Back in the day when bullies still doled out swirlies, they called people like me “loners.” I’m comfortable admitting the label is accurate.
The thing is, up until a few nights ago, I didn’t have this “why the fuck do I care?” attitude.
Loser or not, accepting oneself is a common struggle. I often wondered how we’re meant to love ourselves when others don’t even understand the real us.
Then, I had a panic attack dealing blackjack at my sister’s “Quarantine Party,” a house party she decided to throw in the middle of a global pandemic. And, my views on being part of a crowd shifted.
The Booby Trap
On the morning of the party, I woke up to the smell of pancakes. I should’ve stayed in bed. Since I moved in three months ago, I’ve learned my sister Alicia’s breakfast desserts come with a price.
“What’s the catch?” I asked her as I shuffled to the breakfast table. “You want something from me.”
“Ew, no, I don’t.”
I gave her the smirk one reserves for their sister, the one that says, “I know when you’re lying, we’ve been friends too long.”
Alicia roller her eyes.
“I’m throwing a party. I promised all my friends we’d pull the blackjack table out of the rumpus room, and you’d deal for them tonight. If businesses are opening up around here, we can party. Please, don’t be weird tonight, please.”
Lucky for my sister, the shame of being a wallflower is too much sometimes. My fear of her friends taking out a billboard about the freak who stayed in her room during a total rager outweighed my anger at Alicia’s lack of logic and my concerns of falling ill.
So, I said, “I’ll do it.”
The party started without me several hours later. I helped clean and set up, but when the time came to it, I hid in my room. For an hour, I sat at the edge of my bed in my blackjack uniform and makeup, wringing my hands. Something about my leather pants and black lipstick seemed false, like a costume.
Have a joint now, and maybe later you can deal. I told myself as I peeked out my bedroom door. It’s like performance art. You can do this.
All my life, my kind-hearted, popular twin sister has tried hard to get me to make friends I don’t want. None of them are to blame. Despite being friendly with a large personality, my social anxiety complicates things.
Society has a hard time grasping that a “people person” can want to be alone for certain reasons. In my case, the more social I am outside of work, the more I start to worry about making a fool of myself. After so many missed connections, I learned it’s easier for us oddballs to stay in the background when we’re not on the clock.
I fought the urge to run back in as the handle vibrated in my palm to the beat of the thumping music. But before I could make a move, a gaggle of girls with White Claws beelined toward me from across the kitchen.
Without a hiding spot and the balls to say no, they whisked me into the living room. I found myself spreading and shuffling the cards for a group of wasted parents with no kids for the night. I didn’t mind so much.
I took frequent hand washing breaks during their make-out sessions. The face mask in my closet came in handy to keep me safe from any flying spittle. If I tuned out all the nasty jokes about having sex in the kids’ beds while they’re away, it was kind of fun.
It’s not so bad, I reasoned, at work, they don’t even let you wear a mask. You can disinfect the house tomorrow.
I chose this lame excuse as my reason for staying, but the truth is, I couldn’t deny how satisfied I felt at the moment. No matter how much we outcasts want to pretend it doesn’t matter, there’s no drug quite like popularity.
Behind a table, people find me fascinating. It’s like wearing armor made from a fifty-two card deck, and it’s the shit.
My sister’s friends were too busy asking me questions like, “I heard North Dakota has a drug underground like Breaking Bad, is that true?” to see my flaws.
But most everyone knows how short-lived the feel good glow is when you’re not your true self. Bending and twisting to fit into a mold designed to please others isn’t good for the soul.
Though I smiled and laughed, in my mind, the worries swirled, ranging from, does my breath smell rank? To, can they tell I’m a middle-class fraud?
Then, a man who slurred his name was Scott slid onto the table. And that’s when the mudslide fueled by some old-fashioned casual sexism started.
After the fifth body shot out of a random woman’s navel, Scott turned his attention to me.
“Hey, what’s the worst thing that’s, like, ever happened to you at your job?” he asked, his blue eyes hazy from too much Fireball.
“It’s either the time a Latin King threatened me with a knife or having playing chips tossed into my cleavage.”
As if on cue, a $25 chip ricocheted hard off my breasts and fell to the table. It left a red mark behind.
“I almost made it,” Scott said with a shrug.
I blinked at him, then at the mortified girl by his side. Her crestfallen gaze remained fixed on a beer stain across the felt.
On a typical day, I’d push away my embarrassment and say, “I’m keeping your money for that stunt, dick.”
Then, I’d place the chip in my tip cup to the delight of his jeering friends. I deal with so much worse, but this little prank broke me.
A few of his buddies chuckled. The others at the table shifted in their seats, and I realized I couldn’t smile like a chump anymore.
I managed to say in a voice full of cracks, “excuse me, I need a pee break.”
Speed walking to my bedroom, I pretended not to notice the confused eyes on my back.
As Bodak Yellow bumped over the speakers outside, I sat at the edge of my bed and cried, hard. Behind my locked door, I spent the next twenty minutes breathing into a paper Taco Bell bag, trying to stop my panic attack.
Great, now they all think you’re a freak, I thought, over and over as I waited for my body to stop shaking.
I’m not sure what disgusted me more: the fact I cared what they thought or my embarrassment. The entire goal of finding your tribe is to seek out people with mutual interests and values. While I couldn’t judge everyone, something told me we didn’t have much common ground.
So why do we care about following convention so much? The only explanation I can think of is that the need to not only fit in but be accepted is a core part of our humanity.
It’s this driving force to be a part of a pack that makes us act in questionable ways. Like all of us at one point, I simply wanted to belong somewhere. But it’s a well-known truth, in the end, no-one can be happy hiding who they are.
I decided to smoke a joint out of my bedroom window, people watching. A freak dancing competition started in the backyard when I heard the first knock at my door.
I ignored it, assuming a couple wanted to use my room to get frisky. After the third knock, I answered, and noticed someone left a glass of water on the floor along with a Xanax.
While I don’t recommend picking up strange medicine at house parties, this little pill spoke to me. It made me realize something I never had about acceptance.
Whoever left this pill might as well added a note that said, “Be yourself, because someone out there gets you.”
It surprised me, I won’t lie. I spent so much time trying to impress everyone I didn’t notice I made an actual bond with someone like me.
With this gesture, somehow, I knew my new friend wanted me to know that those that matter will accept every part of us. I learned if we seek out relationships with people that nurture our true selves, we find real understanding.
And isn’t that what we all deserve?
I was high out of my mind, but this message is what I received from the gift, anyways.
I’ll thank whoever gave me this later, I thought, pocketing the pill and returning to my post at the window.
I decided mine was the only company I wanted that night, as usual. But this time, I could admit it without shame. Someone out there in that Petri dish of a backyard understood me, and dammit, to me, that means something.