Sunday, November 29, 2009

Island of Misfit Toys

I've spent a good portion of my life feeling like I've never quite fit in anywhere. Once, when I was in the fourth grade, my mother and I were school clothes shopping, and she picked up a sweatshirt that had a bunch of white sheep in rows on it, with one black sheep down in the corner. "That's you," my mom said, pointing at the black sheep. It didn't really mean anything at the time, because you haven't yet settled into your group of friends when you're in the fourth grade. But it's not long after that when you do.

It wasn't until late in the game when I discovered a core group of friends who had no delusions about their place in the pantheon of secondary education. I had plenty of friends before this important discovery, but even then, even though I knew those friends liked me and accepted me to some degree, it was the kind of acceptance that comes from shrugging your shoulders and giving up, weighing out the pros and cons, and saying, "Yeah, this friend I have is kind of a social retard, but she's funny and entertaining. And completely safe. My parents will never tell me I'm not allowed to hang out with with her." And then they would STILL try to dress me up and give me helpful advice on How To Fit In. It never worked.

College helps alleviate that feeling of not fitting in. Unless you're in school on a sports scholarship, everyone starting college is on even footing: None of us know what the fuck we're doing, and we hate our roommates, and we don't have any money, and your first lecture of the day is at 8am and there are 250 other students in it, and the cafeteria food is awful and calorie-laden, and we've all gained 15 pounds by the end of the first year. College was the great equalizer for me. But naturally, after spending four years in a fairly isolated music school, by the time I graduated, I could count my college friends on one hand. Possibly even one finger.

But I didn't go to college to make friends, and once again, I found my people in other places, people who were quirky and fun and got me. Those people, like my people in high school, are still my friends, and meanwhile, I'm 34 years old, and I still don't quite fit in.

I went to karaoke last night with my friend Lisa. I love to sing karaoke, because it's easy, and it doesn't take much vocal acuity to impress some drunk people at a bar. It's easy validation, and it's really the only acceptable reason for me to be singing Journey or Bon Jovi or Bangles songs in public. It wasn't really as much fun as I'd hoped last night. Granted, my friend Lisa has the uncanny ability to make any situation fun, even the kind of situation that involves an overcrowded, kind of dingy bar with a sound system that's too loud and filled with those making the most out of their holiday weekend. The only joy I managed to wring out of the night came from when I was actually singing, in spite of the fact that the rest of the bar crowd was too busy racing each other to the bottom of their glasses to listen to me sing. I didn't care. The room could have been empty. Singing is one of the few things I get to do in my life that belongs to me and only me. So fuck everyone else.

Still, the feeling of misfittedness was overwhelming. It was crazy crowded, so my friend Lisa found the only two empty seats at a table inhabited by two very lovely young women who were clearly having a wonderful time, as evidenced by the legion of beer bottles that sat spent in front of them. Lisa bumped into someone who she used to know from her days of owning a tattoo business with her late husband, so I lost her for quite some time. So alone I sat, nursing my one drink, wishing I was tucked into my jammies instead of waiting for my next song to come up on the karaoke DJ's list.

Sitting there, I had the opportunity to study everyone in the bar with me. There was the painfully thin blonde nightmare, drinking cosmos with her cadre of friends. There was the waitress who had the same name as me, forcing the karaoke DJ to christen me "KandywidaK". The other "Candy" danced up to a large bald man at one point, grabbed his head, and forced him into a motorboat situation that I'm thinking he may be regretting this Sunday afternoon. There was the hipster couple, boyfriend with the requisite beard and elbow tattoo, and girlfriend decked from head to toe in Urban Outfitters. Our lovely table companions who flirted with 21 year old college boys all night and then cursed the universe for sending them men who were clearly too young for them, but ended up exchanging numbers with them, anyway, leading me to believe that they couldn't be THAT angry at the universe. They all intermingled with each other effortless, fluidly, even those who had never met before until that night. And it made me wonder, as I sat there, intermingling with no one, if I was failing in some way, if I was missing some key social behavior that I was never taught, or if, once again, I just simply did not fit in.

I'm perfectly willing to chalk it all up to being out of any sort of social setting for quite some time. I've been happily ensconced at home with the people whom I love the most, going to bed a decent hour and getting up and girding my loins for the office, yet another place where I clearly do not fit in. Or maybe I don't try hard enough. Maybe if I bent slightly a few degrees this way or that, I would be like my table companions, who fought attention like King Kong hanging from the top of the Empire State building, swatting biplanes like flies.

More likely than any of this, however, is that I've become a pro at wildling down my circle to those and only those I get, only those who appeal to me and my sensibilities. Which, and here's the irony we've been waiting for, has made just the same anyone who never accepted me and what I am. They weren't shutting me out; I've been shutting them out. I fit in fine. It's most everyone else who doesn't fit in with me.

I don't know why, but somehow, this realization makes me feel better about last night, about high school, about any time I've been surrounded by people and yet felt completely alone. I am an island of my own making, and to be honest, I'm feeling completely okay with that. Islands can be really comfortable. Haven't you ever seen Gilligan's Island? Those fuckers had it made!


  1. Great post Kandy. The art of being alone in a crowd is something that has always resonated with me, and much of what you write about school and beyond chimes in with my own experience. Many thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. I get you, Kandy. And I count you on my one hand even if it is a cyber co-dependency. ;^p

    I can relate to this in so many ways as you must surly know by now. I spend most of my days talking to a dog... even in a crowd of people I "know".

  3. Thank you, Sid and Kirsten. It means a lot that you even read.

  4. Beatifully written. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt the exact same way. I've often wondered if I was the only one who could feel completely alone while surrounded with people.
    What is strange about this is that, in high school, I always thought of you as one of those people who fit in anywhere with any group of people and I felt like the one who never fit in anywhere. Funny how different the circumstances can be.
    Thanks for sharing!