In the heat of the afternoon sun, I squint around to spot you. In the waves of the crowd, I’m frantic to catch a glimpse of your shiny red silk, your little braids flapping as you run. And I see you sprawled on the grass , holding another girl’s hand and lovingly sharing your precious cheese-curls like she was your long lost good friend. Within a span of ten minutes after you disappeared into the milling crowd, how did you forge a friendship so adorable, so simple? Games are played spontaneously, there is laughter and fun, care and concern, and genuine affection as you two call each others name and hold on strong as you flit around the trees, playing hide and seek. How do you do it little one? When did you learn the art of forming friendships? How did you learn such spontaneity of expression, free-flowing emotions that neither constrict nor hold you back? When it’s time to say goodbye, you flash a bright smile, wave your hands and prattle goodbyes, knowing well you may never see this girl again. How do you live in the moment, take in all the wonderful emotions, experience them all to the fullest, and let all of them go like a flutter of pigeons released into the skies? The streams flow in and out of you, pristine and unbridled.
The very same evening, you spot another little girl hiding behind her mom. As I march forward like a wise-old sister trying to connect the two of you, you sprint right ahead of me and grab the little girl’s hand and say, “Do you want to play with my bubbles?” But she wriggles from your grasp, frowns at you, pouts and whines, “No! I don’t want to play!” I alarmingly look at you to erase any lines of hurt, but you persist like you never heard her. You hand over your bubble-blower, rush in and fetch your shiny toys, lay them all on her lap, thrust a few into her hands, show her the swing and the slide, while yanking her towards you and repeating, “Come lets' play!” She cringes and shakes her head, dusting herself off your toys, she shoos you away and bleats, “No!! I don’t want to play with you!” It’s too much for me to witness and I retreat inside.
I remember a time long ago, when I heard those very words and recoiled behind my mom, tears welling in my naive eyes, hurt unhealed to this day. Years of slapping my extended hands have driven me deeper and deeper into my own shell, layers of armor raised to protect myself from anything and everything outside. And today, I am a dull, socially-challenged, verbally-challenged, awkward dunderhead. A snail who pops her head inside on sensing a little poke. As frustrated hands rattle my shell to get me out, I hang on stubbornly to the corners of my existence, hurt doubling. When I finally venture out, I am all alone. I realize that I’m but a speck in the vast Universe of those who are bright and important stars in my Universe. I struggle to let go, to placate myself of all the unrequited love and affection.
I peek outside the window after a few minutes, dreading to see you pursuing a play mate who rejected you, or worse, seeing you run around all by yourself. But there I see both of you, hand in hand, squealing through the garden, tossing the toys in the air, rolling on the grass and laughing as if you were two kindred souls reconnected. The little girl, who moments before wore a frown, now bursts with cheer as she scampers around you, eager to play and listen to your suggestions to chase birds and butterflies. How did you transform her, little one? What magic do you wield to charm and befriend?
Both of us heard the very same words, at the very same age, but you barged ahead to assert yourself and accomplish what you wanted. While I couldn’t, and still cannot. How silly do I look in front of you, mopping about rejection. What am I to do, little one, if both of us are wired differently, if our sensitivity thresholds have been programmed differently? How do I imbibe your frivolous attitude toward such silly rejections? You, my dear, are a survivor. Nobody taught you these subtleties of forming friendships; your instincts are those of the fittest survivors. I watch and try to learn.
The need for recognition and acceptance rankles my peace endlessly, as I neither plod forward nor retreat from rejection. I stand rooted with my pleas, awkwardly wondering if my actions haven’t spoken louder than demonstrative overtures, or spirited words. The harder I try, the faster you slip away. I see you walking away and I wonder yet again, where I went wrong. I teach myself yet again, to let go, to accept and to change for the better. And I’m blessed for the handful of those who choose to be around me, no matter how many times I slip into my hard shell.