February 23, 2013

For a child in late 80s/early 90s Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Kidspace is a dream come true.  It is a seemingly never-ending wooden structure of slides, wheels, climby things and hidey holes; to a pillow fort builder, its resemblance to a large castle is sheer ecstasy. It is playground mecca.

For weeks after the announcement that Kidspace is complete and open to the public, I beg my mother to bring me. Every kid who has been reports fantastic stories – there’s a steering wheel you can turn like a pirate ship! And all sorts of secret spaces! The slides twist! There’s even a slide with a tunnel – it’s wicked scary, but wicked fun!

Finally the day arrives, but for whatever reason none of my friends are available to join me. I will not be deterred from Kidspace, though, so I, an only child, and my mother get in the car, and drive for hours (10 minutes) to Sudbury.  The final stretch of road to the playground is the long, winding driveway to the public school which owns it (some kids can go here EVERY DAY??!), and as we make our way along the path, in perfect cinematic form, the structure seems to rise from nowhere – appearing in the distance in all its splintery glory.

We finally park and I run from the car and go to check out this spectacular creature. I feel the damp coolness in the cavernous internal spaces, and then climb to the top of a slide where the sun radiates off the new wood and metal. As I get there, though, some other kids bodily push past me – a group, all playing together.

Maybe it started that early? Seeing those kids together? Or maybe it’s whatever happened next – the memory so hazy – that set the pain in motion. The group goes down the slide as a unit – one behind the other with their legs wrapped around each other. The last one in the row turns to me just as they push off, sticks his tongue out at me and says… something. Something about how I’m alone. Something about how I’m not part of the group, and off they go.

I wait a few beats then follow them down the slide, walk to the area with the swings and the picnic benches and claim a swing for myself. I don’t go back in the magical, wonderful part of the park – for the next half hour I sit and swing. My mother asks me why I’m not in there and I make up some lie about how much fun I’m having swinging by myself. Finally she says something to the effect of, “we didn’t come all this way just so you can swing,” and we go home.

Despite it happening 20+ years ago, the image of that little girl sitting on the swing has a haunting hold on me, such that I wonder if that were the first time I became sentient of loneliness. In particular, the images from that day flood back to me whenever I’m feeling like the Other. Alien. An individual disparate from the group, always alone.

I also wonder if that’s when the defense mechanisms first began. If, when I formulated a lie about my enjoyment of swinging by myself, I flicked the switch on a lifetime of excuse making and wall building, telling myself stories about not needing people, broadcasting an impenetrable facade of fierce individualism and self-sufficiency, when actually I’m just protecting a sad, lonely little girl who desperately wants to connect with people, and slide down the slide.

Interestingly, when I’m cast in a new production, in my professional element, my social ineptitude abates and I usually have no problem making connections with the cast and crew (from what I can tell – if you disagree please let me know…). However, take me out of my comfort zone, and I tend to disappear into the rafters.

To wit, I’ve been going to the same meditation group most Tuesday nights for almost two years now, and have never made a single friend. Before that I went to a different group and… also managed to make no friends. Now, admittedly, silent meditation isn’t the most team-developing activity, but you’d think where I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for over 6 years, at some point I would have carved myself a little sangha. But, like Dan Harmon, Community has escaped me.

(Rimshot… for the 5 of you who get that reference.)

At least by developing awareness of these feelings and their history, I can start to work on it, but – as GI Joe should have said – knowing is ONLY half the battle. I feel like I am swimming against my own current right now, scaling a mountain of my own making, chipping away at years of self-protection.  I look forward to a therapy session in the future where I don’t leave feeling like a broken machine.

I write this post in a desperate attempt to exorcise the image of that little girl on the swing – that by purging this story perhaps I can give her a different outcome.

Or just find someone with whom to build a pillow fort.



  1. Why can’t i figure out how to follow this blog!!! I love it and you so much!

  2. The trick is: everyone feels this way. Everyone has trouble with vulnerability. Everyone could use a few more friends. You are flawed and imperfect, just like everybody else. It’s the bad news, and the good news, too! Because it means that if you do manage to make yourself vulnerable, approach someone new, strike up a conversation, even do the friend-date thing (wanna grab some coffee after meditation?) chances are, you’ll be making someone’s day. Making a new friend, too.

    I don’t know you too well, (I’m Doug’s sister — no idea if you even know who I am) but I know you well enough to be sure that you attract people to your personality. I’d happily be your friend. I’m sure a lot of other people would be, too. I think you should challenge yourself to take a chance on it. What’s the worst they can do? Stick out their tongue and plummet down some slide. That’s not going to happen. And if it does? Let them go and try the next person.

    • I agree, everyone does feel this way, which is basically the mission statement of why I write at all. And of COURSE I know who you are!!

  3. Some say that it’s not about exorcising that demon, but facing it head-on, telling it off (metaphorically, of course), and putting it in its place–with all the other nagging insecurities we all have milling around within us. It’s been my experience that such negative voices never really disappear; but it is possible to figure out how to face them down, turn down their keening volume, and refuse to listen (i.e., obey) them until they recede, shrinking down to some little withering husk on some different and far more distant swing…

    In other childlike yet empowering words, “You are NOT the BOSS of me!” Then stake out *your* spot, stick your tongue out right back, turn and smile.

    [I know, easier said than done, but do-able.]

    • I agree with that regarding the image of the kid with his tongue stuck out at me, but I think the little girl on the swing has to be approached with compassion. I got really good at repressing sadness/anxiety throughout grade school/high school until it exploded in college as depression/panic attacks (which I wouldn’t have names for till my mid-20s). Now, in my 30s, my work has been to go back and bear witness for the sadness I was ignoring and see if a little compassion shed on the subject helps to transform it.

      • Tell off the DEMON (tongue sticking out kids who would then shrivel up), *not* the sad little girl. [Sorry if I didn’t write that clearly enough.] Repression always seems to result in an explosion of some kind–it sounds like, for you, the explosion wasn’t violent toward those whom you believe hurt you (as victims of political repression might do), but to your own struggling self… Are you harshly judging what you did or didn’t do in your past? Not much good comes of that… That little hurt girl needs all the compassion she can get–even so many years later.

        Glad you’re working so hard to try to sort all this stuff out. I love and admire you SO much, and offer whatever help I may be able to give.

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