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There are times I look in the mirror and I’m shocked I don’t see the twenty-three year old I used to be. Like the crows feet, receding hairline, touches of sagging jaw, and grey hairs just showed up overnight like a home invasion. That gradual process is so sneaky that you don’t realize it’s happening until the damage is done. Or at least too far gone to turn back time. (Please read afore line in your best Cher voice.) I can’t imagine how much more true that will be in another thirty years.
While my face is aging sneakily, in a way that could only be caught by a time-lapse video, my personality and disposition are not. It’s scarily on fast forward. I’m even more terrified by what that will look like in thirty years than I am my face! (Okay, we all know that isn’t really true, even if it should be.)
I’m nearly forty. I’m not old. Well, unless you ask my past twenty-three year old self, then, yes, I’m old. Still, nearly forty matches my face. It doesn’t match my personality. Somewhere along the line, my insides began aging faster than my outsides. It’s fairly frequently that my boyfriend (who is eight years older than me) looks over at me and says, “You are such an old man already.” This is typically after I comment about someone else.
I’ve become the stereotypical grumpy old man about forty years before my time.
This was starting to happen while I was still teaching. Actually, I think teaching is the root cause of it all. However, working from home has been an accelerant on my internal aging process. I’ve grown accustomed to being alone. Just me and my dog. I go hours and hours and hours without speaking. To the point that when I’m forced (term used intentionally) to have an actual conversation with someone, my throat hurts by the end of it. I can go hours and hours and hours without hearing anyone else. I don’t even have the tv on in the background.
But, out in the world? People want to, wait for it, for the horror of it all……… talk! And they make noise! They whistle. Whistle! It’s total ear assault! I did not ask for your sounds to invade the private space of my ear. You need permission to touch me there. BUT, it seems, that isn’t true. Anyone can reach inside your ear and touch you anyway they want. (I say this sort of in jest, but only sort of. People are loud. A lot of them VERY loud. And you can’t get away from it. It’s exhausting.)
Also, it turns out, one conversation leads to another one! Like the first conversation wasn’t horrid enough. You’ve spent the past five, ten, thirty minutes, smiling, nodding, responding in an appropriate amount of time. You haven’t run away screaming, you haven’t yelled for them to please be quiet, you haven’t broken down in tears like you are on the inside because you can’t escape all the talking, all the noise, all the stuff! You’ve made it through a conversation, maybe even with someone you actually love, but more often. . . not, and then they say, “Well, that was fun! When can we do this again?”
That’s my reward for sticking this thing through in a socially appropriate way? You want to subject me to it again?!?!?!?
My boyfriend is very social. Like I used to be. (Though he didn’t know me way back then, so he kinda knew what he was in for with me—though it’s rapidly getting worse.) When he is home in Denver, we often have lunches, brunches, run-ins on walks, with people he knows (a couple of these are actual friends of mine, but those are few and far between). At the end of those run-in’s, those friendly people (aka, torturers), turn to me and say, “We don’t have to wait until Stephen is back in town. We should hang out. Call me. We can grab dinner or drinks or something.”
And they mean it. They think they’re being nice.
Twice in the span of twenty-four hours, in response to those requests, I actually looked at them and said, “That’s very sweet, I’m kind of a recluse who hates people.” Then I laugh, and say, “No, I don’t really hate people” (you and I know that’s a big, fat lie) “I’m just a homebody and need a lot of time on my own.” They look at me rather shocked. Stephen, bless his heart, now just smiles and nods, offers a laugh at the normal people, and shrugs and says, “Yeah. He doesn’t do the whole social thing.”
Here’s the deal. I used to respond with the socially acceptable reply of, “Sure! That would be great!” However, a lot of the time, those normal people actually mean it and then you either have to subject yourself to the torture all over again (which is then repeated with another invasion to more painful talking and noise) or you are rude and keep finding excuses to not hang out or simply stop answering their messages. Not that I would ever do that. (Okay, maybe I’ve done that. Once. Or twice….) I now find it easier to simply say No up front. To blame work, my antisocial proclivities, or introversion—all of which are true. Most of the time, people actually flinch with this response. I do smile when I say it and inflect a self-deprecating tone so that they know it truly is me and not them (Which, it is me. But it’s also them.) It’s amazing, however, how many times, the person tries again. And a few of them then seem to take it as a personal challenge to wear me down. Like I’m a mythical unicorn who needs socialized. Unfortunately for them, I was socialized. Extremely. I’ve now gone rabid and there’s’ no turning back. It doesn’t mean I don’t love and care for people. I do! Truly. I love many, many people. There just only ten of them I actually want to see.
In fact, I. . .
Excuse me. There’s someone outside on the sidewalk by my house whistling. WHISTLING!!!!! I’ve got to go yell at them!
About Brandon WittBrandon Witt resides in Denver, Colorado. When not snuggled on the couch with his two Corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan, he is more than likely in front of his computer, nose inches from the screen, fingers pounding they keys. When he manages to tear himself away from his writing addiction, he passionately takes on the role of a special education teacher during the daylight hours.
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