I realized something yesterday.I am extremely sad. A lot of the time.
And it's not because this adjustment to the freelance life is hard. It's not that I have no money. It's not even because of this ridiculous health-insurance debacle I find myself in.
It's because I am a shut-in. There are no people in my life. I make physical contact with so few living, breathing, English-speaking organisms now that it's actually affecting my quality of life. For as much as I hated my commute, as much as I disliked the micromanaging middle management and mind-numbing corporate culture that filled my days, I actually find myself missing those mundane brushes with warm-blooded humans. I miss even the grumpiest of Metra conductors, banging their little hole punches against the metal railings to wake the dozing businessmen who hadn't paid their fares, gruffly asking, "Where to where?" The baristas at my suburban-oasis Starbucks, who treated me like family on my worst days and royalty on my best. I half miss standing awkwardly around the lunchroom, half-heartedly singing "Happy Birthday" — except for the one man who took it to Pavarotti heights — and waiting for the honorees to blow out the candles on their store-bought cupcakes. Gently ribbing the ad reps who constantly forgot to use their inside voices when they were doing phone pitches. Wandering into my boss' office just to grab a piece of chocolate and staying for 10 minutes talking about nothing in particular: hearing for the fourth time about the Van Morrison concert he saw years ago, detailing my latest relationship drama, discussing the newest flower varieties like we were somehow qualified to talk horticulture.
But I used to wear my earbuds for hours at a time, zoned out and rocking from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, just to keep those interactions to a minimum. Because it all got to be too much sometimes.
Now? I watch TV. Because there are people on TV. Interacting with one another. It's my replacement for real, 9-5 socialization. And when I watch TV, I'm watching Angel or Law & Order: SVU. So the interactions are…y'know…raping and bloodsucking and maiming beyond recognition. Tell me that's not affecting my sanity at least a little. That's not to say that when I finally do get around people, I want to kill them. No, I want to hug them. And talk their ears off. (Yes, both of them. One is not enough.)
It's not that I've shut myself in on purpose. It's an occupational hazard of self-employment, so I hear. (Or so I heard, in one ear and out the other: Everyone said it would be a lot of work not to feel isolated, and I scoffed. …Yeah. Who's laughing now?)
My most thrilling moment of the week thus far: Realizing, during a long conversation about dietary idiosyncrasies, that I'm not the only one weirded out by bone-in meat. I found myself at Fiddlehead Café last night, craving human heat and a big glass of wine — neither could have damaged my writer's block any further, really — and I got into a conversation with my favorite bartender, Daniel, who I've known for about two years now. That place is my Cheers. Cilantro tastes like dish soap to him, and he can't handle meat on the bone. (Which, you should know, I first spelled "boat," then revised to "boan," then realized these two glasses of Carmenere had gone to my head far more than I first imagined.) I talked with the chef, Josh, for a few minutes, too. He spoils me: Last night's single-girl treasures included a little cheese plate and a dessert platter with a tiny ramekin of deconstructed banana cream pie. And then I talked to the guy next to me. His name was Vincenzo. He's brewing his own beer in buckets in his basement — and needed the bottles to store his finished product. He doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. I stared. My mouth hung open. Strange creature.
If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. Fair warning from me: If you give me a direct look in the eye, I will ask you to be my best friend forever. Or at least for the next five minutes.
And I will be less sad. At least for the next five minutes. So thank you in advance.