Tuesday, July 17, 2012

in which I disclose that I am, in fact, not good at this shit, but I'm trying

I don't make new friends easily. For one thing, I'm just not built for walking up and introducing myself to anyone, ever. People usually have to be outgoing, like my friend Ashley, one of the techs I work with. They have to get right in my face, ask me a lot of questions, and draw me out before I start interacting, and even then I tend to operate under the notion that it's a trick of some sort. I'm incapable of making small talk. I have trouble maintaining eye contact. My face turns red anytime I start talking and realize that people are actually paying attention to what I'm saying. The main perk of my job is that I can go HOURS without seeing another human face, and scientists are notorious for mentally being on another planet at all times so I don't have to make much conversation with the researchers. It's quite lovely.

But pretty soon after starting my current job, I realized I needed to get to know the various labs whose animals I care for. I was in email contact with all of the labs, but nobody knew who I was, and being on a friendly "Hi!" basis would help if I ran into problems later. So I started saying hello to people when they came in the rooms. I introduced myself, got through the red face, and asked their names and tried my goddamned best to match names with faces. After a few weeks, I had a contact in nearly every lab. It made my job easier, because I could just ask directly about issues with the animals. Also, I was able to do my job better, because lab assistants started sharing information with me about their projects and started giving me a heads-up about supplies or testing. I was able to HELP because I was COMMUNICATING. Holy shit, it was scary.

I wasn't looking for new friends, but one lab person kept showing up outside of work, at various coffee shops and shows I went to. We had both glanced at each other enough times on awkwardly silent elevator rides that I was able to place him when I saw him at the coffee shop one day, studying. Since I was there to study, too, I screwed up some nerve and walked over. I just wanted to say hi, and I was always a little excited to see someone from the labs when I wasn't wearing scrubs and covered in bedding and mouse urine. Lab people tended to be friendlier when they found out I was also in school. It turned me into a fellow student, not just a nameless grunt who mopped floors and changed cages. So I asked if he was PK, from one of the labs. Yeah, he was. I can't remember who, but one of us mentioned that they came to this particular coffee shop to get away from everyone, and the other person agreed. And that was it. I was now beet-red and out of conversation topics. I found a place at the opposite corner of the shop and started studying.

That was in September. It was January before I felt comfortable adding a few people from the labs on Facebook. So I added him, and he added me back. I had a little bit of an agenda. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to get into research, and the research assistant I'd originally wanted to shadow left her job in December. I shot him a message asking about his experience in the lab, and we started writing back and forth. He agreed to let me come in and observe some of the testing, and we actually started talking to each other and found out we had TONS in common. By the end of the afternoon, I'd made two decisions: research was not for me, and PK was worth getting to know better. I invited him to one of the Nerd Nite presentations, secretly terrified that he wouldn't show, that he said yes just to be polite. But he showed. And he seemed to really enjoy himself and really let go. At one point, he looked back at me and said "This is fantastic! I love it!" And I beamed. Part of it was due to alcohol (first-class in getting over social anxiety in short bursts), but part of it was due to OMGIJUSTMADEAFRIENDHOLYSHITBALLZ. He started working as a freelance reporter for one of the university organizations and got a Twitter account. We added each other, and in one of my tweets I made fun of myself for borrowing and reading his Lit Crit textbook:

Who else reads Lit Theory textbooks for fun? I really shouldn't be allowed around other people. #bookgeekery #socialleotard

To which he replied:

Does this mean I'm enabling your social maladjustment? And what about people who take Lit Theory classes for fun? #justcommitme

And I said:

Haha, I predict a feedback loop. #run #now

And I half-meant it. It was a couple of months before I lost that feeling that he was just being polite, and I made a lot of self-deprecating comments in the beginning that were intended to let him off the hook if he wanted to stop hanging out. But he genuinely liked me. We started bringing each other coffee and taking breaks together. We met up for Nerd Nites and Horror Remix shows. We went to concerts, movies, and sometimes just met up for drinks and talked about all the crap going on in his life. We studied together and people-watched at the coffee shop, looking over and raising an eyebrow when other patrons said or did something particularly interesting. We got on like a house on fire, to the point where Nick just started referring to him as "my wife's boyfriend" as a joke. Literally, yeah, he was my best male friend aside from Nick. We were developing this friendship that reminded me of how I felt when I met my best friend Roxanne, or when I met Eddie and Adam in real life after getting to know them on LJ. That feeling of "Holy shit, we have the potential for a lifetime of conversations in us." I introduced him to some of our friends, and it turned out we'd been one degree of friendship away from each other the whole time. I tangentially knew his friend Robert, who worked with my friend Eddie and whom I'd met a few times while hanging out with Courtney and David. Meaning, we ALL should have been hanging out loooong before this. By this time, I knew PK was trying to get out of research and both he and Robert were looking around for grad schools to attend, so knowing that I'd wasted time and delayed the start of amazing friendships by MONTHS due to my own shyness and was going to lose both of them in just as much time...it was a little kick in the gut.

I started to berate myself for reaching out. 'This is what happens," I told myself. "You shouldn't try, because now you get to try and keep up a long-distance friendship. You were better off before you knew how awesome he was." But I knew better. Sure, I could have turned back around at the coffee shop and pretended I didn't see him. I could have had a thousand more awkwardly silent elevator rides with both of us looking at corners instead of speaking. I could have gone to Nerd Nites, movie nights, and kickball games, and had just as much fun not knowing he had the same interests. But at the kickball game he turned to me and said, "This is great! I never knew Lawrence was so amazing! I love this!" He'd been having a rough time lately, and to see a genuine smile on his face, to know that for a few seconds he wasn't worrying about his problems...how could I have wished away and written off his happiness to spare myself some pain? So I resolved to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on being a good friend to him for as long as we had together. Yeah, it's hard for me to reach out. Yeah, it sucks having friends move away. I've made amazing friends and watched several of them move away due to jobs, school, family. It hurts every time. But knowing that I've made someone's life a little better by being a friend to them outweighs the feeling of loss when they have to leave. One of the nicest things someone ever wrote to me was, "You made me feel loved at a time when I needed a friend the most, and I'll never forget it." And I cried when I read that, because that's one of the highest compliments a person can get. Maybe I'm awkward as fuck, and a little weird, but I can love people like a sonofabitch. Once you're my friend, I'm in your corner: someone to help you move, someone to help you fight, someone's shoulder to cry on, someone to make you laugh. And all I ask is that you include me right back, and accept my weirdness. It helps if you're a little weird yourself.

But I have a tendency to get too attached, and right now I'm going through a rough patch. Robert, PK, and Ashley are all moving away in a few weeks. I've been to so many goodbye parties in the last few weeks that it starts to feel unreal, that this is just practice. But I know it's coming. One day soon, I'll walk into my office, and Ashley will be in Utah. One day soon, I'm going to walk past the room where PK used to work, and he'll be in Washington. One day soon, I'm going to sit on the bleachers at the Bottleneck and Robert's not going to be leaning over and whispering a snarky comment in my ear during a terrible horror movie, because he'll be in Texas. And I will cry like a motherfucker, every damn time. Nick will have to administer a lot of hugs, but I'll try to keep my whining to a minimum. Nick, after all, is the best friend who signed up for a lifetime and a mortgage and made himself legally obligated to me. As long as he's around, I can get through anything.

I think after Leota died, I got really sensitive to losing friends, especially far-away friends. It's easy to get complacent: people will always be there, you can always visit next year, you can call them another time when you're not so busy. And then one day they're really gone, forever. So I've been trying harder to stay in touch. It's always worth it, and no matter who it is or how long it's been, we tend pick up right where we left off. So I'm going to try my best to get past this. I'm going to keep in touch with the friends who move away, remember stupid stuff we did and smile, and count myself lucky to know such awesome people. And maybe I'll know even more cool people by this time next year, and I'll be astounded that I lived this long without knowing them. You never know.

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