December 10th, 2009

me: ooh!

Formative Childhood Experiences: Trust No One

No one can break your heart the way they can when you're a child. That pure, searing agony of utter tragedy enveloping you, of the world collapsing into the crumped tissue with which you wipe your streaming face. You don't yet have the twin defenses of experience and the sense of humour imparted thereby.

I've often been called reserved and aloof and I can pinpoint the lessons that led to the development of these traits. I'll start with "Other People Don't Always Want To Do The Same Things As You".

I had a friend in the third grade, Terri. She wasn't just a friend. She was my best and only true friend. She was also to be the last person I ever called that.

Terri was my friend at least in part because she was very shy and I was quite outgoing. I did most of the talking for both of us. She never seemed to mind. Also, she was the only person willing to accompany me at recess in the pursuits I preferred - bug-watching in the woods, pretending my dollhouse was occupied by a king and his family and attempting to make shelters out of branches and sticks, where we would live when we were grown up. I didn't like team sports and had no desire to play foursquare or basketball. And I was perfectly happy because I thought I'd found someone just like me.

One day as we passed the dodgeball courts en route to the woods (that day's activity: cracking open freshly falled horse chestnuts), Terri yanked her hand out of mine. I stared open-mouthed as she joined the line to play the game. "What are you doing? Come on!" I insisted, trying to pull her away. She shook me off. "I'm going to play," she said calmly and turned her back on me. I wandered off to the woods by myself. My tears blinded me periodically but I still managed to assemble a fine collection of glossy chestnuts before returning to the classroom, where I sat next to Terri in silence. The next day, I asked to be moved to a different desk. I sat with a boy who spent most of his time drawing spaceships and ignoring me, which suited me fine for the rest of the year. Terri went to sit with Holly, who eventually became one of the popular girls, with her curly blonde hair and sweet, pliant personality, neither of which I would ever possess.

I mourned the loss of that perceived harmony for a couple of years, but eventually I found someone else I thought I could trust, at least. This led to the "Other People Make Fun Of You Behind Your Back" lesson. This girl was a neighbour, two years older than me, and I was flattered that she wanted to spend time with me and found my odd activities interesting. She was willing to rehearse and perform a play I'd written about going home to Hawai'i, to get soggy while making mud sculptures next to the creek and to try science experiments such as baking-soda volcanoes. She seemed more than tolerant. She was eager to participate. (Notice how my expectations have undergone radical reassessment.)

One day I went over to her house to ask if she wanted to play. She always said yes, so I took it for granted that she would. When I arrived, I found two other, older girls were already there with her, up in the treehouse. My friend wouldn't come down to talk to me. "I don't want to play with you every day," she said impatiently. I was hurt, especially since I didn't ask her to play with me every day, but I started to walk away, not wishing to commit the same error I had with Terri. As I departed, I heard one of the other girls say, "Is that your neighbour? She's so weird."

I waited to hear my friend's response.

She giggled.

It was a sound that indicated her complicity with the sentiment as clearly as if she'd voiced it herself. I knew I didn't wish to play with her that day or ever again.

A couple of weeks later, I spotted her from the living room window, under which I was attempting to devise a code unbreakable to my older male cousin. (I never succeeded. I later discovered he'd found the notebook in which I wrote my keys.) She came over the front lawn hesitantly, with an appealing expression on her face. I bolted out the back door and down to the stream so I wouldn't have to hear her ingratiating voice or my mother's puzzlement at finding me absent from the house.

The lesson was complete. Don't trust people with the fruits of your imagination, for they will mock you.

This wariness may be why I fell in love with the internet and social networking (before it was even called that). Suddenly it became possible to introduce a level of abstraction and anonymity into group interaction, and surprisingly, the majority of people seemed to be rather considerate about it. The abstraction provided a measure of protection from the sort of pain described above. I could share my thoughts and my creative output with less of a risk to my heart. These experiences may also be partly be why all my romantic relationships have been heterosexual. (The other part is an almost fanatical devotion to the cock, but moving swiftly onwards...) However irrationally, I don't believe that male humans can hurt me the way female humans have. I've been devastated by the breakup of various relationships, but none have had the poignancy of those early ones. None of my more recent experiences have had effects from which I've struggled to recover for so long. This is the first time I've been able to write about them in an objective way and they happened over twenty years ago.

I think this may be why I'm so fond of, and to a certain extent identify with, the Brits. There are people in the UK whom I can call friends, I think, but neither they nor I would ever commit the embarrassing crime of speaking of it aloud or of insisting that the friendship include such activities as, say, spending a lot of time together. My trust and love are girded with cautious silence, but that doesn't make them any less real or tenacious than it is with those who wear their hearts on their sleeves. An understanding of this perspective is embedded in the culture here, which makes life easier for a spiky little soul like me.