Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Inalienable Rights

It's beautiful outside, and I feel completely, utterly alone.


I had a phone call with my Mom. She said when she moved to Springfield, she felt the same way I feel about Nyack: people aren't genuinely friendly here. They are only friendly if they want to you patronize their establishment or hire them for some service, or join some committee they are on. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone seems to already know each other, and I've tried numerous times to get to know people, go to some local events and meet people.

"It wasn't anything like that in the city," I said. "In the city, people just wanted someone to go to movies with, or hit the bars. It was shallow, but it was social."

Mom mused about people in the city already having the business angle figured out. "There's only so many people in Nyack," she said. They are all already each other's customers. Limited profit margin there.

My Mom told me a Springfield story, about bringing my grandma with her to a meeting of some sort, likely the PTA or some school-related thing. When it was over, Grandma said "those women aren't very friendly!" Up until then, Mom had thought she was the problem, that she was doing something wrong.

"Well, thanks to growing up in Springfield, at least I know snobbery and insincerity when I see it," I snarked.

There was one woman in Nyack that I met, who was clearly hoping to make a friend. She appeared to be in her early forties, a significant enough age gap to make me feel out of place. She began to tell me every intimate detail of her recent divorce - including all the sick sexual things her ex-husband wanted her to do - within the first hour of knowing me. She was so desperate, she scared the crap out of me.

My Mom's "friends" that I remember from my youth: a raging alcoholic, and a woman whose husband beat and abused his family.

I remember when all my friends were drug users, underage drinkers, angry gays whose parents had kicked them out at 18, people who considered prostitution because it made them feel like less of a victim, like they were taking some measure of control over their lives. Girls who "weren't above" exotic dancing, boys who were "smart enough" to sell drugs and use without getting caught or strung out. We were all under 25 years old. Most of us were under 21.

I remember making the very difficult decision to cut those people out of my life. It wasn't hard to do on a practical level. If I avoided them, they eventually quit calling. It was hard on an emotional level. I felt that I was abandoning people who needed me. I felt that I was becoming a judgmental snob. Who did I think I was? I was no better than them. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the realization that the only difference between me and them was that I believed there was more to life, and that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't out of reach. I was no optimist, but I had less despair than they did. Maybe only a teaspoon less, but it was enough.

But they didn't want to hear it. I couldn't help them, and they didn't want me to. They just wanted to drink, smoke, watch movies, get delivery, try to get laid now and then, and bitch about life, the world, and everyone we knew.

There's an old axiom: Any man is better than no man. I turned that one around pretty quickly: No man is better than an abusive man. Once I got that through my head, and escaped my abusive relationship, it was a hard step to the next phase: Being alone is better than hanging out with people who might get you arrested. I had to apply this to my friends. At least, that's how I justified it. Saying "they fill me with despair and hopelessness" didn't seem like a good enough excuse to dump a social group. Saying "I'm afraid the cops will raid" sounded more acceptable. Nobody wants to go to jail.

Amazing, how I had to justify lifting myself out of the gutter. How dare I. Who did I think I was?

Maybe I still see myself that way? Do I project that? Is that why nobody in Nyack - at least, no healthy person - ever wanted to smalltalk with me? Am I still carrying the gutter around on my back?

I am still punishing myself for not wanting to be surrounded by dysfunction. My Dad is a doctor, my mom a teacher. They are both working-class liberals who raised me to believe that if you see someone in need, you should give whatever you can. Be generous. Never judge others. And if someone says they are sorry, forgive them. Be kind to others, and they will be kind to you.

They never told me that people might use me, might walk all over me, might take and take and take and never give. Might con me out of everything I had.

They told me I deserved a happy life. They did not tell me that I might have to choose my own needs over those of my "friends" in order to have it.

All that was almost 20 years ago.

I made the change. I moved to New York, and became far more discriminating. I decided to seek out friendships with people - women mostly - who I admired, who I looked up to, who I felt were, somehow, better than me.

None of them are in my life anymore.

I realized recently that I don't have any real friends in Nyack because I haven't met anyone here that I want to make a real friend of. The people I've met remind me too much of the people I left behind in Springfield. Bitter, angry, older people, drug-using young people. Women who are so needy they frighten me. Men who look old enough to be my father, talking to my breasts. Expensively-dressed attractive adults who pretend not to see me, even when I look directly in their eyes, smiling, trying to engage them in conversation. Then they shift their weight, give a nervous laugh, give me a two or three word response, and walk away, quickly.

Four years of this. No wonder I'm so fucking depressed.

And now, I sit here and this fear creeps over me... maybe it's me. Maybe it's not Springfield, or Nyack. Maybe it's something I'm carrying around.

I mean, I did have people to go to movies with when I lived in the city. To museums, street fairs, shopping. We had great times, my old pals and I. As long as we lived nearby.

I am so confused.

Am I ever going to be past this New York Withdrawal?

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