I’ve measured my life by water. I grew up on an island in an inlet off the shore of a glittering emerald city. I swam in salt water from the time I was born. The oldest story told of me is from the seashore; barely able to walk, I charged into the ocean to rescue my mother from the whitecaps breaking around her ankles. A story of miscomprehension. A story of wrongheaded, childish risk and bravado driven by fear and the sea. But I am at home in the water. I am best settled out beyond where the waves break.
The core of me has always thirsted. I have always looked for something I haven’t had. A place. A circle. A family. A home. I think of my family as having been sundered when I was six, when a divorce cut it through. But my family was broken long before I was born. My family was broken in prior generations. Alcohol twice over. Mental illnesses unknown and untreated. Neglect. Cruelty as parentage. Children taught that nurturing was for weaker things than they are. Affection is for those not strong enough to go without.
Whether a fault of teaching or intrinsic, I never learned to get along in groups. I am not good a social tasks. I’ve learned what’s expected of me mostly by observation and inference. It isn’t natural. The things I think are funny fall hard in suddenly silent rooms. I don’t know how to bridge the divide between what’s internal to me and the things that other people share. And so I feel alone mostly, because I’m still not sure what togetherness is.
Drinking didn’t make me better at social interactions. It made me capable of them despite my incoherent grasp of how people relate to one another. And it made my missteps bearable, because I couldn’t remember them so well. And because I surrounded myself with drinkers, who made the same mistakes and forgot them just as easily, I found a place where blundered affections led to mannequin friendships. But drinking cannot blunt the shame forever. It stops working.
I’ve clawed my life back together since I quit. By following other people’s suggestions and directions I’ve learned to put my life together in a manner resembling a normal life. I am a bright child. I am good a mimicry.
But the core of me is still thirsting. For a place. A circle. A family. A home. I don’t know how to be in a place with people and be at peace. I am sensitive to jest. I put too much seriousness at things, and I am wounded by play. It is unbecoming to be as brittle as I am. And so I often withdraw, rather than wear my real feelings in the world. I have never stopped being ashamed of how I feel, because I have never stopped being ashamed that I have feelings.
What a big, wide world this is. I don’t want it all. I want a place, with a few people in it, where I am not ashamed of my own stupid, brittle feelings. Where I am the me I wish I were, instead of the me I am. A place where I can swim in warm saltwater, and not be thirsty.