Introspective Hell | The Post That Lasts Forever
There’s something embarrassing going on in my personal life right now. I’ve resisted writing about it because, hey, embarrassing. It’s also a recurring issue that usually goes away after a while. But this time, it’s gotten big enough that I really can’t focus on much else. I’m in a constant state of anxiety about this, which I consider to be Yeshivatacon in an emotion suit, telling me, “FOR REAL DEAL WITH THIS SHIT.”
Here’s the embarrassing thing: I don’t really have many friends. “Many” feels like a cushioned way of saying it, because I don’t feel like I have any friends. But using extreme language like never, always, any, is a trigger that lets me know I’m not viewing things realistically. The truth is, there are people I consider friends but am in barely any kind of touch with, for various reasons. And there are one or two people in town that I chat with on occasion. But, add them all up, and I can count them on one hand.
This depresses the ever-loving shit out of me.
That’s a coy way to say it. What really happens is, occasionally I spin into a very deep hole of self-loathing about it. A hole where I think about how much better off I was when I still cut myself, and could teach myself lessons. There are a lot of things in my life that aren’t quite perfect, that provoke a little anxiety, that are irritating or angering. I’ve learned how to deal with those in a reasonable, measured way, without blowing things up, without letting it become personal. If work is stressful, it’s not because you suck, Harriet! If that guy cut you off, it’s not because you’re ugly!
I used to think that way. I have a keen memory of my first job as a busgirl. I dropped a glass, and without missing a beat planned out exactly how, where, and for how long I was going to cut myself that night to “make up” for it – I had to “learn” not to be such a screw-up, or everybody would hate me. It was a very self-centered way to think, believing that every minor insult or injury or mistake would cause the world to implode around me, though self-centered isn’t the same thing as self-esteem: it was based in a core of self-hatred so thick I could barely walk straight. It took time and practice to get over that, and a lot of kindness and patience to myself. Plenty of people freak out about the little stuff, but most are still able to operate without cutting themselves because they made a joke that fell flat. Not being able to do that made me feel so damaged, so stupid, so immature and alien, and without patience and kindness, those feelings kept me in a bad cycle. As in, “Hey, Harriet! Be nicer to yourself! Don’t think about suicide because you couldn’t figure out how to talk to anybody at a party! You’ve got to work on this!” vs “Normal people don’t have to work on this. Normal people aren’t insane like you are. Normal people would never have to talk themselves down from everyday interactions. That’s because you’re not normal, and that’s why we’re going to fancy suicide for a few days, because somebody as abnormal as you should be put down.”
Anyway. Time, practice, patience, kindness has got me up to par on most basic living skills. But they haven’t made a dent in the friend thing. I don’t know how to make friends. I don’t know how to keep friends. I don’t know what friendship is. I don’t know how to be a friend. I don’t know how to learn what I don’t know. Coming-of-age movies leave me confused and frustrated and emotional, because I can’t understand how all these people are friends, how they know they’re friends, how they know how to act with each other, how they know that it’s okay to like each other or hang out or talk. It all seems to come naturally to other people. It comes so naturally that I can’t even describe to others how unnatural it is to me. My questions just don’t even make sense. Questions like, “How do you know you’re friends?” or “How did you know it was okay to hug right then?” or “How did you know it was okay for you to call, that they wouldn’t be mad, that you aren’t calling too much?” Every question I ask just illustrates for me further what a creepy alien creature I am, which makes me hate myself so much that I just don’t want to ask anymore, or try.
I know other people have problems making friends. I know I am not unique in all the world. Which is how I also know that this is a deep-seated issue about me more than it is about the subject, because I feel like I’m the only person who has problems, and I feel like I’m unique in all the world. I can’t shake those feelings no matter how much I know it’s not true.
I know where some of my issues come from. I don’t like talking about them, because I feel like it’s all one big sob story. I’m really hard on myself with this shit. Before I can get these words out, I have to plow through all this yammering abuse in my mind that sounds something like, “Oh, here we go. Harriet is going to tell all of us how hard her life was. Jesus christ, when is she ever going to grow up and stop talking about it? Whine whine whine, I got abused. Fucking tough. Lots of people got abused, not all of them can’t manage to live like fucking human beings. God, no wonder nobody likes you. Who could? All you want to do is blame your problems on everybody else. What a sad little childhood I had, oh, everybody, you must be my friend now! God.” I don’t even know how to write about this because my head is so screwed up about it. I am pausing in between every sentence to avoid self-hating disclaimers, like, “Now I know this is stupid, but” or “I’m not saying it was hard for me, but,” or “Sorry for talking about my life and feelings, I know nobody cares, but.” Which is all operating as another disclaimer: this post is probably going to be confused and written poorly.
I don’t remember being shy when I was a little, little kid. Maybe I was. But I don’t remember having trouble making friends at all. Or, you know, maybe I just don’t remember being lonely. My parents divorced when I was in first or second grade, and that’s when my friendless memories start. My elementary years were almost completely isolated. I was doing things other kids my age didn’t do, wouldn’t understand, like cutting myself, planning my suicide, or imagining what it would be like to be raped and killed. This was, like, third grade. My prognosis was that it would be great because I would finally be getting what I deserved and also somebody would touch me a little, even if just to hurt me. My dad didn’t really touch me or my sister. If we bumped into each other on accident, we’d draw back in shock with a lot of “sorry sorry sorry.” Occasionally, if a circumstance arose in public where it would look weird for us not to touch (like at an airport before we went to our grandparents for the summer), there would be an extremely awkward imitation at a hug, with all parties looking mortified and shuddering. We were only allowed to visit our mother for three weeks out of every year, but I remember how much I looked forward to it, because there would be hugs and kisses and cuddling and casual touches that didn’t require both parties to draw back as if we were on fire.
This transferred inappropriately at school. When I was playing with another child, if they accidentally touched me, I would pull back immediately, withdraw, and shut down. I didn’t want them to see how much I needed to be touched, how much I enjoyed just having an elbow brush against somebody else. It was so warm. I didn’t want people to know that it felt different to me than it did to them. I didn’t want them to think I was taking advantage of them, getting something out of their thoughtless touches that they hadn’t intended to give me. I didn’t want to be creepy, so I was cold and unapproachable instead.
My dad really wasn’t prepared to be a parent, and he neglected me and my sister in a lot of serious ways. We didn’t have proper clothing. By the time third and fourth grade rolled around, I was wearing too small clothes with holes and stains. Dad would take us shopping for clothes occasionally, but he didn’t realize we weren’t adults. He would just drop us off in a store, tell us to pick things out, and then come back and buy them. I didn’t know how to find a good fit, or matching clothes, or clothes that made sense for my age group. I was also terrified of buying too many clothes. There were times where I would pick out new school clothes – nice ones, clothes I had seen other girls wearing – and my dad would fly into a rage because I thought he was “made of money” and I was a “spoiled brat.” I would try to pick out the cheapest clothes possible, regardless of whether or not they fit or looked good. Dad would rarely take us clothes shopping on his own – we usually had to ask him – so I stopped asking. During gym class, I would go into contortions in the corner, trying to change my clothes without ever revealing my underwear, which was stained and full of holes. Kids didn’t notice fashion very much in elementary school, but they did notice when I wore the same pants for a week, or wore tights instead of pants, or had holes in my shirt, or “forgot” to wear socks and underwear.
Winter was worse. I could stand how ugly I looked during the rest of the year – that was just aesthetics, petty concerns – but during the winter, I actually needed clothes. I was a kid and sometimes lost my hat or mittens, but had stopped asking dad to buy more. Each request for a pair of mittens inevitably ended in three hours of my dad screaming at me, pounding at his chest, telling me I was trying to kill him by triggering a heart attack due to stress about money, and if I was going to siphon money out of him like a little monster, well, then, I wasn’t going to college, and in fact, why don’t I just go live on the streets? It wasn’t worth having to pretend-pack a suitcase every time I wanted a hat. I ended up wearing something I dug out of the closet, something the previous homeowners had left. It was an adult sized bright orange ski mask. The kids at school playfully called me Pumpkin Head. They didn’t realize how much that hurt; they just thought I really liked orange. I think they would have stopped if I had explained it to them, but I didn’t know how to explain being afraid to ask my dad to buy me a hat.
When I was about seven, every day at the bus stop, I would start hysterically crying. Every morning I would tell myself that I wouldn’t, that it wasn’t that bad, that I was a big baby, but every day it would happen. My sister was embarrassed and angry, but I couldn’t stop. It was the dead of a Midwestern winter, and my socks were thin, threadbare, with holes in them. My toes would begin to hurt so much that I would just start howling in pain. Every day, when we got on the bus, I’d immediately curl up in a seat, take my shoes off, and breathe on my toes until they didn’t hurt anymore. One day, when we got on the bus, the bus driver handed me several packs of warm winter socks. I was tickled and overjoyed. Somebody had gotten me a present! I didn’t “get” the subtext of this, that a complete stranger was offering me charity, that I was so neglected that I needed charity. I think my sister was old enough to get it. She fumed during the bus ride, cutting her eyes at the driver. I was preening over my present, and she hissed at me, “Put those away. Don’t let anybody see them.”
I also didn’t know how to brush my hair. I have very thick, very curly hair. Only now in my adulthood have I started to learn how to deal with it, and only by reading books on African-American hair care. White hair care tips seem to imagine “thick” hair as something that is only a little wavy; my hair will break combs. My dad has very fine, very straight hair. I watched him brush his hair with a tiny little pocket comb and did the same with mine, to absolutely zero effect. My dad didn’t want to buy me and my sister separate hair care products, so we used whatever shampoo dad used, and conditioner if there was any (conditioner, I learned, isn’t really a necessity for thin, fine hair – but it was for mine). There was one single comb and one single brush in the entire house. My sister’s hair was also very fine and very thin, so it worked well enough for her, but I could barely pull my fingers through my hair. If I ever went out into public without groomed hair, my father would find a moment to screech at me publicly about how much I must want him to die, going out looking like a street child. Of course, I never could groom my hair. I didn’t know how to make it look like my dad’s or my sister’s, and I didn’t know what properly groomed curly hair looked like. On days when my dad forgot to leave the comb at home and my sister forgot to leave the brush at home, I brushed my hair with a fork.
We didn’t have enough food. It took my years to realize this, because I didn’t know what “enough” food was. I remember occasionally getting invited to group sleepovers, and marveling at how I was able to eat tasty food until I was full. I came away with the impression that this was what families did when other people were coming over; otherwise, I figured, they all ate like we did. I remember days where my sister and I would eat dry lasagna, or flour. At school lunch, I would eat my meal as quickly as possible, then go stand patrol at the trash cans. When kids came to dump their trays, I would ask them if I could have their leftovers. If they said yes, I’d scrape them onto my plate. I remember, on the days where I got a lot of food, how much easier class seemed – I thought it was because I’d been so smart at lunch, getting extra food, that it had warmed up my brain. I was too young for a while to know how shameful this was. It seemed simple in my mind. They didn’t want food, and I did. I didn’t understand why I wanted food so much, or why they seemed to want it so little, until one day a bully clarified it for me: “Harriet eats out of the garbage! Harriet gets her clothes out of the garbage! Harriet’s fat and made of garbage!” I wanted to stop after that, but found I couldn’t. Every day at lunch, I would stare at my empty tray and will myself not to look up and notice all the kids throwing food out. I told myself I was fat and ugly, and would only get fatter and uglier with more food. But every day, I’d end up by the trash cans, begging, now knowing I ought to be ashamed. I felt like I had no willpower. I didn’t realize how hungry I was. I had always been hungry. I thought this was how everybody felt, all the time, only they managed not to eat garbage somehow, while I was too weak to resist.
A janitor took some pity on me. When I’d head for the garbage cans, he’d come over and pretend to be cleaning. He’d chat with me, about movies and books and school. If a kid started to snidely ask, “Harriet, why are you always by the garbage?” he’d say, “She’s talking to me. We’re friends.” It meant a lot, but it only helped a little, because now Harriet was such a freak that only the janitor would be her friend.
The worst was class field trips. I finally took to forging permission slips, since it would be another massive fight and a half to get my dad to sign one. It would go like this: “Dad, could you sign this?” “I’m busy. Ask me later.” The next day, “Dad, could you sign this?” “GODDAMMIT I’M BUSY. YOU’RE ALWAYS BUGGING ME. DON’T YOU THINK ABOUT ANYBODY BUT YOURSELF. I GUESS NOT YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN A SELFISH BRAT. GO SIT IN THE BASEMENT.” Since I was forging, I didn’t have a hope of getting my dad to buy me a bag lunch (at that point in my life, it was a special amazing treat to get a sandwich from the gas station – I still remember how they tasted, which, believe me, is nothing like they taste when you’re not starving). I would make myself “muffins” from the few things we had in the house — flour, sugar, water, oil – and eat them on the bus in one huge, hidden gulp. I was terrified a teacher would see me and know that I had forged my slip – if I hadn’t, I’d have a real lunch, like other kids. One day we had a field trip that stopped at McDonald’s. All the kids had been told to have their parents give them money for a meal. My plan was to hide in the bathroom until it was time to go. A teacher I barely knew had apparently been keeping an eye on me, and when he saw me emerge from the bathroom, he immediately asked if I had eaten anything. I had to admit that I hadn’t. So he bought me a Happy Meal. I wanted to throw it out when he wasn’t looking. I was so ashamed to eat somebody else’s charity. But he watched me like a hawk and I ate every bite, taking care not to eat so fast that he would feel he had to buy me another. I still remember his name and how much that Happy Meal cost. I committed it to memory, because I felt that if I could pay him back someday, it would be like it had never happened.
For a few days one year, a girl from the popular crowd seemed to make an effort to get to know me. She’d specifically stand by me in the lunch line, or ask to sit with me during class. I remember staring at her, paralyzed. She was a perfectly nice girl. I could see that she was trying. But I had nothing to talk to her about. She was clean. She wore nice clothes. Her hair was brushed. She didn’t eat out of the garbage. What could I say to her? What could we have in common? In the back of my head, I assumed she had lost a bet. I couldn’t conceive of any other reason for her to talk to me. I would stare at her in horror until she went away and eventually stopped trying. I think of her every time I freeze up in a social situation. I try to remind myself, “Some people are just truly trying to be friendly,” and then I remind myself, “And you always manage to fuck it up, you freak,” and I’m right back where I started.
Near the end of elementary school, I started to fall in with a group, to my amazement. For about a year, I actually had friends. I don’t know how it happened or why. It never occurred to me that maybe I was just plain likable. I was always waiting for things to implode. Even after it was firmly established that we were friends, I would always give those kids an out. When I walked into class in the morning, I would pretend to be busy and involved with something else. At lunch, I would always pretend to be fiddling with my tray or taking forever to choose my milk. At recess, I’d walk around very busily, as if I had a destination in mind. If they didn’t call out to me, or say hi, I would ignore them. In my mind, I was giving them an opportunity to ignore me. I always suspected that somehow the spell had worn off, they had all woken up and realized, “My god, we’ve been hanging out with Harriet,” but because they were nice people, they wouldn’t have the heart to tell me how much they hated me. I wanted to give them every opportunity to break up with me without having to feel bad about themselves, or without having to hear somebody I had liked tell me, “I don’t want to be friends with you.”
The summer before junior high, my grandmother cut all my hair off. She told the hairdresser to turn me away from the mirror and cut it off without me seeing, because she knew I wanted my hair long. I still can’t explain what my grandma’s game was here. She was an abusive woman, and just the fact that I wanted my hair long might have been enough to make her decide to cut it short. My hair was also, as I mentioned, ridiculously ungroomed. I got this hair from my mother’s side of the family, and I was the only one who had it. Nobody knew how to deal with my hair. My grandmother ripped it from my head trying to brush it. She might have just figured it would be “better” for me not to have such wild, untamed hair. In any case, this meant I started junior high with absolutely zero body development and a boy’s haircut. Combined with my dirty, ripped, stained clothing, I was prepared for a lifetime of ridicule. Luckily, I was getting old enough to accommodate myself to starvation, and no longer tried to eat other people’s leftovers. I had found the secret was to eat small meals all the time. Whether there was edible food present or not, I would force myself to eat far less than was available or reasonable; that way, it always seemed like I ate so little by choice, rather than because there wasn’t food available.
Here’s how little I was eating: In 7th grade, I started my period. I had it for about six months. Then it went away until 10th grade, when my dad remarried and food started to appear in the house.
In junior high, I figured out a new tactic. Make myself weird on my own terms, instead of being the girl in the garbage can. I took my ripped up clothes and added safety pins. I took my pale, sunken face and added vampire books. I took my secretive, withdrawn, cold manner and added a pentacle necklace. Now I was a punk/goth/witch. We had a field trip one day, bag lunches required. I brought the only transportable, edible thing in the house: a raw potato, wrapped in tinfoil. One girl looked at me and said, “You’re so wild! You don’t give a shit what anybody thinks, do you? You just eat what you want!” Okay, I can be that girl, I thought. It was better than being garbage can girl.
I did end up with friends in junior high. Having such an obvious identity made it easier. Celena was a punk, and Kathy was a goth. I remember being irritated with both of them. They were obsessed with pain or darkness or deep emotions or difficult trials, but to me, they were both soft and spoiled. They each had two parents, they had a house with plumbing, they had food, they had clothes. Sometimes I’d hear the way they talked to their parents, and I’d be amazed. They talked back, yelled, slammed doors, broke rules, threw tantrums. When my dad and I “fought”, I put all my focus into my facial expression. If I twitched, if my eyes moved a hair, if I didn’t keep the perfect blend of fear/sadness/remorse/defeat on my face, it would be all over for me.
I liked being friends with Celena and Kathy – they were nice to me – but I hated the person I had to be to do it. This is a dire misappropriation of the term, but I felt like I had to Uncle Tom them. I was the weird girl. I was so wild and crazy, I didn’t even care if my hair was brushed. I would sing and dance and act like an idiot, because whoa, Harriet, she’s so crazy, she doesn’t even care what people think. I was the friend on wheels, who would follow them around no matter what they wanted to do. I had no idea how to assert myself. I could see how their home lives – their ability to argue with non-abusive people who loved them – was giving them practice at confrontations and boundaries in the real world. I could see that the only skill I had was instant submission and really keen acting, so that’s what I did, and that’s who I was. I was the weird crazy friend who would do or try anything you told her to do or try.
In high school, I got more friends. This was, like, my golden period of friendships. I met Badger, who was outgoing as anything, and loved me to pieces. I made all my new friends through her, and always felt that if she went away, so would they. I was taking my persona and running with it. Whenever I had a little money, I spent it on weird clothes, so it didn’t look so much like I was piecing together fake weird clothes from ripped up sweaters I wore in fourth grade. Not getting touched was no longer a problem – I was far enough from my garbage-eating persona that boys were willing to touch me, though I still pulled back from them, not wanting them to know how much I liked it.
I had to hide my friends from my dad. Since elementary school, I had come home with made-up stories about friends. If my dad suspected I was abnormal in any way, I would be subjected to a lot of concern trolling about my mental health, and then threats about having me committed to a psyche ward would creep in to every fight. So I acted violently cheerful and excited and full of friendship at home. Once I actually made friends, I was able to tell him non-made-up stories, but I carefully switched my friend’s names around on a biweekly basis. I had learned from experience that if my dad knew I had a friend who was important to me, a friend I spent a lot of time with, he would take them away from me. In elementary school, he called a friend I had lent a book to and threatened to kill her. In junior high, he called a family down the block who was going to have me babysit for them to call them junkies and sex fiends. In high school, he threatened to call the school and tell them he would sue them if they let me hang out with whoever my friend-of-the-month was. So I made up fake friends, and gave my real friends fake names, and when my dad picked a fight with me and told me, “And your friend Caity? Forget about her! You can never see her again! A BRAT LIKE YOU DOESN’T GET FRIENDS!” I could shrug it off, because Caity? Who’s Caity? I don’t even know anybody named Caity. Way to keep me from my imaginary friends, dad.
Later, I switched to another high school, one that I loved dearly dearly dearly. This was the high school that defended me from my father when I ran away (my previous high school, where my sister had been attending when she ran away, advised her to drop out). This was the high school that got me into college. This was the high school where the principal bought me my tickets to prom, because he knew I couldn’t afford them otherwise and felt I deserved to go.
After I ran away, I lived with Celena and her family. I’m extremely hesitant to say anything about her family. Celena herself is a writer, and I feel like if anybody gets to write about her family, she should get first dibs. That family took me in. They gave me a roof over my head and food to eat when I didn’t have either. I’m grateful. But I’m also so so angry at them. They fucked up in a lot of ways with me, and as a result, though Celena and I are now on good terms again, I don’t think we’ll ever really be friends. It was all out of ignorance, and I can sympathize with them at the same time. But they were adults and I was a kid; their ignorance hurt me a lot, and while they had the ability to get educated, I had no ability to defend myself. I wasn’t being abused in their home, so that was better than it could have been. But I was obviously a burden, an unwanted thing that became more and more unwanted as time went on. The concept of me was so angelic – what a charitable thing to do! – but the reality of me was a kid nobody seemed to like very much, who was eating too much food and taking up too much room.
Celena’s parents really didn’t involve Celena or her sister in the decision to take me in. I was thrust into the middle of what turned out to be a very touchy child-parent relationship; as time went on, I began to suspect that I had been intentionally thrust there. Just like I feel like I can’t say anything bad about them because I need to be grateful, I felt like they were using me to keep Celena from picking very needed fights with them, because they were such martyrs, and really, look how hard Harriet has had it, so how can you complain? Harriet’s dad abused her, so you don’t get to talk about your emotions anymore.
This all ended up with Celena hating the hell out of me. She was sinking into a pretty deep depression where I couldn’t reach her, and didn’t feel like I had the right – I was already intruding enough. She became deeply anti-social. I felt like having fun in front of her was mean and wrong; she was depressed because of me, after all. I didn’t feel like I could go to a party without inviting her, or hang out with anybody. Her parents were my only ride anywhere, so if she wanted to leave right after school, right after the field trip, right after the school event, I had to go with her. This wasn’t just a matter of trying to be nice to Celena. I was pretty sure that if she put her foot down, her parents would kick me out. If it was between her and me, her parents would choose her, of course.
Flint’s house became my only respite from hers. Her family hated Flint, and the more time I insisted on spending with him, the more they were disgusted with me. But he was the only friend I had; all my other friends were his. If I lost him, I’d have nobody but a family I wasn’t a part of who couldn’t wait until I moved out and disappeared. And I felt like I was doing them a favor, staying out of the house as much as possible. They obviously hated having me around; maybe if I barely lived there, only came in when everybody was asleep, only ate when nobody was looking, it would be like I had never come.
Once I got to college, I discovered what an alien I was. Freshmen only want to talk about family. They’re homesick. They talk about where they came from, the stupid things their dad used to say, the good food their mom cooked. I had nothing to say. Celena’s parents weren’t my parents. I had tried to call them once to tell them I was doing well, and Celena’s mom had sighed and said, “Why are you calling us?” Trying to tell stories about them using “my mom” or “my dad” made me choke on bile, and trying to explain who they really were got me a lot of cock-eyed looks. And what did I have to say about my real parents? “This one time, my dad’s face turned bright purple when he acted like he was going to hit me!” Or, “This one time, my mom told me this real zinger of a joke about her old dealer.” I just stayed quiet, and angry, and tired. But I was okay with it. I was okay with working myself to death and being alone. It felt better than having to deal with all the demands of people around me.
Then Thanksgiving rolled around. And I realized something that most people have the luxury of never knowing: having friends is an economic transaction. A survival mechanism. Thanksgiving was coming, the dorms were closing, and I had nowhere to sleep. Flint asked his parents if I could stay at their house. They agreed, but only if I called Celena’s parents first. It was one night. Celena’s mom sighed heavily and said they really had no room, no room at all, and didn’t I have somewhere else to go? I mean, really, Harriet, haven’t we done enough?
That summer, I moved in with Flint. I determined never to leave his side. Without him, I had nowhere to go. Without him, I had nowhere to sleep, nowhere to eat. Never mind the fact that I was paying the rent on our apartment. If I ever failed (and I knew I would someday), his parents would be the ones to bail us out. He had a safety net; I did not. If I held on to him, I could bounce in his safety net, too.
This was a lesson about friendship I never forgot. Without friends, you can’t move. Without friends, you can’t get a ride. Without friends, you don’t have a place to stay. Without friends, there aren’t favors. Without friends, you walk home alone at night. Without friends, there’s nobody to borrow money from when things go wrong. Without friends, there’s no safety net.
When I left Flint, I was also leaving his friends. This meant more than just dropping some jerks from my life. This meant I was losing a substantial amount of safety. When I moved away from Flint, Polar packed up all my stuff in her truck. I wasn’t sure I liked being friends with Polar. She was a nice person in a lot of ways. She was also racist. She was also being abused by Flint’s best friend, which risked my safety. But without her, I couldn’t move. I had no money to rent movers. I had a license, but had never driven a car outside of my test (no friends or parents to help me practice), and wasn’t able to drive or afford a moving truck.
I’ve always been acutely aware of the economic balance of friendship. Whereas other people seem able to take this in stride, as a part of friendship, maybe not even a noticeable part, it’s at the forefront of my mind. If this person helps me in this way, how am I now obligated to them? Can I afford to be? If I do this for this person, will it be enough that they will help me in the future? Can I afford to have this confrontation? I still operate with a mindset of starvation and poverty when it comes to personal relationships. I don’t have enough resources to give; I have to parcel them out carefully on calculated risks. I can’t put time and energy into somebody who cannot or will not be a friend, because someday my life will fall apart and I will have no safety net, and the money I could have spent on food or rent is money I lent to them.
I’m acutely aware of the fact that if I were to lose my bear, I would go back to a life where nobody touches me. I would go back to a life where I would have to hire strangers to help me move. I would go back to a life where, if I needed money desperately, I would have no way to get it. There are a lot of people who have had their lives fall apart spectacularly. Their partners leave, they lose their jobs, they lose their friends. Those people usually end up in their parents’ basements. I wouldn’t. I don’t have a basement I can go to and stew in and hate. If all this falls apart, I’ve got nothing. I’ve got nobody.
I realize now that I treat friends the way I treated touching as a child. I push people away. I don’t want them to know how much I need them. I don’t want them to feel I’m taking advantage of them. I don’t want to need them and then be rejected. You can need somebody emotionally, and you can need them because without them, you don’t have food to eat or a place to sleep. Though it’s not as dire as it once was, though I’m an adult now with a good job and could survive, in my mind, I need friends because without them I don’t have food to eat or a place to sleep. And that’s not friendship. That’s desperation. That’s acting like however they want me to act, as long as they don’t leave me.
I don’t know how people cross that magical line from an economic transaction to a pleasant experience that just is, just happens. It’s an exchange in my mind. I provide emotional validation; you provide company. In my model of friendship, we don’t even have to like each other, which explains a lot of the friendships I’ve had in my life. I suspect most people learned the other model – the model based on fun and qualities or processes they can’t describe – when they were so young that they now cannot remember learning it. But rest assured, they did learn. I know they did, because I didn’t. You don’t get born with the capacity for friendship. I wasn’t. And I still don’t have it. And I hate myself for how needy, vulnerable, lonely, stupid, crippled, and alien that makes me. I can’t just be casual, sit around and wait for friendships to naturally develop, run their course, and whatever other platitudes seem to work for other people. Friendship is SERIOUS BUSINESS to me, and it’s really off-putting to others. If I fuck up at friendship, I take it hard. The world, in my mind, is literally over. I have failed at life. I may not survive now.
Here is the cold-blooded arithmetic I do in my head when it comes to friendship: if I did not have a job, and did not have a boyfriend, and died in my sleep, how long would it take before somebody found me? The answer has almost always been: a month. The landlord would come after their rent. I could disappear, because I don’t have friends. Which, you’d think, would make me really gung-ho about getting some. But I’ve been on that side, and I gathered up a big bundle of potheaded losers fucks, creepy jerks, nice but deeply fucked up and dangerous people, racist and sexist nasties. I was friends with them just so somebody might find me if I died. I was friends with them so I wouldn’t disappear. I don’t want to inflict that on anybody. Who wants to be that person? The person who validates an existence? People as sick as I am, that’s who.
This is the massively fucked cycle I go through in my brain. Make friends! I think. Just talk to people! Be friendly! It’ll happen! But it never does, I counter. It never just happens. You’re too weird, is why. You’re weird and you’re scared. Everybody’s all, ooh! I’ve got it! Let’s have a normal conversation, about our interests and hobbies! And Harriet’s all, I JUST READ AN ARTICLE ON THE FATHER OF GYNECOLOGY DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY WOMEN HE MUTILATED. Everybody’s all, ooh! When I was growing up, ha ha ha I used to wear this pair of pajamas and Harriet is all ha ha ha yes I had the wackiest pajamas, three pairs of jeans and three pairs of plaid jackets because I lived on a mattress in the basement and didn’t have heat and it flooded a lot. Ha ha! The things we wear to keep the bugs off our skin! And everybody is all, ooh! My job today, boy, I filed the thing incorrectly! And I am all, yes! My job! With the little children who get raped by their parents! I don’t like filing either! So then I think, god, maybe I don’t have to talk like that, I could pretend I have other interests, right? I could fake it and pretend to be another person so I can desperately collect people around me so I don’t die alone! FUN
That world where friendship just happens somehow? Doesn’t work for me. I do not have casual subjects to chat about. I can only show my desperation full force, or not at all. I still have trouble having people in my house, because what if I have to eat while they are there, and they see me eating, and they realize that I am eating wrong? Too much? The wrong foods?
When I left Flint, I tried to not care about the friend thing. I had too much else on my plate. Clean your own backyard first, you know? But that was three years ago, almost four. I feel like I should have figured it out by now. The friend thing crops up now and again, and makes me feel like shit, but usually goes away in a day or two. This time, it’s been a solid week of WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU HARRIET YOU ARE A FAILURE OF A HUMAN BEING. It makes me not want to interact on my blog, because then it’s OH GOOD JOB HARRIET AT LEAST THE INTERNET THINKS YOU’RE COOL.
I don’t have a conclusion with this, something I’ve learned, something new I’m going to try. I feel like shit and I have no solutions. I am terminally fucking weird.