I tricked my mother into buying me my first journal in the summer before fifth grade. It was a composition notebook, the kind with the black and white dots in a random pattern. During our back-to-school shopping at the local suburban superstore compound, I snuck the contraband notebook into a shopping cart already overflowing with school supplies of every type—folders, scissors, glue sticks, and Trapper Keepers. I nestled it between a lunchbox and calendar, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice.
It wasn’t that she would have begrudged me the money; my parents were always willing to spend money on educational endeavors, as attested to by my collection of Hooked on Phonics and Schoolhouse Rock! Videos. I just wanted privacy. I did not want to answer questions about the notebook, didn’t want her to know I intended to begin a journal. Had my mother asked, I would have told her that the dotted-notebook was required, flashing the school supply list too quickly for her to ascertain that it didn’t contain a line item for a composition notebook.
I wish I could say that I wanted the journal because I knew that I was destined for greatness as a writer, but the reason was much simpler: I didn’t have any friends and I intended to use the notebook to make it seem like that was a choice. There were a myriad of reasons for my solitary state, most of which now seem like excuses: My family moved often, I was shy and anxious, and even as a child I was skeptical of the motives of strangers. It only took a few tastes of being teased and having my feelings hurt to adopt an adage: Being alone is easier than being disappointed.
Not having friends is socially awkward in a way that multiples loneliness, squares and cubes it. Living without closeness of others is obviously painful in itself, but think of all the little daily opportunities for you to be reminded of your singular status. Something as simple as taking a meal in public becomes a cause for sadness and embarrassment. Even as adults, most people don’t like to dine alone. It’s difficult to know where you should look and if you should even smile, because it’s suspect to see a stranger smiling without understanding what provoked it. The menu is taken away and you’re left with nothing to occupy your time outwardly, and it can be terrifying. In these instances, it’s important to provide your own entertainment and focal points, lest you stare too long or erupt in tears and storm out of the restaurant (or elementary school cafeteria) because the pressure of keeping up your façade becomes too great.