C&O Canal, Washington, DC.
The other night I dreamed that I was in a synagogue. I put my pocketbook down on a pew and went off to do something. When I got back to the pew, my pocketbook was gone. It doesn’t take years of analyzing dreams to figure out that this dream shows that a place that had been safe is now unsafe, and I immediately knew that the synagogue represented the school where I teach. Between the initiatives from the newest principal, to the impending changes from the county which is gung-ho for uniformity, to the cliquishness and negativity that some of my colleagues have elevated lately, I’m feeling that life has become a bit nightmarish.
My sanctuary from the cacophony of the classroom used to be the twenty minutes of lunch with my colleagues. It was the only daily meal that I would eat with anyone, and it used to feel like we were a family sitting. As much as I like my dinner companions (House Hunters International and Cooking with Lidia), solo eating requires the occasional break for it not to be an emotional drain. So, those few minutes of grown-up conversation of lampooning and commiserating were important for my ability to be okay with all the other solitary meals, and hours of only talking to teens. To effectively live a lone life, there needs to be the right balance, however seemingly unbalanced, between aloneness and togetherness.
On Wednesday, with the intention of driving home to make stir-fried tofu and vegetables for dinner, I drove straight from school to a Greek restaurant. It wasn’t that I needed a gyro (though it has become a comfort food; or is it the fries?), but I needed not to be alone, and I needed to be served. Although the waitress seemed to think that I needed to be alone and barely served me, I was still comforted by not sitting in my dining room, staring at the screen, feeling alone.
The desperation for the grand dinnertime escape came from two days of hostility, closed doors, and whispered conversations. It’s not only that I don’t agree with all of the conspiracy theorists around me (regarding the new initiatives), it’s that I am confronted so starkly with the fact that I am the eternal outsider. As much as I think I am friends with this core group of women, there are times (whisperings about happy hours that I am never invited to and dinners that I never know of) when I am forced to realize that, just like when I was in high school, not only am I far from being a cool girl, I am outside of all groups, a group unto myself. There seems to be no escaping how your character is interpreted: I am always alone, an internal design feature it seems. Sometimes I wonder if having created and been part of a family was the anomaly, and the aloneness the norm.
But while I am an introvert who surely needs her alone-time, there are times when I need to be with other people, when I need to see faces and hear voices and feed on the energy of interaction. And, honestly, being a teacher surely negates the assumption that I am a “pure” introvert.
On my drive home from the restaurant I decided that maybe I’m not the problem. I vowed not to keep putting myself into an unwelcome and needy situation. If I’m not wanted, then you’re not wanted, and I did the grown-up thing: the next day I abandoned my usual seat and sat, instead, at the other end of the long lunchroom table. It felt immature, but, you know, confronting things sometimes means that retreat is the best course of action.
As I sat there, it occurred to me as I listened and talked to my other-end-of-the-table colleagues that these women were the women I should have been sitting with all along. These are not the mean girls grown up, who always have something critical to say, but the considerate girls, who have compassion to spare. So now, I wonder, why did I not realize sooner which was the better environment for me? Do I always need to try to push myself forward, always to think that I am not quite who I am, always to assume that I shouldn’t be myself? No wonder I am still in high school. I still have lessons to learn.