Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THE FEAR OF BEING ALONE

I've always been fully aware that I belong to the neediest of species. But recently, it's become a near-inescapable fact. It seems that just about everyone I know or meet has this desperate desire for companionship. I'm not talking strictly about the romantic brand but the platonic kind, too. These sociaholics avoid being alone like the plague, preferring to spend every waking hour surrounded by others rather than face a few hours in silent solitude and quiet contemplation.

I'm not one of those people. Never have been. Despite my gregarious party-boy streak, my friends would probably describe me as, among other things, private, secretive, given to bouts of reclusiveness, the person most likely to pull a Greta Garbo in old age and disappear into his ivory tower. Thank God for my friend Cara, who lives three floors down from me in Buenos Aires, and who, like me, enjoys being by herself as much if not more than being with others. (It's so good to have someone close by who I know won't stop by incessantly--or unannounced.)

How did I end up like this? I blame my parents. Actually, I thank my parents, because I'm quite happy as is and have absolutely zero desire to become a mindless socializer addicted to the sound of the crowd. My siblings and I were always overprotected by our folks, to the point where we weren't allowed to play with the neighborhood kids. To be completely honest, three out of four of us pretty much didn't want to anyway, and we used this as an excuse to retreat into ourselves, becoming consumed with books, academia and, especially in my case, music. Of course, we had each other, but we never used that to fill the empty space. We all had better things to do.

When I was a kid, I don't remember ever begging my dad to take me out to the ball game or to the nearest arcade to play a billion rounds of Pac-Man. My idea of the perfect Saturday afternoon was one spent in the Kissimmee Public Library on Main Street. Every week, we'd beg Mom and Dad to take us to the library, check out tons of books (mine were almost invariably about U.S. history with an Encylopedia Brown mystery collection thrown in), devour them in a few days and repeat.

It may sound like hell to a lot of people, and it certainly didn't make me any new friends, but I'm glad things played out the way they did, because it allowed me to become comfortable with going solo. It also helped that although I was well-known for being smart (and, at my teacher's request, reciting the names of the then-39 U.S. presidents to all the second-grade classes), I never had a lot of friends. The possibilities of why are endless: I was fat. I was gay (unbeknownst to me until I was a little bit older). I talked funny (my still inexplicably present Caribbean accent was crazy strong back then). I was totally uncomfortable in my skin. (Who can blame me?) In other words, I had no choice but to develop a relationship with myself, as the masses were not exactly clamoring for my company.

Thankfully, I eventually outgrew the social outcast thing. It was a slow process that began around the age of 18 when I dropped my baby fat without really attempting to do so. Slowly but surely, I emerged from my shell and became something of a social butterfly, a truly "recovering introvert" (to quote my brother Alexi)--but an introvert all the same. Although I now consider wild-and-crazy Jeremy to be a valid expression of one side of my personality, I'm a loner at heart. When I enter life-of-the-party mode, I feel as if I'm having an out of body experience, watching myself play a role. But when the going gets tough and being in public starts to get on my nerves, one thought keeps me going: My ivory tower awaits.

Please, do not disturb.
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