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.
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.
So I almost ran a marathon this December. I was dangerously close. After months of saying that marathon runners must be insane (my daughter and ex-boyfriend included), I found myself training for one. By the time I managed to run 16 miles, I had made up my mind. This was it. I was totally going to go for it. So when I got home, still exhausted and sweaty from my run, I navigated to the website of the California International Marathon — the same one my daughter finished last year.
Disappointment and relief flooded me at the same time. Disappointment, because I really, really wanted to run that marathon! Relief, because I don’t trust my reasons for wanting to run that marathon.
There are a million great reasons for someone to want to run an entire marathon. For the bragging rights. Because they’re competitive runners. Because it’s a bucket list goal. Because they’re masochists and crave the pain. I don’t know. I suppose there are as many good reasons as there are types of people who enter to run these things. But I have no desire to brag about my accomplishments. I don’t really keep a bucket list. And god knows I’m not a competitive runner, with my typical middle-age pace.
I do it for him.
Yes, I’m talking about my ex-boyfriend, Mr. Right-for-Me, the wonderful guy I dated last year and will never get over. Let’s call him Z. The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever love.
Don’t take me wrong. I don’t want to run a marathon because I believe that finishing one will impress him so much that he will come back. (Okay, maybe I kind of hope that a teensy bit). It’s not about that. I’m marathon training because I am New Moon Bella.
All right, stop pretending that you don’t know who I’m talking about. I know that you guys all read or watched the Twilight series about Bella and her sparkly perfect vampire lover, Edward. Now remember what happened when Edward suddenly left Bella’s life? He disappeared. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. Didn’t appear. The seasons passed by, and Bella was a sad wreck without him. Then one day, she discovered that by doing insane things, by pushing herself far beyond her limits, she could make Edward appear. She began riding motorcycles, cliff jumping, putting herself in dangerous situations, because when she did, a vivid vision of Edward would materialize, and he would talk to her in the voice of reason. His voice, his appearance, became her drug, her reason to keep going.
So that’s me. I can run a wimpy little 5K, and nothing. But if I keep pushing myself far beyond my limits, run to the point that my lungs are burning, and my legs are ready to collapse, and there he is. Z. On the trail with me, as vivid as life. I hear his voice, his wonderful, distinct, gentle voice, encouraging me to just keep going, keep pushing, just one more mile. And when I make it to the end, I hear his words of pride, filling me with so much warmth I could almost turn around and run some more. Almost.
So there it is. I am disappointed that the marathon is sold out, because I wanted to run it with him. Even though he has disappeared from my life, and I am here without him. Even though he would not really be there with me (and knowing that still hurts so sharply that I can barely breathe). But it is like knowing that if you fall asleep just the right way, then someone you love, someone whose presence you crave deeply will appear with you in a dream. If I run just one more mile, just one more mile, just one more mile, then he will appear before me on the running trail, his voice leading me toward him.
(I wrote this poem tonight, though it has been in my heart since a friend (or one I thought was a friend) stopped being a friend. What makes a person decide to stop being a friend? What makes a person decide to stay? What do we do with the unanswered questions that haunt us? Was it something I did? Was it something about me? About us? All I can do is turn my obsessions to poetry.)
Too Much Like Water
Maybe I was too thirsty
and you heard the rasp and rattle
when I spoke
with words unused too long.
Maybe I was too much rain
crystal, pouring drops
flooding shallow banks
Or together, two strong rivers
flowing, roiling, pushing
for the narrow neck
to the wide, vast sea
Or you, like ice
Or we, a stream
that rippled toward the sun
whose hissing touch
left us only vapor.