The summer after junior year of high school, my two closest friends abandoned me. I can’t remember a specific incident, discussion or argument that preceded our departure. All I knew was that K and K were driving off in the morning and the afternoon while I stood at my window, peeking behind the blinds.
Most of what we had in common was proximity. Like most teenagers, I molded myself to fit into a social group. With one person, I might share the love of a band. With another, disdain for our Physics class. And with those girls, it was the fact that we were the same age and lived on the same block that made us show off our Christmas presents or our back-to-school clothes, talk about the boys we liked and sit in sun-bleached grass until our skin burned. There was not much to do in a rural south Jersey town except watch cars go by, beg our parents to drive us to the faraway mall, or listen to Nirvana from our bedroom floors, our ears pressed close to the speakers. So that is what we did.
And then I was left to do it by myself. I had to babysit my brother for three long months, and they were carefree, able to come and go as they pleased. Before the phone calls and get-togethers completely stopped, there were whispers of parties and pot and people I didn’t know. In our high school yearbook, the memories below their pictures described events from that year of which I had not been a part. Instead, I was the ghost of years past, lurking amidst their laughter and in the smoke of their cars.
It seems I am no stranger to isolation, so why am I so surprised when those feelings hit me again, hard and fast, my loneliness a cloud of familiarity?
This summer, as I slipped back into the role of stay-at-home mother while my college classes are on hold, I remember clearly why it was so hard the first time around: Motherhood is isolating, lonely, often thankless. While my days are full of a kind of busyness, my desire for social contact goes largely unsatisfied. I am once again at the window, watching others come and go. Through my computer, I see glimmers of meet-ups and vacations and busy, fulfilling days belonging to other people. At work, people have an automatic social group for commiseration and feedback, whether they like it or not. At home, though, it’s solely up to me to lead my small herd out the door every day, to find inexpensive ways to occupy our time, to spend sometimes the entire morning and afternoon without hearing another friendly adult voice. The kicker is that when I meet someone I have something in common with, our kids may gravitate toward opposite sides of the room or beg to go home. Maybe one mother’s child naps late in the afternoon, just when mine are looking to go out again. Or the kids love each other, but the adults are left dumbly watching, with nothing to say. I have plenty of people I enjoy talking to, people who I call friends, but that doesn’t mean we are available at the same time, or that they’d want to help me entertain my kids all week.
All of this means that motherhood is a solitary, hermitic job. It means that many days, I feel like I’m in high school again, wishing to be invited to the Cool Girl’s party. Of course I know there is no official Cool Girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t assume there are moms’ groups and writers’ groups and women’s groups having a grand time in French bistros while I sit on my couch, scanning the news.
I often think of the quote from Julie Delpy’s character Celine, in the movie Before Sunset: “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.”
Once I graduated high school, I definitely thought I’d meet loads of people I’d click with, whose passions would be similar to mine, who’d keep me up talking and laughing until morning. Isn’t that what we learn in the movies, in shows like Sex and the City and Entourage? There are plenty of people I can talk to and get along with, but as for true, lifelong confidants, aside from family members? The number doesn’t extend beyond the fingers of one hand.
These feelings and musings come and go like an allergy. Many days, I am content to care for my children, chat with a friend, write, teach, reunite with my husband at dinner. There is wine, my book club, dinner out, many things to look forward to. But other times, the past creeps into my chest, those feelings of insecurity and hopelessness, the hours before bed stretching into an eternity of silent, lonesome tasks.
Adolescence was never practice for the harsh realities of life. It was very much it. There is no practice. There is just the real world, hugging you with sweaty arms every single day, whether you’re 16 or 31.
It’s a good thing those arms so often belong to someone who loves you.
If you haven’t seen the movie Before Sunset, I highly recommend it!