As we entered junior high, Stacie and her family moved to Amherst, about 25 minutes away. We kept in touch for years, but we could no longer ride bikes to each other’s houses, or spend all our weekends together. The physical distance took a toll on our friendship. There wasn’t really heartbreak for me when she left, just a pang of loss and the feeling of not having. This was not for lack of connection; I guess it’s just the nature of being a kid, living in the moment and not understanding what “gone” truly means.
Life went on, and my focus shifted. My friendship with the girls Stacie had introduced me to had been growing in her absence. There were five of them, all living on the same street within yards of each other, about a mile away from Coburn Woods. Lauren, Erica, Jen, Sarah, and Boo. I ended up spending so much time with them that Dad took to calling us The Rat Pack. For a couple years, we spent whatever free time we could muster gathered together in one house or another.
We were entering the age of Trying All Things. At first, nothing was off limits or felt like too much. We smoked cigarettes in the woods outside Lauren’s house, went skinny dipping in the Coburn Woods pool at midnight, unironically smoked pot right before DARE dances.
As much time as I spent with them, where I lived threw a wrench into the ultimate goal of connection. They were always near each other; I was outside. They were close enough to gather together within 30 seconds, but my participation took more planning. They tried to include me whenever it was possible, but I was never just a stone’s throw away. To alleviate this sense of disconnection, I walked the mile there and home every morning and afternoon during eighth grade just to take their bus. It wasn't a very sustainable plan, but I made the attempt because I naively believed that always being included would make me feel more whole.
As time went on, I was left out of activities with them more and more often. It happened fairly often, as was understandable with a larger group; it was difficult to plan outings for six girls no matter the generation. But the sting lingered when I was left behind for concerts, sleepovers, or day trips. Someone would accidentally let slip that an event was happening, forgetting that I wasn’t in on it, and I would feel betrayed. Their response to my pain and anger would often be, “See Erin, we didn’t tell you, because we knew you would react like this,” which usually made me doubt my rationale and create more feelings of disparity.
The truth was, I just wasn’t an integral part of that crowd. I made the attempts at connection because of feelings of isolation, but I realized that I wasn’t meant to be a staple in the Rat Pack. There was a lot of infighting, teen girl cattiness, and cycling through which one of us was on the outs because everyone else was irritated with her. It was emotionally draining, and I wanted to find deeper connections.
I was never satisfied with “normal teen life”, because I never felt like a normal teen. I was odd, outside, apart. I felt a yawning gap between me and other people. Why did I feel so foreign? Did everyone else feel this way, too? I took to spending a lot of time watching humans of all ages. I would sit quietly near a busy street, or in a hallway at school, looking at people, searching for flickers of the strange brand of budding self-awareness I felt within myself. I noticed their mannerisms, their attempts at fitting in by muffling their own natures, and I thought about how perfectly silly it all was.
So much interaction was simply reactionary. People seemed so devoid of connection with each other that their brains had gotten masterful at tuning out all the surrounding energies. The lack of eye contact, the inherent mistrust, the oblivious manner in which people placed their cars, shopping carts, or just their bodies; blocking the flow around them, utterly unaware of their impact on others. I watched conflicts occur and opportunities for genuine connection pass by. People were so wrapped up in their own internal dialogue that they were constantly choosing disengagement and not noticing what was happening around them.
It made me feel like we were all missing something big. I wanted people to WAKE UP, to take off the blinders and really see each other. I wished they could all share my sense of wonder about the world and its immense intricacy. We were all connected at the deepest of levels, but we weren’t connecting. I wanted company on this journey.
I attempted to open up to one or the Rat Pack girls about my feelings of singularity. In my fumbling explanation, I must have sounded more like a narcissistic sociopath, because what I was hoping would be a cathartic conversation rapidly descended into a drawn out fight. She ended up thinking I was an egomaniac who saw myself as more evolved than other humans, and I was furious at her for being so closed-minded and not understanding a word that I said.
So I didn’t tell anyone how I felt for a long time. I went even deeper in my head, alienating myself further from people, until I felt so removed from them that I regarded myself less and less as human, and more as some strange exception to humanity.
My book reading started branching into the occult as I searched for answers about self-awareness and the universe, and around that time I started to discover that the attention I was seeking was in the art of shock value. I enjoyed shaking things up. Pulling people out of their daily reveries became a crusade for me, and I soaked up all the new experiences that came my way as a result. This is when things started to really amp up.
My internal compass has always skewed a bit in the wrong direction. I wasn't drawn toward the things that would improve my life or circumstances, but toward experiences that would peel back my protective layers and expose me to the raw intensity of life. All the pain of it, all the pleasure and agony and confusion and awakening I could find. Through it all, I wrote about it in journals, and this is my effort at making some sense out of the chaos.