Vacation was good. Not great, there were some hiccups but the atmosphere was ‘party’ and that helped smooth over the nagging little irritations. It was relatively easy to ignore that her “friends” made themselves scarce, they disappeared among the crowd of revelers. They were easy enough to find when she wanted to but they would soon have someone they had to go see or had to go use the bathroom (together) or make some other excuse to leave her. But they were nice about it…it wasn’t like they were snotty or overtly dismissive and, after all, it wasn’t completely unexpected behavior – she knew after the arrangements were made that she been manipulated into the trip. That didn’t make it any easier on her self-esteem, it didn’t keep the tight knot from forming in her throat but she reminded herself that this was her vacation too and she could entertain herself and enjoy it without help from anyone else. She’d had a life-time of practice. A half-century of making excuses for other peoples’ behaviors, keeping her expectations as low as she could tolerate (with friends) and making herself content with her minimal existence while maintaining a tiny sliver of hope that someday ‘things’ would get better. She felt the somedays were running out.
Home was empty and dark when she returned and although it was unusual for no one to be home it was okay, she unpacked and reflected briefly on her week. She knew she’d been slightly aloof with her friends that morning in preparation for their flights home but they’d all agreed that returning to ‘reality’ is a buzz-kill and everyone was a little sedate. She warmed up through the morning with the intention that she wouldn’t leave the little group with a sour taste; don’t let them see you cry. Isn’t that the mantra? Keep your chin up and don’t reveal your weakness. She made the mental note: I probably won’t hear or see these ‘friends’ again for sometime, probably not until the holidays when I might get a “Happy Holidays” text. That’s okay. She can pretend to be friends as long as they can. Once, after decades of what she termed “one-way-friendships” (for the obvious reason that they only seemed to work one way), she had decided that she was no longer going to be the only real friend in the relationship, they had always had a way of just dying from neglect and that would be the way these too would go. She was tired of maintaining superficial relationships, a false facade of happiness or contentment and she was especially tired of holding out hope.
The next morning her two grown children were home. One asked if she had a good time; “yeah” she replied with enthusiasm. That was the end of the inquiries; there was no further interest in specifics or asking to see photos. Nothing. They were not at all curious about her week abroad. Only slightly deflated she thought it just as well, this way she wouldn’t have to magnify the highlights and minimize the disappointment.
At work one person asked about her two week absence. She replied with only slightly feigned delight that she’d been on vacation and told them where she had gone. Her peer replied that they had also been to the same place and had a great time. She started to elaborate on her experience but her co-worker took over the conversation reliving their own vacation. Shortly thereafter she returned to her work. Throughout the day, just as an experiment to satisfy a curiosity, she mentioned her vacation time away from work – just in passing – to a few other staff members but there were no bites, it was as if she hadn’t said anything at all. She went about her work day as she always did, quietly and dutifully, nothing out of the ordinary.
A few days later was election day. There was animated conversations at work and no small amount of anxiety over the much talked about campaigns and dirty tactics. She had returned home to find her two children watching some news coverage – this was unique. Their usual diet was “reality TV”. She asked what the latest ‘news’ was and her children became engaged in conversation. This was surprising. The three adults within this house typically passed as ships in the night, very little interaction or dialogue. This had become a mental focus of hers in the last year or so. She tried to interact when either of them were home, taking an interest in their day and life without being ‘nosey’. What young adult wants their parent snooping around in their business? She understood. There would be light conversation, nothing personal or even informative. She might say what she was going to do that day or evening or maybe mention some chore around the house or yard she planned on tackling but dialogue petered out and the electronic devices became important. That was the case when she involved herself with the election discussion. She had confided to her two adult children that she could understand the anger of Americans who felt ‘left out’ or ‘disenfranchised’ but she found herself watching them engage with their iPhones. She abruptly ended her short monologue and noticed they were unaware. Or were they deliberately ignoring her?
As she left to go to her room, the only room in the house where she kept her few remaining personal items having already emptied the rest of the house a few years ago when she’d intended to sell – just before the kids came back home, unable to ‘make in it on their own’, she reviewed what she’d just noticed like frames of a movie. As she changed her clothes she realized, not for the first time, that she felt like the unwanted house-guest in her own house with her own children. The events of the last few weeks all lined up like the magnetized toy trains she’d seen kids play with in the bookstore. The friends that are cordial but not really interested, the co-workers that are professional but not friendly and her own small family – living together peacefully but not engaged, not with her anyway. She squelched the rising knot and the welling in her eyes. Pity-party for one never helped in the past and there was no point in giving in now either. She busied herself with putting away the last of her summer clothes, the vacation clothes, in storage in the closet.
She suddenly had an epiphany – she was like one of those misfits in books or movies, one of those people to whom others give a thin smile and then with some embarrassment, shift away from while avoiding eye contact, or maybe making eye rolling gestures with their friends at the encounter. She imagined her grown children embarrassed by her, her few friends pitying her if not laughing behind her back. She realized with clarity and finality that she was a social outcast trying to be “normal” and engaging and just like those misfits in movies, her attempts also fell flat. She saw herself now as others must see her; a person with some small but noticeable disfigurement or affliction that makes others uncomfortable with her but not outright mean toward her.
Suddenly a swiftly moving heaviness dropped within her like her blood pressure just bottomed out. She sat down in the closet doorway and immediately felt hot and sweaty. This realization of her life-long status as an ‘untouchable’ felt somehow deeply grounded and with an acute awareness of the permanency, her hope for something better in her future flickered. Her eyes remained dry and her throat did not begin to knot and throb as it often did when she felt she was on the brink of despair. She breathed deeply with control and deliberateness. She felt like paper, tissue paper, as if she could just float away. She remained that way for a little while, assessing her past and future, tabulating her losses and lack of any gains. Her life felt thin to her like she was insubstantial and just drifting through time with no tether to anyone or anything. She thought she could just sit here and dissipate and it would be days before anyone noticed she was missing. And, with dry realization like stone, she knew she no longer cared and she knew no one else did either and, oddly, this made her feel better.
She stood up with a deep sigh of relief and a strange feeling of resolution. She started pulling out the boxes and removing the winter clothes to be replaced with the summer. She felt singularly alone and a part of the universe simultaneously when something heavy clunked. She removed a heavy sweater and saw the small revolver sitting on the bottom of the box. Her face tightened and her hands went cold. She had forgotten about the little hand gun she had bought at a yard sale not long ago when she felt particularly vulnerable. She picked up the surprisingly heavy weapon and held it like an egg in her hand. It made her smile to herself.
She thought in a sing-song voice, pity-party for one will go off with a bang.