My Quiet Life of Desperation

Sometimes I question whether I’m missing some piece of mental machinery every human is supposed to have.  Some essential brain cog of empathy or social deftness that would enable me to understand other people’s actions, or more importantly, my own.

 

It’s like this.  I’m confronted with a situation any ordinary person would see as easy to deal with and my mind runs a million miles a minute trying to put the pieces of this great social puzzle together in order to come up with the appropriate response.  My heart’s tearing me one way, telling me to run, run as fast I can, and my mind’s gently coaxing me in the opposite direction saying I should stay and fight the panic.

 

“We can do this,” my brain whispers.  “It’s just a couple variables plugged into some great social algorithm we have yet to discover.  Just crack the code, crack the code…”

 

I want to choose to fight, but more often than not it’s flight that I choose after a couple of feeble jabs.

 

It’s not that I’m some big social pariah or even that one could tell I’m having a hard time dealing with the occasional social situation, but it’s clear as day to me of course.  I’ll feel like I’m in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where the driver’s ed. teacher, Mrs. Puff, tries to teach Spongebob to drive through a simple obstacle course.  There’s always someone in my brain screaming “Floor it! FLOOR it!”  

 

It’s frustrating.

 

Luckily my socio-emotional car wrecks don’t end in any physical casualties that heal by the very next t.v. episode.  But I still have to deal with emotional wreckage.

 

No.

I’m being dramatic. 

 

Wreckage is too strong a word for it.  It’s not as if I slap people and insult their mothers every time I feel socially gangly and awkward. 

 

I might just give a one word response to an essay-like question or offer a cold one-handed wave rather than a warm two-armed hug.  Just little things.  But these little things can make a big difference when it comes to relationships, and I feel at a loss when I have to deal with the after-effects with no sane explanation for my actions.

 

I mean, what do I say?

 

“Sorry, I was having a mini-emotional breakdown, but I’m better now.  We still good?”

 

Maybe I’m still just being dramatic and even the average ‘Normal Guy’ has these breaks in reason, but I wouldn’t know.  I’ve never considered myself “normal.” 

 

~LDA

An Entity with Hands

A while ago I meandered into one of my favorite Italian restaurants to pick up an eggplant Parmesan sub I’d ordered over the phone.

I’d hustled in, looking down, already searching for my wallet in the bottomless pit that is my backpack, when an unexpectedly friendly greeting reached my ears.

“Welcome!”

Not a “Welcome, how may I take your order?” or a “Hi, would you like to try our new Stromboli?” But a genuine hello that resonated with agreeableness. 

I actually had to look up from my rummaging to greet the person at the counter correctly.

“Uh, thanks.”  I was quite taken aback.

Usually it was routine to mutter a barely intelligible “Hey, here for pick up,” but this time it seemed that I would actually have to muster up some semblance of congeniality.

(Spoiler: I suck at unexpected human interaction.)

“Hello, how are you doing today?” the twenty something year-old behind the counter asked me smiling.  Again, with the authenticity dripping from his voice.  His face made it seem like he actually expected a genuine reply.  Not a dismissive “Good, I’m here to pick up my sub,” but an actual description of my state of well being. 

Whoa.  This guy’s almost making me believe he really cares even though I don’t know him from Adam, I thought to myself.  Is this a trick?  Did someone tell him how inept I am at social interaction so he could see for himself or something? 

I squinted my eyes,

“Uh, goo~d,” I said, drawing the word out as I looked around for hidden cameras.

“Great to hear!  What can I do for you today?” he replied still smiling.

The rest of the exchange was fairly normal after that but I was struck by how sad it was that I was so shocked by someone taking the time to look me in the eye when they spoke.  So much of the service industry is so mechanic and geared toward efficiency that genuine social interaction surprised me more than it should have.  It seriously confused me that had I chosen to actually give him a couple details about my day, I’m almost positive he would have engaged me in real conversation.

How sad is that? 

I’m so used to the go-go-go nature of life that the fact that a cashier didn’t only view me as an entity with hands who happened to hold a credit card, was nearly Earth shattering.  In that moment, I almost preferred he view me as a number, just customer number 486, rather than an actual person.  It made me uncomfortable that I was expected to rouse myself out of my habitual stupor to interact with the world in front of me.

This hits me as a tragedy.

We so often wander around zombie-like in our predetermined routine that we’re startled and almost troubled when a drop of humanity ripples the still pool of everyday life.

After that encounter with the peppy cashier and realizing how ashamed I was at having turned into a walking dead, I try to stir myself out of my own daze by trying to startle others with unexpected interaction.

You know, just little things.

Beating the door greeter to a friendly hello.  Asking a waiter how their day is going.  These small plot twists go a long way.

I find these simple things help make at least a little piece of the world a little more awake. 

Have you ever had an encounter that made you suddenly realize something was wrong with how you were viewing the world?  Feel free to tell me in the comments.  🙂

~LDA