I’ve always been a loner. When I was a tyke, if I was bothering my mother, she would send me to my room as punishment. Only, I relished it. Rather than going to my room, I would retreat to hers, with my carry-case of Hot Wheels cars in tow. My parents had a double-window in their room. The 6 feet of windowsill would be instantly transformed into a two-lane thoroughfare, with the divider becoming Wayne Tower, or the Daily Planet building. On other occasions, it would be a battlefield for my toy soldiers, or village for my Indian tribe. When I was alone with my imagination, I was never alone.
I once heard my mother tell someone, “Sending him to his room doesn’t work. He loves it.”
I was always distrusting of people from the start. I was the kid who hid behind my mother’s leg whenever she tried to introduce me to someone new. And this despite coming from a HUGE extended family; 23 first cousins, and 3 second cousins on my Italian side, most of whom gathered in the same tiny apartment each Sunday for dinner.
I was the kid who kicked and screamed and cried when the school bus came, holding onto the fence for dear life until his father came and threatened him with a short life unless he got on the bus.
When I was seven, my parents separated, and my fear of people was coupled with my newly found fear of abandonment to solidify what I always suspected; people are not to be trusted, and if you don’t get close to them, they can’t hurt you.
As I grew into a teenager, my fear of people lessened to an extent, but I still relished the role of a loner. I had friends, and I could be around them for a short period of time, but never too long. Along the way, I discovered something that worked to my benefit; brooding loners got a lot of attention from certain members of the human population, the female members.
The irony of it all, was even though I was uncomfortable around people, I craved their attention; especially in large groups. I loved performing in front of people, and the accolades that came with it, just don’t come to close to me after it’s over.
In my 20’s, I joined a long-haired Rock and Roll band with my friend Steve McEvoy. We were an ambitious duo, and rather than waste our time playing bad versions of Brown-Eyed Girl in the local bars, we set out to conquer the world with our own songs. In the winter of 1992, armed with a half-dozen unfinished songs, I headed up to New Paltz to finish the lyrics. Except, rather than write the lyrics I was supposed to write, I sat in the room of the hotel and wrote the first two verses of a song called “Alone”. On the surface, it was about young man whose betrothed was tired of waiting for him to mature and had decided to leave him. But on a deeper level, it was about a man who had lost his connection to everything, including God.
(“Searching for the voice that cries out, I’m the only one.”)
Two months later, I got the “we need to talk” phone call. She met someone else. She was moving on. In some ways I knew it was coming.
In some ways, I was hoping for it.
It wasn’t the last time I got that same phone call.
Quite often, society elevates and rewards the loner. Our literary and movie heroes were loners; Clint’s No-name Cowboys, Rambo, Keuroac’s On the Road, Jim Morrison’s escapades; a different town every night, a different bed. I loved them all.
Of Course, I would develop close friendships and close relationships over the years; a handful of them are still in my life to this day, but I would never become what you might call a people person.
In August of 2010, our loner entered the basement of a local 12-step recovery group and planted his tired, weary body into a metal folding-chair near the back of the room.
And then he saw her.
And suddenly, he didn’t want to be alone anymore.
He spoke a few words to her, just to make her aware of his presence, and then he left. Alone.
And then he went to see her again. And again. Only he couldn’t be with her,
because he wasn’t… Alone.
So, he pined for her. Night after night, he thought of her, and dreamed of her, and listened to every song that reminded him of her.
And he wrote stories and songs about her.
In short, he craved her. And yet, he loved the craving. He loved the feeling of emptiness and loneliness that came with it. It felt right.
And in Jan of 2013, the world shifted, and he went to her, and then the loneliness was gone. He spent every moment he could with her, and her with him. Not only that, they had friends, and a community of friends. And he actually loved them too. And they loved him back.
Love does strange things to people.
He was no longer a loner. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he still values his alone-time. He still spends much time alone, but he’s no longer afraid of people.
A tiny, microscopic virus made it’s way across the world, infecting hundreds of thousands, not only with sickness, but with fear, and anger and resentment, and yes, ignorance. Covid-19, the coronavirus, forced us into our homes, away from family, away from friends, away from people.
And suddenly, he felt alone again, only this time, he didn’t want to be.
The dichotomy of life is that I’ve always wanted to make this world a better place, while at the same time, hating most of the people that I came in contact with. So I would try to help the world in ways that didn’t require contact with too many people; I donated blood. I became a Big Brother. I supported environmental groups and children’s charities.
And I made a promise to pick up a piece of trash every single day of my life, hoping that someone would see me and do the same.
It never really caught on.
But now I’m afraid.
I’m afraid to pick up other people’s trash; especially when it’s in the form of disposed masks and rubber gloves.
Now I’m afraid and filled with hatred again.
My old man was a people person. Everyone loved him. He was a regular guy; Iron Worker, football player, Irish Barroom story-teller. He was the center of every party he ever went to. I was the guy leaning against the wall; watching the festivities. My mother called him a Good-time Charlie.
She didn’t mean it as a compliment.
My old man taught me from a young age that you can tell everything you need to know about a person from his handshake;
A man with a loose, soft handshake can’t be trusted.
If a person shakes your hand too hard, he’s insecure.
Just step up, look the person in the eye, and give a good firm handshake.
Those days are probably over.
I’m afraid to shake hands now. Maybe rightly so, but how will I know who to trust?
I take a walk everyday. Sometimes I see people I know. I’m afraid to approach them. I’m afraid them might get me sick. I’m afraid I might do the same to them. And the worse part is, I don’t know who to trust. We get bombarded with information, most of it conflicting, and everyday it changes.
The numbers keep getting higher; the death toll climbs, the fear builds.
My wife and I took a drive through the city onFriday night. It reminded me of the days after 9/11, without the smell.
It looked like some second-rate dystopian movie on the Starz channel.
And yet, it was real.
And now the loner, (whose also a bit of a germaphobe) misses the people that he once feared.
We will emerge from this someday. I know this. But what will it look like?
Will we ever go to the gym again? Swim in a public pool?
Will we ever high-five at a Yankee game again?
Will we hug the people we haven’t seen in three years?
Will we shake hands again?
We’re entering the 2nd month of lockdown. I’m missing my friends. Facebook and Zoom are a poor substitute. We all can’t wait for this to be over. So far, we haven’t been hit directly, but that can’t last forever.
Stay safe. Do what the smart people suggest, and resist the crazies.
Fight fear with truth.
And hopefully, we will all get together on the other side.