The Fear of Others

When you came up to me today, I could see the anger on your face. We exchanged words. My protestations and excuses failed. The rough stutter I could barely utter out seemed to aggravate you more. I retreated, unable to repair this failing bridge.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” you finally said, your nostrils flaring. When my eyes refused to meet yours, you left, your shoes stomping on the loose gravel. I cursed myself for the words I couldn’t say. I wanted to say how grateful I was for the invite. This dark abyss of loneliness threatened to drown me, yet you threw me a lifeline. I could not hold on. In the end, my mind always betrays me.

That’s what happened at the bar. Staring at its darkened windows, the small drip of terror began accumulating in my spine. As soon as I entered, it became a torrent. My mind went through every possible scenario, all ending with you hating me. What if you were alone in there? If I sat facing you one-to-one, would I quiet the demons that told me my very existence offended you? I would be so preoccupied with messing up that I would not be able to listen to you. When it would be my turn to respond, no sound would escape my mouth. The terror, arrogant in its mastery of control, would overcome all reason. I would mutter a monosyllabic response and our conversation would shatter against an impenetrable wall.

Inside the bar, the too-loud music and the too high and too barking voices drove me back. The heat from the packed space crawled under my jacket. I looked around for you in the dim light, punctuated by smoke from cigarettes rubbed into dirty ashtrays. There you were, at a standing table surrounded by a raucous crowd. They stood in rapt attention at a guy telling a story of drunken failure. How was he not terrified at being the center of attention? Nearby, a large group of women laughed, their sound briefly overwhelming the pounding music. Were they laughing at me, as I stood paralyzed in self-imposed torment? A waitress gave me an odd look as she passed me. I avoided her gaze.

I need a drink, I told myself. You will fail, a little voice told me. The bartender will ignore you and people will push you aside with careless ease. Even if you did get his attention, your soft voice will bungle that simple order and he will go to someone else as you stand there stammering. No, you cannot get a drink, it said with concrete finality. I turned back towards your group.

Look at you! I thought. Look how you charm people with effortless conversation and casual ease. How do you know the exact words? How do you make them look at you in wonder? How? All I do is parry their mockery in their harsh booming voices, yet your charisma radiates from you like a shining star. I love, envy, and hate you.

Courage, I told myself, as I approached the boundary of the group. I could not recognize any of the others. The pain in the pit of my stomach accumulated in hammer blow intensity. I got as close as I could, my face peering over closed shoulders. I tried to catch your attention. No one paid me any mind. There, at the periphery, I furiously scrambled a strategy to enter that unfamiliar mass. The seconds passed by in agonizing sloth. Oh shit! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the waitress staring at me again. No, no, no! I needed to join the group, but I couldn’t. My voice was lost among the cacophony of everyone else. I turned and ran towards the entrance, the laughing and yelling echoing behind me. As soon as I got out into the fresh relief of the cold, the terror dissipated. My ears burned with shame and loathing. How could such an irrational, laughable, and pathetic feeling have such a hold over me?

I know what they say. They call me cold, distant, unfeeling. Stuck up and arrogant. A jerk, an asshole, a sociopath. The few times I try to explain myself, the words come out wrong and I feel their contempt and frustration rising. Their opinion cemented, they leave me alone with that horrible cackling imp in my head. How is it possible that everyone can live so normally? All I can do is watch from afar in this unintentional exile.

6 thoughts on “The Fear of Others”

  1. Ooo heartfelt and tough to read.
    That feeling of being on the other side? I could relate once upon a time. Not easy, but with time came strength and courage and the good things even though only I could imagine that happening.
    Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

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