August 12, 2014
I’m on Highway 50 in south central Nevada. They call this “The Loneliest Road in America.” I’m happy to be here. It’s one of those days when I desperately feel the need to be alone.
A few days before I went out of town, I attended a social function. I’m afraid I made rather an ass of myself. Not for the first – nor, I’m sure, for the last – time; however, in the process I fear that I may have offended some people whose opinions are important to me.
We all make these social errors from time to time. We know that other people make them, too. Yet somehow when you’re the one doing it, it feels as if it’s only you. Everyone around you seems the picture of social aptitude and grace. Other people never make these mistakes, never humiliate themselves the way we have done, on more occasions than we care to enumerate. And sometimes it’s difficult not to despise ourselves for not being more capable, for not knowing when to speak and when to be silent, for not knowing what to speak, and what to be silent about.
I don’t necessarily believe that we should refrain from punishing ourselves when we do things we know we ought to regret. We’re past the age of having parents to discipline us, to admonish us when we go wrong, or to explain to us what we should have done instead. Any punishment we receive must be self-inflicted; any atonement we make must be self-imposed. And perhaps these steps are necessary; perhaps the punishment and the atonement are what make you remember, the next time, not to behave in ways you might soon regret.
I’m not opposed to the process. I only wish it ended sooner. Because I’m ready to let go of the hurt in my heart. It just doesn’t seem to be ready yet, to let go of me.
Our friends forgive us our flaws so long as they’re not too flagrant. They overlook our oddest opinions so long as they’re not too offensive; they refuse to resent our rambling rants so long as they’re not too rotten. There is a great deal of inertia in a friendship. Our opinions of our friends, and theirs of us, do not change as a result of one day or one night or one weekend, as a result of one misspoken sentiment or one misinterpreted gesture. It takes months, even years, as our intimacy with one another waxes and wanes, for our impressions to truly change, for our evaluations of one another to shift positions on the social scale of bad and good. There are certainly people in my life whom I have grown to like more and more as the years have passed. And likewise, there are those whom I care for less and less. And undoubtedly other people’s estimation of me has risen and fallen in a similar fashion.
There is little in this life that is truly unconditional. Love, friendship – these ties between us and the people we care about are built on solid foundations which may be difficult to rock. But they can be rocked. Even destroyed. Any relationship can be toppled. If sufficient force is applied against it.
I think myself very fortunate that, on a day in which I would like nothing more than to crawl into a hole and die, that I’ve managed to find myself such a tremendously impressive hole. Because here on The Loneliest Road in America, I could commit a series of faux pas such as Miss Manners has never even dreamed about and my secret would forever remain between the sage and the salamanders and me.
But while I’m glad to have made such a timely escape, it only prolongs my torture. Because now I have no way of knowing what these particular individuals think of me now. Because they’re there, and I’m here. Out of touch, out of sight, and – I hope – out of mind. And now I have no choice but to wait. It will be many weeks, if not months, before I learn whether things have indeed changed between us, or if this, too, will wash casually under the bridge like any of the other countless instances in which I’ve said or done something I shouldn’t.
For those of us who suffer from these bouts of social ineptitude – and I suspect that it’s more common than any of us would care to confess – it’s tempting to long for an alternate solution. A stronger inner censor. Or perhaps an outer one, a tiny angel to sit on our shoulder and whisper “No!” in our ear when we’re about to deliver a speech we can’t ever take back. Perhaps we wish that we could be forced to edit our words before we’re permitted to speak them. Perhaps this is even why some of us become writers. Because in writing, there is always time to think and rethink before we speak. There is no blurting out our words; no chance of releasing them before we’ve had time to reconsider what we want to say – or what we ought not to say.
Of course, it would never work. Somehow I think it would put a serious crimp on our conversations if we had to respond to every inquiry with “How am I? Um… wait while I write down my answer. I’ll get it to you in half an hour.”
No, I’m afraid there’s nothing else for it. But to try again, and to try harder. Because most of the time, there is no escape. There is no Loneliest Road; no vast, vacant desert to which we can unburden our fears and frustrations, no wilderness into which we can release our pathetic whimpers and cries. We can take that road whenever we want to, take it away from our town, away from our friends, away from our most painful memories and most repented mistakes. We can take that road away. But eventually, we must also take it home.
On a happier note, here’s Newton. Because all of us could use a few more dancers and cheerleaders in our lives.