When I was finally free, at age 29, to live my life as I saw fit, more or less, I found that I had no social skills to guide me. I had not learned how to live among people my own age, for that matter, any age or class. I had no idea what was expected and I was terrified of social gatherings. I would get physically sick if I was invited to a party or even a small get together.
In my mind I had an idea of what was right and what was wrong. I thought I should act with people as I would want them to act with me, except that I was painfully shy.
Then I met Tim at work. We had a lot in common and he is an extrovert. He soon had me talking and I enjoyed his company and felt safe with him. He had all sorts of friends and if he thought they were okay, I knew I would be safe with them.
So I acquired a very small group of people who I could call friends myself.
But I became a problem to Tim.
It all became very obvious on the first Antarctic cruise.
Tim had obtained passage for three of us, at a very discounted rate and once on the ship I felt like an interloper. It was like when I had been upgraded into first class on a flight and I had to pretend I belonged there, so I wouldn’t stick out as one of the poor folk.
We had every right to be on the ship, but how was I going to talk to all those rich people? I have a college degree, it’s not that I felt like an ignorant twerp, I just didn’t belong.
Tim, of course, had no problem whatever, but apart from my feelings of not belonging, I was traumatized at suddenly being with a group of strangers.
We were travelling with another friend of Tim’s and the three of us, two guys and myself, shared adjoining cabins. We opened the connecting door to give the appearance of more room, and we came in and out of either cabin door.
But I was afraid of leaving the cabin by myself in case anyone spoke to me. And needless to say, this became an annoyance to my friends.
As we formed our seating groups for meals, I began to speak to one or two more people and the ship’s crew were wonderful, so they were a big help, but still I trembled every time I left the cabin.
Our cabin was adjacent to the stairs and one night as I opened the door to follow my friends who were on their way up, I overheard them speaking about me.
It was a reality check of the worst kind although it was much needed.
There was a second one, later on which was even more bitter and painful.
Tim found me weeping in the cabin and I said to him:
“If it wasn’t so fucking cold, I would jump overboard.”
Conditional suicide. What a fool.
Poor Tim felt bad and then I felt bad for making him feel that way. After all it wasn’t their fault.
Somehow, though, things got better after that awful night and in spite of all the personal trauma, I loved that cruise so much.
Pictures taken of me at the time show me looking so happy.
Someone said to me once, at a wedding, that I looked so “serene”. I was so traumatized by having to attend that function I had to be calmed down by my therapist. Serene I was not. Tranquilized, perhaps.
Still, I have been able to appreciate the enormous privileges that were awarded to me and they have given me the most wonderful memories.
It’s just rather poignant looking back.
I’ve never told this particular part of that story before.
Apparently I became less of a nuisance over time, and Tim took me on many journeys.
Then I fell in love. I bought property. I stopped travelling in order to be with my friend, and also because I couldn’t afford to travel anymore, even at a discounted rate! I began flying back and forth to England, partly because my parents had moved “home”, but I never regarded that as travel.
It was a very different time indeed.
I had always seemed to repel men who were “available”. Maybe because I was afraid of permanent involvement. I always got on well with gay men. They were no threat. And I always got on well with married men. By which I don’t mean I had a lot of affairs!
But I did have one involvement. I won’t call it an affair because there was nothing shoddy about it. I met someone who was in need of a friend and I was in need of someone to love. So I provided friendship. I like to think that I made my friend happier, that maybe I healed an ache in his heart. He is a wonderful man.
It was never my intention to lure a man away from his family. If there had been a hint of such a possibility, I would have had to withdraw because the guilt would have killed me. So I was “safe” in this relationship, which certainly had it’s challenges, logistically.
But like the travels I was able to do and the other various privileges I have enjoyed, I carry in my heart the love I had, all too briefly. I enjoyed, in a few short years, what some people never get to feel. And for that I am forever grateful.