Fitting in

Most of my life, I can say that the majority of my anxiety and depression has come from the shame of not fitting in. In many ways, I feel like I have always been the outsider. I was never a popular kid in school. In college, I moved pretty easily from group to group, and often wondered why some of my friends took it upon themselves to drag me along to parties where I didn’t fit in. I would usually find a quiet corner and just observe, or fake my way through conversations. Leave early and without warning.

In school and growing up I got labels like brain, nerd, etc. Then later on as I tried to fight against those, I was mostly just solitary and angry all the time. Lonely as hell. In college, I wasn’t a big partier, until probably my senior year in which I made up for lost time and nearly didn’t graduate. I was burned out, drinking three or four nights a week. Ditching class to go to work. Phoning it all in because none of it mattered to me anymore. It was the same bullshit over and over and I wanted no part of it. A bunch of pretentious assholes pretending to read the books and regurgitating whatever they thought their professor wanted to hear. Myself included. You see, when I actually read the books and got a different interpretation, I was often told I was wrong.

In school, I belonged to a friend group of around three of us. Once in a while, we would find ourselves attached to another group, but mostly it was just the three of us. Mostly. My first girlfriend was the unofficial fourth, and of course my two best friends had a massive crush on her too. It was hard not to. She was one of those people who seemed very charismatic. Until years later when I found out she was faking it the whole time too. Nobody really knew her, but me. I’ve been told that among her group of friends–none of whom were very close to her–that they often wondered why I was with her. Today that might be an ego boost. Only it’s not. I feel bad for her when I think of that, because people liked her for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve been watching a show on Hulu lately called Normal People. It’s based off a novel about two people who have known each other since they were young and how they come and go into each other’s lives. Neither of them has ever felt like they fit into anything. But with each other, they feel like they fit together perfectly. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not so much.

The few relationships I have had I have felt a connection with other outsiders. I’m not even talking about the fringe groups like the stoners or the Polyphonic Spree people or whathaveyou. I’m talking about the people who laughed too loudly at movies, the ones who played Dungeons and Dragons, had Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian memorized–and dropped those quotes at any opportunity. But even with them I never fit in. It’s ironic now that everyone loves Stranger Things so much. But I remember being one of those kids, and we were treated like shit. We didn’t have the cool but pretty tom-boy friends, and we sure as hell didn’t have the quirky girl with psychic powers. We were all too aware of our outsiderness. We were pretty pissed off about it too.

The last couple of times I was dating someone I thought I had that connection I always wanted. The one that just felt right. Someone who could accept me for being smart and weird and sensitive and passionate. Someone who understood me when I looked at the world like a poet, instead of expecting a cold beer and a BJ when I got home from work. They knew that my musical tastes varied from Korn and System of a Down to Tracy Chapman, Brandi Carlile, and Townes Van Zandt That sometimes a good Van Morrison song would make me tear up, and I could just chill out to Portishead or Mazzy Star for hours. That I had played Skynyrd songs and early Tool and Alice in Chains as a drummer. That I knew the importance of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. I wasn’t locked in to any one thing, other than it had to make me feel something when I heard it. How I love music, and how I love sharing new stuff with others.

With my first relationship after divorce I made the mistake of trying to fit her expectations 100% and she never bothered to want to fit into mine. I compromised myself. Even though she was an outsider too. Not because of her brain or hobbies or any of that. She was an outsider because she was so cold to people who cared about her. Everyone fought to love her. Myself included.

My last serious girlfriend and I had an amazing connection. She and her brother and sister said I was in “the club.” She was a bit of an outsider herself. Homeschooled her whole life. Very tall. She loved video games and collecting comic book stuff. Dinosaurs. She knew what it felt like to be apart, but also I think she was too comfortable with her solitude to make that lasting connection with me. I think I might have sensed that early on, even though she tried to adjust to my world. We had plans for a while. It has left me wondering if a real connection is even possible, or am I always going to feel like I can’t fit in? Maybe she liked me for the wrong reasons.

But those connections failed in time, and they left me questioning if there was ever a connection at all. The last girl I was involved with…I guess I thought I could adjust fit in to her world. I wanted to so desperately. Fuck, it would be nice to belong somewhere sometimes. It wouldn’t have taken much. But I saw a picture of her town recently and it just reminded me of how…disconnected we probably were. She was of a different culture. More extroverted, if not just faking a persona to fit in so she had something to do on a Friday night. Masks. Maybe I never really knew her. They knew the kind of beer she drank, and I knew her favorite books, songs, fears and dreams. Maybe I knew the real her and she couldn’t allow that. I thought there was something there I guess. Something I had always wanted. People liked her for all the wrong reasons too. I like to see her comments and reactions pop up on Facebook from the past. It reminds me of the good times and many moments we shared. That connection. Even though…yeah. She’s gone too.

When I go places, I always feel like an outsider, but in a weird way, that makes me feel like I belong on the outside looking in, I get to see a world from a different perspective, but also I get to let a little bit of it in. I talk to strangers, I listen to their stories, I let everything surprise me if it can. I went to Park City, UT last fall and had a half hour conversation with a busker about mushrooms and marijuana and social anxiety. I don’t do the first two, but I am aces at the latter. Alcohol is a social lubricant, but so is music and dancing. But most of the time I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. That used to bother me more than it does now. When I get into writer mode, I get to walk alongside people. They know I don’t belong, and I know I’m not one of them, but they let me tag along for a bit.

I guess now I am mature enough to know that I don’t fit in. I guess I fit in with me and I try to have enough grace to not yuck someone else’s yum. I hope I am chill enough to let other people feel comfortable around me. I have very, very few close friends. Even them I keep at arm’s length. I no longer expect to be in anyone’s club, though I do appreciate the invitations to hang out when they are offered.

In my writing I give off the appearance of connection or letting someone in deep. But, it’s all very controlled. I only ever let anyone in as deep as I can allow. I learned my lesson the last go around. Letting people in hurts. The stuff you read here might seem deep, but it’s all just an illusion. Letting people in doesn’t last. And you spend the rest of your life recognizing the signs in hindsight that you should have seen all along. I’ve got nobody to blame but myself for that.

So, I get the story of Normal People. It really resonated with me in a lot of ways. I’ve had the girlfriend who didn’t acknowledge me around friends, and I’ve been that person myself. Too afraid to face what others might think of me. Sometimes when I get too close to others too, I shut off. I need room to breathe. It becomes exhausting being someone else for too long. Maybe that’s why I love to write. I get to be myself, but I also get to become someone else. It’s hard to explain.

So, maybe I shouldn’t try. It never ends well.

Difficult to express

Today was a challenging day. The agency I find work through has been throwing some goose-eggs at me as far as clients. When I feel that crunch of writing for money versus writing for the pure joy of writing, this is always what happens. To be honest I’m a little mad at myself.

You see, when you sit down for an hour to write about concussions or estate planning or diamond cuts, the work is pretty fucking bland. It’s even worse when you get a “No thanks” on something you just wasted an hour of your life on. And if they buy it, yeah, you get money, but you never get a byline for it. I had two posts get rejected today. Hell, right now I’d take the money.

Sometimes your house expresses what your words cannot. My house was a shambles. Today, I did a week’s worth of laundry and four or five days worth of dishes. I completely ran out of forks and spoons, so there was no choice to put it off for another day. It was a day for chores and trying to produce some work that will actually let me pay child support in a month. I’m on mean rations now.

The bummer about the paid gigs versus working on the book is when you want to write something, everything else is an irritation. Yesterday I finished second draft edits on two chapters. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the first book. I’m finding the story and the voice. I’m cutting out all sorts of redundancies and superfluous elements of the story without remorse. The story is becoming. Unfortunately second drafts don’t put money in your pocket.

Then I have those moments of doubt when I think I’m doing all of this work for absolutely nothing. In this climate, nobody will want to read this story. Much less buy it. I have to get it past an editor, so to speak. It wasn’t always like this, I don’t think. Editors were people who could find that diamond in the rough. Now it feels like they are that kid who got held back a few years, playing Red Rover with the rest of us.

Another reason today was hard was because six years ago this week was the last time I saw my oldest kid. I dropped him off at school on a Monday (the 4th), and his mom never sent him over again. She claimed she couldn’t make him come back. Truth be told, he did what he had to do to find peace in his life. He couldn’t hack the retaliation and conflict he got going back and forth anymore. Believe me when I say I know what he was going through. I cut off my own parents for years because it made life easier at home.

Please don’t give me the platitudes or pep talk of “One day they will come back.” They usually don’t. I’ve done the research and that is a harsh reality of alienation.

It’s like a death, only worse. There’s a person out there walking around, living, breathing, and for whatever reason has convinced themselves they hate you and never want to see you again. Unfortunately life has a lot of that, I’m learning. Some I’ve been willing to oblige them, but others…like my kids, are something you never really get over.

I saw a TikTok the other day where a woman said that a Red Flag in dating someone was when they don’t see their kids. I guess I’m damaged goods. “Why is this?!” she asked. Oh, sweet summer child…All sorts of reasons, Caitlin. Not many of them are good. None of them are easy. Some of us tried our damnedest, but of course that’s all just an urban legend. After all, “Fathers Have Rights.” Until we don’t.

Honestly, we don’t have rights. None of us do. All it takes is one judge to make up their mind about a situation. They might have you in their courtroom for less than twenty minutes and make a decision that affects your and your children’s lives for generations. The courts did nothing to bring my son back to me. The only consolation I’ve gotten is everyone from lawyers to psychologists telling me “The System is broken.” Without a conviction, without a trial, and without the burden of proof, you can lose your kids in this country if you are a dad. All someone has to say is “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

So when I write, I let myself go into other places. Places that kind of fucked up reverse logic can’t fuck with my peace. The stories I tell might be better or worse than reality, but at least it has to make sense on some level. Real life rarely does. And it’s not like I can criticize any of it. There are consequences when you start making noise.

Today, I watched the Dan Harmon documentary, Harmontown, and I saw a man who has made a career out of pulling the rug out from under himself. He’s had the fortune to keep knocking at that gate and the gatekeepers keep letting him in. He’s a man who will never have enough attention, enough praise, or probably enough money. He drinks too much. He sees moments he could just be enjoying the ride and makes a sudden sharp turn, on gravel. He’s the villain in his own story. I had to stop the video a few times because I’ve seen myself in that place many times. I come from generations of that. Unfortunately, generations after me will be the same; a broken system has seen to that.

Lately, the only solace I’ve found has been in writing my story. At this point, the momentum of it feels like crossing the crest of that first incline on a rollercoaster. The rest of it is just holding on and screaming my head off. In a good way, for once.

It’s true what they say. They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.

The Slap Heard ‘Round the World

*Warning. There will be bad language.

It is already old news, and we have once again found a way to be divided on the topic. You have probably already witnessed video of the Will Smith slapping the shit out of Chris Rock incident. Lots of people are saying Chris had it coming, and other people are saying Will needed to check himself.

So, I watched the video slowed down and zoomed in, like the Zapruder footage. Chris’s head goes back and to the left…back and to the left…

But earlier, when Chris delivers the joke, guess what else you see? No, not a man on a grassy knoll. You see Will laughing. Jada isn’t laughing. She throws the look. Chris Rock no doubt also saw Will laughing, which was why he didn’t flinch when Will came up on stage. Then “POW!” then a lot of shit talking.

Here’s the thing.

There was a time I was in Will’s position. I recognized what he is going through and I honestly wish I was his friend, so I could call him and say, “Meet me for coffee. We need to talk.”

Back when I was married, there were many occurrences where my ex-wife would take offense at something and expect me to be her executioner, her enforcer. There was no knight in shining armor. She wanted a thug who would exact swift and brutal retaliation on her behalf. I knew if I didn’t, things would be HELL for me when we got home.

One instance of this was when we were at Sam’s Club getting groceries at the beginning of the month. She would always make a fuss about having to show her membership card on the way in, and as she was arguing with the man at the front door, the kids and I slipped in and grabbed a cart. As we are walking past the TVs and other stuff at the front, I hear a commotion behind me. My ex-wife is saying something to a woman who is walking parallel with her. She has her face all pinched and twisted up the way she would whenever she was starting a fight.

“Do we have a problem?” the woman asks.

“Yeah! You clipped my heel with your cart, you fucking cunt!” she says.

“Wow! I wasn’t even near you. I saw you trip.”

“Fuck you! You hit me!”

My wife turned to me with the look.

Do something about this, you fucking pussy!

Before I had a chance to react, the accused woman turns to me and says, “Are you her husband? I feel very sorry for you.”

“Me too.”

I shrugged. Like a Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm shrug.

My ex-wife’s rancor turned completely onto me. It wasn’t my fight. It was a stupid fight, which didn’t need to escalate. It was a fight she had started many times before with strangers. I shrugged because this lady whom I had never met before looked into my eyes and she knew what was expected of me by a completely unreasonable person. She was correct to pity me.

I caught hell when we got home.

“What kind of man are you?” my ex-wife demanded. “You can’t even defend your wife? That bitch assaulted me! And you stood there with your limp dick in your hand and did nothing!”

“What did you want me to do? Punch her in the face?” I said. “You’re lucky she didn’t have you kicked out of the store. Or arrested.”

“She wasn’t going to do anything,” she said.

Exactly.

So when I see Will Smith stride up to strike another man on behalf of his wife, that isn’t defending her honor. That is a conditioned response to abuse at home.

It was a bald joke, not a demand for satisfaction and pistols at twenty paces.

You see, it was Will’s night, and with one look from Jada, he shit on his own night, which should have been about getting his first Academy Award, rather than becoming a meme. Jada made it about HER. The alternative for Will at home would have been much worse than what happened had he done nothing.

I wish I could see a moment where Chris Rock takes him out for beers and gives him a hug and says “No, man. I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry, Will Smith.