The glass wall

A glass wall

For as long as I can remember, I have lived behind a glass wall.

I have trouble getting close to people. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of my depression, or a consequence of some particular constellation of circumstances in my childhood, or a consequence of my particular genetic makeup. Maybe it’s something else entirely; who knows? But it’s there.

This is not to say that I can’t relate to people, or form relationships with them; I can and I have. But it always seems to take work — work that other people just don’t have to do. People come into my orbit, but unless I pick up a hammer and go to work breaking the glass wall in order to reach them, they just bounce off, slide away. There are people who make these connections effortlessly; who attract others without even trying, like flies to honey. But I’m not one of them.

I struggle with it. It’s possible to break through and make a real connection with somebody, but it takes work,  on my part, theirs or both, and most people have (understandably) decided that I’m not worth the effort. Why bother, when there are so many other people out there? People who will just fall into your life, like ripe fruit from the tree?

I try to use this space to explain things, when I can. But since I have no explanation to offer here, instead I will give you the story of why I call this “the glass wall.”

Flash back to a little more than 20 years ago. I had just arrived at college, and since I didn’t know anybody, I decided to attend a mixer for incoming freshmen. When I arrived, though, I found it to be a room tightly packed with people with loud music blaring — a type of space I find claustrophobic and exhausting. (I love music, but I’ve never been an enthusiastic attender of concerts for precisely this reason.)

I did my best to introduce myself around, but I could barely hear what the other people were saying, and after shouting back and forth with strangers for a while I felt a pressing need to escape. So I headed for the door and stepped outside to get some air.

As I stood there, catching my breath in the crisp early-autumn air, I realized that one wall of the room the mixer was being held in was actually an enormous window — a window I was now on the other side of. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the people inside the room circulate. I could see them, but I couldn’t hear the music, or what the people inside were saying. I was watching a silent ballet, dancers mutely pirouetting around the stage, following a choreography that I had never learned.

There, in that room, were the people I’d be spending the next four years of my life with. Some of them would end up being my good friends. But at that moment, while I was nominally part of the group, I was still somehow separate from them — a stranger, apart.

On the wrong side of the glass wall.

I’ve come a long way since then, had all sorts of experiences and met all sorts of people.

But the people come and go, and the glass wall is still there.