10: Can You Face Your True Feelings?

“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!” – André Malraux (commonly attributed to Dracula, via Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

Roxanne isn’t the subject of a story so much as a series of isolated anecdotes, but she’s another friend that I care for immensely. She’s a girl who knows (through multiple versions of events) all of the worst things I’ve done, yet even so she believes I’m actually a decent human being – and did before I really started getting better. (Amusingly, for largely unrelated reasons she thinks Ramona’s the one that’s twisted.) She doesn’t care what other people say; in fact, she doesn’t even care what I say. Once, I joked that if she had a concept of what was socially acceptable then we wouldn’t be friends, and immediately, she responded, “Don’t ever talk about yourself like that again. That’s a warning.” Now, I’ve never watched someone stand up for me to someone like that, even if that someone was, in fact, myself. It was so overwhelming it took everything I had to refrain from nearly tackling her in front of her boyfriend. I don’t even fully understand her point of view, much less agree with it, but knowing that this is the way she sees me means more than I can describe.

She also has a way of leaving, which has forced me to look at the way I view fear. (It’s also been an interesting opportunity to dig into something like this as it’s happened; maybe I should thank her.) Unlike most of these other stories, when she’s left it hasn’t been specific to me; rather, she’s dropped off the grid entirely. Seriously, we’re talking new number, no Facebook, and minimal contact with the outside world. Every time she’s left, though, I’ve had this lingering feeling that I’d never hear from her again – that maybe it was just me. It felt just like everything else that’s happened, and I’ve had to fight the urge to call old numbers and dig up message threads I couldn’t respond to. (After forcing myself to avoid this with Caitlin I’ve gotten really good with the “archive thread” function on various modes of communication…) Even so, the common thread in the two or three times it’s happened is that every time I hear from her again we pick up as if it had been days and not weeks. I love being able to do this, even as I hate the circumstances that lead to it. At this point, she’s actually my roommate, so these days I at least see her a little more. Even that, though, is borrowed time; at the end of summer she’s moving across the country. (Geographical distance eventually tends to happen even when emotional distance doesn’t. See also: Amber.) This time, when she leaves, it’s for good.

So, let’s talk about fear for a few minutes. This project, as a whole, has made me to come to terms with a lot of negative emotions that I don’t like to admit to myself, let alone show to others. These were the sorts of things I held back even from the people I would tell everything else – not for a lack of trust, but because talking about them meant admitting they existed. This actually extends as far back as Emma; ironically, she was the only person I couldn’t talk to about Yuki. With her being the only one I didn’t hold back from otherwise, eventually that conversation would’ve naturally turned from being about a girl to being about damage. It was the single wall that ever remained with her, and one that I wish I’d encouraged her to push a bit more when she did ask. (Maybe my antisocial phase was a kuudere phase?) Primarily, what I’ve been digging into has been that I obsess over being alone. Even so, the obsession was always my focus; beyond admitting it was a thing I’d never put much thought into the fact that I fear being alone.

An interesting effect of being the target of bullies for a solid decade or so (barring stories of Yuki or Emma, my adolescence is sort of like Fight Club, in that I do not talk about it) is that I couldn’t stomach the thought of having weaknesses. There was a wall of separation between this projection of me that refused to back down from anyone who wanted a fight and the person that hates arachnids (notice how even now, I only say I “hate” them) and panics at the thought of loss. Even when I first looked at it, noting when I talked about Ramona that abandonment is a thing that scares the hell out of me, it was more of a passing – something I just acknowledged without going any deeper. For a long time these, again, were things I couldn’t even admit, let alone share. I think that’s a large part of why it’s taken so long to look at any of this. While a large part of this had more to do with convenience (since I couldn’t just avoid the people who enjoyed making my life miserable), these quickly became things that I simply couldn’t face. Naturally, this distaste for vulnerability includes fear, first and foremost; I suppose that means that my worst fear has actually been the prospect that I have any – quite literally, fear itself.

I started picking up on this with Caitlin, and the realization that our fears were alike (much like the rest of us, more or less). It would continue with her. She saw me as someone she could tell the things she couldn’t tell anyone else, and as time went on she started getting more comfortable around people in a general sense. It was conflicting for me, though, in a way that admittedly makes me sound like a mess of a human being. Seeing her open up (sometimes even firsthand) overjoyed me, but the thought that she could stop having a reason to want me around was nothing short of terrifying. Even while it was something I noticed to an extent, it was in the back of my mind as I dug into the various other things that I picked up on in that dynamic. Even doing this has changed the way I view my current relationships, and it makes me wonder about what will happen as I keep going. (Caitlin was the first person that this happened with, and our friendship had sort of collapsed on its own by the time I was done writing about it.) While it’s never something I’d do purposely, as I run out of stories from my past to dig into the possibility presents itself that simply telling these tales could alter them.

Much like obsession, fear defies reason. It’s not bound by it, and it binds people in ways that reason can’t. As we’ve established, I cling simply for someone to acknowledge still being there, and the more I tighten my grip, the more these friendships I grasp at slip through my fingertips. Why? Because I think that if I don’t act, I’ll have to face what I’m afraid of. Never mind that because I act, I have to face what I’m afraid of. Just as reason doesn’t govern it, unreasonable things can trigger it – simple things that others view for the nothings that they are. Face paint. Thunder. Bugs. In my case, it’s a bond – one that shows the slightest sign of fracture. Fear seems to only require something simple, yet specific. People don’t fear people so much as they fear rejection. People don’t fear apex predators – lions, sharks, and the like – so much as they fear being mauled and eaten. As much as we as people have a certain fear of monsters, that fear is never about the monster itself; it’s about what the monster can do to you.

Fear and obsession, for that matter, have a way of feeding into each other.

The odd thing is that the cause of my fears is the solution – being so tied to abandonment, my fears are essentially my friends, and vice versa. When I’ve run across it with Roxanne, all I’ve wanted was for her to make it go away – to tell me that she won’t go away, instead of just having to guess at it until something happens (for better or worse). If you’ve been following along, I analyze the hell out of everything (hence all of this), and seeing the patterns in these sorts of things leads me to gravitate toward worst-case scenarios. Hearing it from anyone else doesn’t matter, because I’m aware that the disconnection doesn’t change. For that matter, I’m aware that these others’ opinions are often based what they’ve heard from me, and that my perspective has always been a bit skewed. Anyone I’ve told you about so far could say as much – up to and including Roxanne, albeit for entirely different reasons. (She would say I’m far harder on myself than I should be, even in my concerns that tearing apart my relationships could… well, tear apart my relationships. She’s actually seen the rest of these, and all she said when I got up the nerve to tell her about this one was that I was worrying too much, as always.) Remember what I’d said when recounting Claire, about having a single point of failure for one’s social life? When there’s only been one or two people ensuring that I wasn’t alone, separation represented that fear. In a twisted sort of feedback loop, the same people that could make my anxiety vanish with their presence could terrify me with silence. Even my best friends – especially my best friends, for that matter – could never fully calm my fears, precisely because I needed them so much.

I think fear is a type of obsession, and one of the few types of obsession that a more well-adjusted person might actually be able to relate to. Much like more negative obsessions in a broader sense, fear is a thing that people recognize as harmful, and try to get rid of. Of course, the effort to stop thinking about it involves, by definition, thinking about it, and rather actively at that. If you’re familiar with The Game, this is literally the same concept – one known as ironic process theory – applied to a meme. That’s the nature of obsession: a sort of involuntary focus on something (or someone), desired or otherwise. When one’s presented with a fear, it becomes the center of attention until it (or, rather, its object) goes away. For someone like myself, who’s predisposed toward obsession, the two feed into each other. Thus fear – specifically, the fear that I’ll be alone – is key to my problems. It’s why I can’t “just chill the fuck out,” to borrow Matt’s phrasing. It’s why I’ve still worried about running into Ramona at shows, or about what could happen if I see Caitlin or Kim when conventions come around again.

At least, it’s why I had, anyway, as most of these things have actually happened by now. Of course, run-ins with Ramona are a story in themselves, so I won’t detail that here. That said, not long after starting this I actually did run into Kim at another con, and it was anticlimactic – sort of positive, even. We talked for a few minutes about things that were mostly inconsequential, and I managed to kind of sort out what had happened prior, though sadly not so well as to repeat prior tales. The same day, I also heard from Roxanne again after one of her off-the-grid periods and managed to get back on civil terms with Matt. (As it turns out, his willingness to do that was largely her doing.) I even got to see Amber again. The running theme for that con as a whole was “Everything went better than expected.”

As I said, I was wrong about Roxanne. Without even realizing it at the time, she managed to tell me as much herself. (When I first started writing this, I didn’t have the luxury of knowing that.) She consistently proves my fears unfounded every time she resurfaces in my life, and yet the anxiety still lingered every time she would disappear. (I’d like to think that when she leaves town all this pattern recognition will kick in a bit more constructively.) The whole thing has been an interesting reminder of the hedgehog’s dilemma for me. Consider that fear is essentially the absence of trust. Ultimately, if I believe that the people close to me will leave when they see what I’m really like (or, at least, the parts of me that I myself can’t defend), what right do I have to call them friends? Whenever I see the slightest hint of abandonment, the first thing I’ve done is doubt whoever’s on the other end. Trust is the foundation of any sort of relationship, is it not? But more importantly, why haven’t I let people accept a person rather than an image?

Much like the whole idea that I’d had about isolation and attachment prior to starting this (that I was alone primarily because I couldn’t properly connect with people), it’s possible I’ve been looking at this whole thing backwards. As I continue along I want to tear apart how fear works the same way that I have with obsession, and truthfully I’m still not sure how to do that. Even so, I have one thing I can show for it that I didn’t at the start: just as attachment and obsession can be turned on their heads, so can fear. If I let people see the things I’ve tried to hide (particularly, that I’ve been an obsessive wreck riddled with anxiety about people), and they don’t accept that, accept that anyway, suddenly I run out of things to be afraid of. If they don’t, then they’ve left long before I’ve truly started to care. That dividing line between projection and reality is crucial, and it’s a single word: secrets.

“You’re right. It’s not a problem. It just hurts. I haven’t lost anything, and I haven’t done anything. I haven’t done anything yet, right?” – Minori, Log Horizon

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