When I was a little kid I didn’t feel loved at all. I was a shy, miserable child. A loner who yearned to be held, caressed, even though I didn’t yet know the meaning of the term. I wanted to be held in the same regard as my brother, who, in my mother’s eyes, could do no wrong.
I played alone most of the time, preferring my own company to the tension-filled interactions with my family. I knew that I was often the cause of much yelling even though I don’t recall hearing my name being uttered as the cause. Little kids just know these things.
Recently I saw some old home movies that were taken when I was a child. In all the scenes in which I appeared there were two brief moments when a tiny smile creased my lips. In one I was running toward my grandpa, in the other I was in his arms.
It was a great consolation to see that there were, indeed, periods of happiness.
When I went to school I understood that I was going not because I was smart, but because I was dumb. This was reinforced daily when my mother, who learned how to drive so she could get me to a school, reminded me of what she was giving up, the sacrifices she was making to enroll me in the school.
Later on when I went to elementary school I knew my place in the hierarchy of students. I was the dumb one, the girl who never knew the answers when the teacher called on me. I was the one who never got Valentine’s Day cards and who was never invited to play dates and parties.
Granted, it was probably my fault. I was a sullen, sulky kid who wandered the playground aimlessly, interacting with no one. I remember seeing in a magazine ad how to make tornadoes in a jar. Every recess I carried my jar, twirling it, setting the miniature tornado in motion, finding limited solace in watching my creation. Imagine what the other kids thought when they saw this strange girl roaming the playground with a glass jar in her hands. No wonder I was alone.
There was one girl who became my friend in fifth grade. She was new and so didn’t know my status. One weekend she invited me to spend the night. It was a revelation to me. At the dinner table her parents conversed without yelling. There was no name calling or bickering. Everyone had smiles on their faces.
I fell in love with that family. I wanted to live with them, for them to adopt me. I cried when my mother came to take me home.
In eighth grade an odd-looking boy invited me to go roller skating. I went because it was a date, my first one, and he was a nice kid. At the rink we skated side-by-side. The music was too loud to talk, which suited us both. After a while he held my hand. His was damp but I didn’t care.
In ninth grade he invited me to my first school dance. My mom made me a powder blue dress for the occasion. He arrived in a suit, bearing a corsage.
Neither of us knew how to dance, so we spent a lot of time standing on the outskirts of the floor, leaning against walls or, if possible, sitting on folding metal chairs. I thought he was nice because he was kind.
We moved to California that summer. I brought the addresses of neighbors that I had thought were friends. I sent them letters every week. None of them wrote back. I cried.
Because I was still shy, I made no friends that first year. My Algebra teacher was the closest thing to a friend that I had only because he smiled when I got the right answers.
Across the street from us was an older young man who showed an interest in me. He looked like every glasses-wearing boy of the sixties. Black haired combed to the side, black-rimmed glasses, and button up the front plaid shirts. We went bowling, to movies and hung out at his duplex listening to music. He wanted more.
Sometimes as our date was ending he’s park in an isolated spot and we’d make out until my lips hurt. I was terrified that the police would find us, arrest us, and then I’d be in trouble with both my parents and the law. But no cruiser ever found us.
He moved his love-making to the couch in his house. He told me how much he loved me. I believed him but I never said the same to him. My parents were thrilled. The daughter that they felt was unlovable had someone declaring true love.
When I transferred to USC I joined a group of lonely looking people who sat at the same table meal after meal. They welcomed me. We spoke about a variety of things, many of them intellectual in nature. For the first time I had a group in which I felt an equal. I don’t know what they felt when they saw me, but I was always treated with respect. I dated two of the guys. They were really nice.
And then the boyfriend showed up and took me to Disneyland. We had a good time, but all the while I knew that I was going to break up with him. He loved me, but during our separation I understood that I liked him, but did not love him. He cried when I told him. I did too.
At that point in my life I realized how much I had changed. I was no longer the lonely kindergarten kid but a part of a social group that did things together. That treated each other as equals. That valued intellect over money and appearance.
We did crazy things together, like drive across town just to buy chili burgers. We went to the beach even when it was raining. We studied together in the lobby of our residence hall. We were inseparable.
I still have my lonely days but I don’t let them drag me down. I know that they are only a blip in what are normally busy times with friends and family. I have a husband who likes to be with me, who respects me and encourages me to do all the different things that I love to do.
Being lonely as a kid is a terrible thing. You see other kids running around in groups that are ever changing, but you stand alone. There is no one to help you navigate the social circles, to teach you how to fit in. But there are glimmers of hope.
For me it was the girl who invited me over to her house, the boy who took me roller skating, the young man who said he loved me and all the college friends who respected me. Because of them I entered the world of work prepared to interact with those who showed signs of openness.
For the sake of all the lonely people in the world, be open. That will help them overcome loneliness. Be kind.