3/6/13

You've got a friend in me.

When I was a kid, I loved to read. It helped me to escape from the loneliness of being the only Indian kid in a sea of more assimilated Americans. It wasn't just the fact that I was Indian that was the issue, but also the fact that I was shy and awkward. I loved being with people. Whenever my parents would take me out with them, I'd have lots of playmates (if there were children around), or conversations (if it was just adults). I could carry on about pretty much anything, from religion to science, because I really did enjoy watching documentaries, and asking questions.
So to go to school, and be more or less ignored by everyone was difficult to cope with. I liked being around people, but it's hard to fit in when your clothes are third-hand (first someone would give the clothes to my dad, who'd wear them out, then pass it on to my eldest brother, who'd pass it on to my second eldest brother, who'd pass it on to me). They were clean, and in good repair, but never of the name brands, and never a good fit. I didn't exactly have a choice of dressing fashionably. You wore what you got, and once in a while, mum would take us to garage sales, and let us get "new" clothes from there that were more our style, as long as they cost less than $1 a garment.
Suffice it to say that I hated going to school when it involved group projects, or interacting with the other children, but loved going when it involved learning new things. I would take my textbooks home at the beginning of the semester, engrossed in all the new knowledge that they were just giving away for free without charging me anything. By the time I'd come to class the next day, I'd have already finished that chapter ages ago. This didn't endear me to my classmates. (Although all my teachers loved me.)
Over time, I began to withdraw further and further into myself. I'd bring a book with me no matter where I went, even if I knew there were going to be other children around to play with. By the time I hit 8th grade, I was starting to find myself attracted to other boys, which made me withdraw even deeper into myself, because what if someone found out this terrible secret? The worst of it was that I wasn't fooling anyone. I'm so gay that you can spot it from outer space. Either way, it made me even more lonely and isolated.
By the time I hit high school, I was paranoid, and withdrawn, and only willing to talk with or hang out with a couple of people. For a natural extravert, this is torture. Being forced into seclusion is not pleasant for someone who draws energy from being around people. I found the drama club, and found other people as lonely as I was. Other people who could escape for a while into stories, and instead of just reading it to themselves, sharing those stories on the stage. It was a heady feeling.
However, as someone for whom friends are a novelty, it was difficult for me to maintain friendships, because I didn't really understand the protocols. I wasn't really good at knowing how much to share of myself, and how much of my talents to give away selflessly. It took until senior year of high school for me to perfect my public face, and keep my inner self sheltered carefully.
In college, I became acquainted with a whole different group of people. Unlike the ones in high school, all the students really wanted to be there (as tuition was really high, which meant that you'd only attend if you could finagle the finances). It was nice to be around other science nerds, who didn't care about your sexuality, but more so about your ability to absorb the information and build upon it. After I graduated, I'd built up a tight-knit circle of friends whom I'd regularly hang out with. It was a completely different feeling. I'd still reach for a book as soon as I was on a bus, or lazing about at home. I'd still spend hours in the library, sat in between the shelves, lost in a new book.
And then came the Internet (for me) around 2004. I was online a bit before then, but around 2004 was when I really began to get involved with online forums, and make friends there.
I've come full circle, however. My husband met me online, moved in after we got married, and has been with me since. My other online friends have slowly become in-person friends.
Even so, I still have a bit of insecurity around making new friends. I still have that leftover residue of being the kid that nobody wanted to talk to, or be around. I love being around people, and have a fairly wide net of acquaintances that I've met in person and online. I've got a pretty good handle on being able to strike up a conversation with complete strangers, and enjoy myself thoroughly.
It feels weird to know that people want to be my friend; that they want to hang out with me and come to my house. That they want to eat my cooking. That they seek me out.
In other words, if you do seek me out, don't be surprised if I immediately respond. I don't like to play games, and keep the other person waiting. If you want to make an overture, I'll most likely return it immediately.
But if you don't, and you prefer to keep your distance, don't worry. I've still got my books.
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