I’m at a big blogging conference this weekend, something I’ve been excited about for some time because it is an opportunity to meet writers like me working to share their stories. Any event like this comes with its expectations, so as the conference neared, and I perused the schedule of speakers, breakout sessions, receptions, and parties, I found myself imagining what I would do. Because I was an honoree for the Voices of the Year, I particularly looked forward to the readings and following reception where all of the nominees would be honored. It was to be the highlight of the conference. The parties afterward would be a huge bonus where I could relax a little, meet some people, act like a normal person.
I just forgot one thing: I’m not a normal person anymore.
Cheryl Strayed describes this in her book Tiny Beautiful Things so aptly. She talks to a bereaved parent about why it’s so hard to function in the world after the loss of a child, that one grows to learn that everyone else lives on Planet Earth, while the bereaved parent lives on Planet My Baby Died. I can’t help but apply her analogy to my own situation. In fact, Jodi and I have come to use this regularly to describe a certain phenomenon we have from time to time.
The way I experience it is like this: I plan to attend an event—a concert, a wedding, a party, an amazing conference—and I go. I go feeling remotely human, even a little like I live on Planet Earth. I gear myself up for it, imagine myself talking to people, maybe having a glass of wine, enjoying some conversation. But then I get there, and reality hits. I disappear into dense atmosphere of my own lonely planet, and I float around observing the Earth dwellers, watching as they do normal Earthly things like laughing and relaxing and chatting. I watch, and as I do, my little planet drifts further and further into its own wonky orbit until I have no choice but to leave.
This has happened on so many occasions now that I should know to expect it, but I don’t, and this is inevitably the source of disappointment that I can’t engage in real world activities. But it has decreased in frequency in the last six months or so. I can often walk amongst the Earth dwellers and feel as though I’m assimilating, like I might even be one of them again. This makes it all the harder when it hits somewhere like this, when I’m in the middle of doing something I have been looking forward to for so long.
At this conference, it is common to introduce oneself to strangers, to ask what they blog about. Sometimes I go first; sometimes they do, but it’s almost certain that they will offer up a subject from Planet Earth, and then I offer up the soul-crushing fact that I write from another world, one they wouldn’t want to visit. The people I meet are so lovely, but that sense of feeling alien has not escaped me. If anything, it’s grown stronger.
Tonight, at the much-anticipated reception for the Voices of the Year, I entered the hall, ready to engage, or so I thought. And then I saw my nominated post printed on a giant board, and I saw people reading it. I grabbed a glass of champagne, tucked myself up on a set of stairs, and I watched from Planet I Miss My Son as people strolled by, stopped, read, dug around in their bags for tissues, and moved on. After watching for awhile, I tried to join in the festivities. I walked around myself a bit, reading other nominated blogs on similar giant boards. At one point, I stopped in front of one that had been honored in the Humor category, and as I read it, some women came up behind me to read it too, and they began laughing heartily at what was really a hilarious post. I was startled by their laughter. My response was tears. This was not an Earthly reaction.
I talked with myself for a bit, trying to shape up, trying to encourage myself to have a snack, check out some of these parties, chat with people, and ultimately get myself out of my funk, but that moment saw me drifting away on my little planet again, watching everyone through a saline fog, and I knew as I often do in these moments that I was done. I needed to go.
So I honored that. I won’t say I don’t regret leaving. I miss the festivities of the real world. I long for celebrations without grief riding shotgun. And I know in my heart that these will come one day, as will normal interactions with people and even expectations fulfilled, but not tonight. Tonight, I’m pulled back to this rocky orb with a wobbly orbit, salty seas, and big boy-shaped craters where I’ve made my home. It’s where I’ll be for now.