and I'm not just saying that because it's the Christian thing to say. I'm saying that because I've been there too. I pray that God will continue to bring more great people into your new life here and also that He helps you see some beauty in the alone times too, even though they're not your favorite.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're an inspiration Olivia.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I came across this post by accident while researching things to do in Waynesville. Thanks for writing this..seriously. It isn't often in my own life at least that I feel I can be honest about me an what is actually going on and how I really feel. I typically say what I think is socially acceptable at that moment. I moved to Ohio from Alabama, and I am still the new kid on the block. I am married and have kids, but I spend my days home schooling and my nights cleaning, cooking, and lesson planning. The only time out I get is at Kroger or when I get up at 4 am and go run. My husband is very much an introvert so we don't go out. That kind of thing falls on me to make time for and plan and do alone. Don't get me wrong my life isn't bad by any means, but I do get sooo lonely for adult companionship. It's nice to know that I am not the only one, that I am not being dramatic, that it is okay to still have feelings and social needs lol. Thanks for writing this. It's like you took a page straight out of my book, except I never would have been so brave as to go up and talk to those kids. That is where my problem lies lol. I am great at getting a job done but being in it strictly to be social I haven't figured out how to do. If your ever in the area and you want to throw a frisby, I don't throw them well, but I can chase them down lol.

    ReplyDelete