Retipuj, Sneerglaw (and Other Backwards Things)

Being from Jupiter was never easy on my social life. It’s kind of like how people grow up speaking a different language, then try to learn English. No matter how fluent they become, native-born Americans can always detect the accent. No matter how much I studied and tried to behave like the other humans my age, people just always seemed to sense that I was…different. As though everything I do has an accent.

Over time, after many peer rejections, I stopped trying so hard. I just gave into my weirdness and decided to like what I like and love myself, quirks and all. I spent much of my time absorbed in books, often re-reading my favorites. I watched movies and inserted the quotes into normal conversations whenever I could. I checked out music albums from the local library and built up an eclectic repertoire ranging from silly folk songs to classic rock. I amused myself with silly pastimes, like reading signs backwards.

“Look! Walgreens spelled backwards is sneerglaw!” I would say, cracking up laughing.

“God, you are so weird,” my siblings would tell me, rolling their eyes. I just shrugged and hunted for more signs to read backwards, which for me, came just as naturally as reading them forward. Tixe! TramK! Rouqil! Atoyot! It was my own private language; words that no one else could understand, which held magical meanings for me. It could be terribly lonely, though, to understand things on a level that wasn’t common to those around me. But that’s life when you’re from Jupiter.

Backwards words

Once in a great while, I would find someone else who kind of got it. At least, to some extent. Like Sabrina in middle school, who understood the deep pleasure of living through good books. And Jason, who acted normal in real life, but in private, sang along with me to every single Madonna song in existence, including the B-sides, in harmony. Then Chris Y., who always won when our history class played Jeopardy, and who just quietly seemed to “get it,” whenever we talked about any serious subject in depth. Maybe they were from Jupiter, too. Who knows? 


Then in college, I met Valarie. It took maybe seconds for us to realize that we were kindred spirits from some far away world. We were so much alike, although she had the smooth resilience of obsidian, and I was basalt, riddled with small holes that let everything in. We both read obsessively. Sang along to music that our families had never even heard of. Spoke with the same bubbly energy (although my accent was decidedly more California valley girl). It never took long in any conversation for one of us to spit out a quote from a movie or TV show, and the other would spit out the next line without missing a beat. 

“Want to go shopping at Tegrat?” I would ask her. 

“Sure,” she would answer, as though this were a perfectly ordinary request. “Then afterward, we can go grab some lunch at Synned.”

The connection between us was so rare and powerful, that we were inseparable friends. That is, until we decided to work at the same Girl Scout camp one summer. Valarie told a lie to the director that ended up putting me in a very uncomfortable situation. I was hurt, very hurt by her betrayal, yet still, I forgave her.

But she couldn’t forgive herself.

After that summer, she disappeared from my life. Stopped taking my phone calls. Wouldn’t respond to my letters. I moved to a new town and attended a different college, and didn’t hear from Valarie again until 2008, when we both began to use Facebook.

“So what do you think about Harry Potter?” she asked me when we reconnected. And it was like the last decade had never happened, and we were great friends all over again. We obsessed over the Yrrah Rettop series, and argued over whether Stephen Fry or Jim Dale was the better narrator (Jim Dale, hands down, though Stephen Fry got much better by Year 5). We swapped recipes, debated politics, and spoke in the language of literature and movie quotes. 

A year later, she disappeared again, with no warning, and for no reason. At the time, it was sad, but not the end of the world, since I had two other very close friends who also “got it,” even though they weren’t quite as into my backwards-speaking tendencies. When I lost them, too, thanks in part to my own poor choices, I was devastated.

It took 7 years before at last, I connected with another kindred spirit. “Z,” the man I dated for awhile in 2017, was a kind of miracle for me. No, we didn’t speak in movie quotes, and I never did get around to confessing that I read everything backwards and forward, literally. But we clicked in so many ways, on a deep level, as well as shallow. The core of me had been thirsting for a kindred spirit like him, and I drank him in like retaw. 

Then he left. (And ah, here come the saert, right on cue). He left, and one year, three months, and almost three weeks later, my heart still aches, and I would do anything if he would just reappear, and be my good friend. But maybe he, too, detected my alien accent, and didn’t understand.

The human world is so easy with relationships. They preach of how people come and go, and how one must let go, move on, make new friends. But their language is as foreign to me as backwards-speak must be to them. Maybe they are all obsidian, like Valarie, able to let it all roll over their surface. While for me, it’s different. True connection with people, and the love I feel for them, gets deep inside my pores, and can’t be extracted or forgotten. 

Or maybe, like my odd way with words, other humans have it all backwards. For so many centuries, people lived clustered together in small, tight-knit communities. They stayed together despite their differences, because that was how humans survived and thrived. People didn’t come and go from your life until someone died. Good and bad, perfect and imperfect, they remained together, and strengthened connections. No one mysteriously disappeared from your life, unless they got dragged off by a bear. 

Maybe the modern concept of relationships coming and going like freeway traffic is the real alien here. A sort of human devolution. We were never meant to break connections the way we do.

I would love to have a chance to discuss this with the people who still live deep inside of me. With my former best friends. With Z. And with Valarie, wherever she may be now. I don’t know if they would agree with me, but I think they would really get it.

6 responses to “Retipuj, Sneerglaw (and Other Backwards Things)

  1. But, you care, and you try to maintain these connections. The fact that the drifting apart is not your fault probably doesn’t help much, especially when true friends/kindred spirits are so hard to find. I, on the other hand, am the friend who never calls, and needs all of the stars to align to get together; a recipe for loneliness.

    My mom and her childhood friend invented what they called “B” language, which was a cross between pig Latin and the Ubbi dubbi from the old “Zoom” show on PBS. Her dad loved word play and puns, so I think my own off-center approach to language came from them. Throwing T.V., movies, musical and literary references into a conversation is a sort of challenge, or maybe a feeling out. It’s always a welcome surprise when someone gets it, gets us.

  2. My thing is acronyms, I try to make one up for every phrase. TCOYB = Take Care of Your Business, BAD = Be A Diva, at work…AMSS, which sounds like a trade organization or certification, actually stands for All My Suppliers Suck, and has been adopted by a mantra by those who share my sentiment.

  3. I’ve always been the one whose calls get ignored, texts go unanswered, invitations get turned down, so I have learned to not reach out very much to anyone, in case that is the very thing that drives everyone away (not that I was excessive). I’m not sure if one direction or the other is more of a recipe for loneliness — to keep reaching out, or to do nothing and wait for someone else to magically reach out toward me? Neither seems very effective.

    Your mom’s B language sounds fun. 🙂 Just the kind of thing I would have done. My daughter also once had a made-up language, complete with dictionary and alphabet, and my 14yo son also loves word play. We enjoy those fun pop culture references in our conversation, too, and it’s the best feeling when other people get it.

  4. Not just for centuries, but for the past 4 million years (!!!) our ancestors lived in small bands/tribes of around 150-200 people most of the time (excluding the most recent 10,0000 years, since agriculture, of course :). So I agree completely – for over 99% of our shared history, we lived in small, tight-knit groups for survival. People couldn’t just unfriend you!! You were stuck with everyone around you for life.

    The modern way isn’t devolution, in the sense that it’s no better or worse in any grand sense. But it is certainly very different than the evolutionarily stable state to which we are emotionally adapted. As a consequence, we’re not very well adapted to modern, sedentary, urban, internet-based life.

    This is likely why there’s so much depression and mental illness (not to mention obesity) in the most prosperous western free-market democracies, despite the abundance of material wealth compared to the rest of the world and the rest of history.

    • Is it not devolution? I suppose only time will tell. But it seems like a rise in poor health and declining birth rates in a subset of a species may indicate a problem. Can humans really adapt in a positive way to this modern, internet-based lifestyle of low activity and isolation? Maybe someday, humans will look back on this era as a failed experiment, rather than progress. Who knows?

      I would love to see continued effort toward using technology in smart ways — those that encourage us to interact with people in real life more so than on the screen, and to make choices that lead to a greener environment and better overall health. Though we adapt as a species to a variety of changes, we can’t neglect our basic physical and psychological needs, like wholesome nutrition, clean air and water, exercise, and meaningful social connections.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s