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After I started dating Robbie, my social life fell off precipitously, from a rich round of dinners and drinks with friends to basically nada.  This wasn’t his fault, or even mine.  By unfortunate coincidence, five out of seven of my closest friends moved out of state a few months after Robbie and I met, and my work changed in a way that meant I was encountering far fewer people than I once had.

At the moment, I’m living with one of those two friends.  She has a very active social life, and for the moment at least, I’m being encouraged to tag along as she lives it.  In the last week I’ve gone to two women-only dinner parties and met eight new people.  Like someone who’s been in a cave for too long, I’m stunned and blinking at the light.  (And like anyone who’s been alone too long, I have a lot to unlearn.  Last night I caught myself pushing food onto my fork with my fingers–twice.)

In addition to being a sexual switch, I’m a social switch.  Most people think I’m an extrovert; inside, I feel like an introvert.  I spent years training myself to interact fluidly with other humans, and I feel I have lost the knack.  Still, at a dinner party full of women, one has to adapt fast.

This company of women is soothing right now.  They all talk about the same things–husbands, children, in-laws, houses–and since I have none of those things, I don’t feel on the spot.  I listen as stories of other lives flow over and around me, and wonder, idly and with remarkably little panic, whether I’ll ever experience the things they’re talking about.  A year or two ago the prospect of not being married, not having children would have filled me with hysteria.  Not now.  I may just be so stunned by life I can’t feel anything, but that’s fine by me.

I suppose it’s a bit like reading a novel, talking to these women–one of those well-written, contemporary, affirming tales of love and adversity.  For although all my dining companions have all been wealthy, they have not necessarily had easy lives–there are insane relatives, husbands or children with cancer, and the looming economic threat that shadows everyone these days.

But this is not what figures in their dinner conversation, and it’s not what I get out of it.  When I said, a few days back, that I felt vile, fat, and disgusting, I meant it.  I have not paid much attention to my appearance for some time.  Robbie lives in the country, where the main object in winter is to beat the cold rather than to pull together a “look”.  Under our existing agreement, my hair has needed neither cutting nor styling.  Makeup has been optional, and I have opted out.  It would be the usual “letting yourself go”, except it feels unusual somehow.  I can’t put my finger on how, today, so I won’t try.

In the wake of our disastrous weekends together in February and March, I did what any smart girl would do–I bought lipstick.  Being especially smart, I also bought eyeliner.  On alternate days, I even remember to dab some of this stuff on my face.  I seem to remember how to make myself up, which is handy.

My collar is gone, which hurts–it feels like a part of my body is gone, amputated.  On the other hand, this means I get to wear necklaces, and I have been adorning myself with long strands of beads, fascinated by how they look in the light.

I watch the women and look at their scrubbed faces and careful ensembles.  They let me into their circle.  I’m not sure if this is healing, and I am not sure if this is love.  The company of women can be a harsh place.  But right now, its surfaces and appearances, its brittle, glittering rules and customs, are as much as I can bear thinking about.

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The unmistakable Audrey Kawasaki.