The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote about a thing he called the 'open secret,' which I'll paraphrase like this: basically, everyone's fucked up, everyone tries to hide their up-fucked-ness, and everyone thinks they're the most fucked-up individual around, all other things being equal.
In my youth, I wasn't just introverted. Introversion is simply a biological tendency for the neocortex to be in a higher state of activity when alone than extroverts, who show much lower levels of cortical activity in solitude (but spring to life when around others). I wasn't just an introvert; I was a loner, and not always by choice. A combination of my rather dismal personal history, coupled with the depression I inherited from my long-suffeirng mother, made me the dour soul I am today. I was pretty fucked-up, and I knew it.
Little did I know.
I met a girl in the ninth grade. She was the sweetest, kindest soul I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. When she went back to her home country, I never heard from her again, until I received news she had committed suicide.
I met another in the twelfth grade. She was smart, motivated. She had something of a rocky personal history, but back then, it seemed to me that it was the kind of thing that makes a person all the more wise for her sufferings. Little did I know. Her son went missing under suspicious circumstances and Nancy Grace ripped her a new one on the air. She was found the next day with her head blown off, shotgun lying at her side.
I worked with a guy about a year ago. He walked around with the calm of a Buddha. He and I occasionally smoked a bowl and bullshitted at his place. He met a girl, and things were great with him for a while --- maybe too great, because she broke up with him for his drug abuse and he rededicated his life to his first true love, heroin and coke. He's still in rehab.
I was at a party recently, and ran into a friend. He's the head of a local campus religious group, and has that whole 'this too will pass' attitude about him. But on his and my third beer, he started asking really pointed questions about what people thought of him, wondering why people don't like him. I wanted to tell him I've been in that situation before, living one life outside your door, while retreating once in a while to sob on the other side, but I couldn't figure out how to do that without it sounding like empty platitudes.
Sometimes, the folks you run into who seem to have it all together, really are just held together with duct tape and Bondo. By day, I was the smart kid, the guy who could draw, the guy who aced every test he ever took without even trying, the guy who could outrun the cross-country team. By night, I counted my scars and wondered if I'd ever make it out alive. When you're a teenager growing up in a broke and broken family, who knows nothing but what he's lived through, a year is forever, and the lure of college hangs like a gleaming citadel on the horizon, made unreachable by the alligator-infested moats of affordability and academic standards (yes, world, we got those in America, you just gotta look for them).
I made it, though, and while I can't say I'm exactly happy, at least I can say I am remarkably free from regrets. My heart goes out to those who lie broken by the road, unable to get up and keep going. I could have been you, if life hadn't turned out like it has in the past two years since I broke up with my then-fiancée. But I don't know how to help them up. I wonder how it would have been if I had someone help me up, and then I realize it wasn't just one person offering their hand and pulling me up off the roadside --- it was a dozen or so people who each offered their hands in turn, when I needed it the most, but only when I needed it the most.
I can't be anyone's savior. But at least I can stretch out my hand once in a while and offer a sympathetic ear.