“You’re going to die alone.” He said it as if it were a fact, the way a weatherman reports that it’s windy outside during a tornado. Like everyone noticed it but me. The obvious meets the oblivious. That’s me.
It was the Friday before Valentine’s day. I was very single for the first time in a long time, despite feeling alone for my whole life. I’m the girl in a crowded room who dreads pleasantries, so I cling to a close friend until they get caught up in conversation with a very nice stranger while I nurse my drink in silence. I look unfriendly, but I’m not. I’m just tired of pretending to be like everybody else, because I’m nothing like anybody else except for my cellular structure, and I’ve known this for a long time. So I keep to myself to save you the trouble of talking to me so that you’re not disappointed. Or maybe so I’m not disappointed. I’m not sure which is more true anymore.
I’ve been head focused on my career for a long time. I found something I’m good at, and work is the only thing that’s never rejected me and there’s always more of it, so it will never abandon me. It’s nothing like any human I’ve ever met, and part of me liked it that way.
Past tense. 364 days ago, to be exact.
I was sitting on the runway on a flight coming back from San Diego. I got in around midnight and as I descended the escalator at the American Airlines terminal, I realized that I was coming home to nothing. I had no reason to come home. Home could have been anywhere-Boston, California, Paris, London, The Moon. It didn’t matter, because there was no one to come home to. I’d been traveling extensively for work. So much travel that one morning, I woke up in my bed in my apartment and I tried to order room service from my blackberry and I was confused as to which button to hit on the key pad to reach the front desk. I had no idea I was home, a place that doesn’t really exist to me; I have the ability to feel at home everywhere and nowhere. I am like a chameleon. No matter where I go, I look like I fit. People ask me for directions and chat me up because I don’t look out of place. But I am.
I watched loved ones embracing and I tried to shield my eyes, as if witnessing a terrorist attack and headed to the cab stand. It was cold and I missed San Diego. I missed being away. I got into a cab and started to cry. It surprised me and it surprised the cab driver even more.
“You’re too pretty to cry,” the cab driver said with a thick accent. I don’t know what kind of accent it was, and I wouldn’t want to insult the cab driver by guessing. He was a cab driver meant for bigger things; he was listening to NPR on the radio. But at that moment, I felt he was ignorant. My entire life, people have been telling me that I’m too pretty to cry, as if you can be too pretty to be sad or too ugly to be happy.
I gave him my address and opened up Twitter. The internet is a great place. When you’ve made a brand out of being publicly available, you always have friends. I have no idea what I tweeted, but it must have been something sad and pathetic, which happens sometimes. I have never been very good at hiding my emotions, for better or worse. I probably said something to the effect of “alone and sad on valentine’s day weekend.” It was the 140 character equivalent of a Cathy cartoon, minus a few cats and a bathrobe. A few flirtatious male friends reached out saying that they’d be my Valentine, as if Valentine’s day is just a twenty-four hour period that starts at midnight and ends at 11:59pm. In case you’re wondering, it’s not.
My phone vibrated and a direct message (for those of you not on twitter, a ‘DM’ as the kids call it is a private message between you and someone else that nobody else can see) came in from my friend @MatthewKnell who I’ve known for a few years and don’t see or speak to nearly enough, but someone I respect immensely and regard highly. He’s known me since my New York days when I was married and living a relatively “normal” life. And he’s seen me through some not-so-normal times. We got to chatting and instead of assuaging me like everyone else, he was honest with me. And he told me that if I didn’t change what I was doing that I was going to die alone. And he was right. I had made it so impossible for anyone to get close to me that it was more than possible, it was probable.
I was angry at him. He was getting married and I thought he was high and mighty. In reality, my pride was hurt. I don’t like to partake in activities that I’m not good at-I’m a perfectionist. But I am not very good at matters of the heart. I am not very trusting. I confuse sadness for anger, I overreact, I’m inflexible, and I have the ability to turn my emotions on and off as if they were connected to a light switch. And I scare away so easily it’s a wonder I can get out of bed in the morning and face the world. But I do. Because deep down, I want to be loved more than anything. And I have so much love to give someone-I’ve been saving it up my whole life for the right person. I have so much love to give that it’s overwhelming.
I wrote off the comment and deleted the messages, as if I could erase them from my mind the way I could erase them from my phone. But I went home that night and fell asleep in a puddle of my own tears and the next day, I woke up and I grabbed a moleskin and I wrote down all the things I wanted out of life and I realized that everything I wanted would be a lot more fun with somebody else. Sure, it’s physically possible to go to Paris alone, and I will buy a house one day, but wouldn’t it be nice to come home to someone? The answer to all of my questions was ‘yes.’
I never told Matt that I was angry at him. I know he would have taken it well if I confronted him about it, because he’s mild mannered and well-adjusted in ways I will never be. He has a beautiful life, a wife, and a wonderful career and he makes a difference in people’s lives. Especially mind. After the anger dissipated, I began taking care of myself. I did more yoga, spent time with friends, went ice skating, laughed, and made some wonderful friends. I wasn’t focused on dating. I dated, but I wasn’t looking for anything.
It was when I wasn’t looking for anything that I found everything-the courage to put myself out there. The courage to let myself be vulnerable and open to another person.
So thank you for changing my life, changing the lens I look at the world through, and for having the courage to tell me the truth so that I don’t push the world away. Because nobody wants to die alone. Especially me.
[Note: this was probably the hardest post I have ever written. Not because it was stylistically challenging or fancy or even good. How can you ever appropriately thank someone who changed your life? I guess "thank you" is a good enough start.]