19 October 2022

The Taper

I was homeschooled until I was sixteen — sometimes I feel like leading with that explains more about me than anything else I can say. My unchecked enthusiasm, lack of filter, oversharing: I blame all of this on not having real negative feedback when I was a child, no one telling me to shut up, only my siblings goading each other on with whatever snippet of reality we'd captured from church group or better, the kids in the neighbourhood. I've always felt like I'm in the uncanny valley of social normalcy, performing some version of appropriate social behaviour that I learned from watching Saved by the Bell and playing with the Mormon kids in our cul-de-sac. Here is where we laugh, here is where we listen, here is where we speak.

In this country, where I am a British foreigner, it's less of an issue because before I am a homeschooled person, I am a foreign person and precisely an American foreign person. In the constellation of things that make me whoever I am in this context, being homeschooled is less important than at least ten other things. I left a message on someone's phone last night, and just said, Hey, it's me, without saying who me was, and after I hung up, I thought about calling back and clarifying that I was the one who had called, but thought, she'll get it from my accent, how many American men are calling her. Today, I saw her and joked that she probably didn't have that many Americans calling her on a Monday night, and she said she knew a Canadian guy, it could have been him, but it didn't matter she hadn't heard the message anyway.

Being homeschooled, you live with a known blindspot, filling in things that it appears other people learned in school that you didn't quite pick up in the church youth group that was meant to supplement the lack of interaction with other kids your age. As I've grown older, I've felt this feeling of not being in on the joke, fade in some ways. Everyone's personality develops differently, surely, and even if my gregariousness emerged out of that, I've been living like a normal human being in the normal social world for many more years than I was homeschooled. I have only myself to blame. Still, though, I wonder what I've missed, particularly when I'm in a primary school, where I have found myself quite a bit over the years, first with the girls and now as a school governor. I look at the kids interact, and I think, what are they all learning that I never learned. I'm not confident I could take a punch: is that the sort of thing these kids know about themselves, or am I just projecting.

After the Great Welsh Marathon this spring and my inexplicable time of two hours, fifty-nine minutes, and thirty-four seconds, I have not had much of a yen to run. Instead, I've found myself eating and then running out of a sense of guilt and self-pity, that this is the time I can have alone, without any expectations on me, provided I'm back before it gets light. In the glow of the time this Spring, I signed up for the Abingdon marathon, a place I had not ever really heard about, but in comparing my options for an autumn run, decided it was the best because I could drive there in the morning and not have to stay in a Travelodge the night before, lying awake in a strange room and wondering what I was doing with my life. Now, I only have to spend ninety minutes thinking this, as I drive down the M40 in the darkness of an October Sunday morning, hoping the car breaks down, and I won't actually have to run. 

The training has not gone well, partly because I achieved my goal of running a marathon in under three hours already, and partly all the turmoil at home which started four years ago, but seems to have really come together this summer, when I was given and promptly returned a bean-to-cup coffee machine I received for my birthday. After that, things have not been right, and I have dealt with this not-quite-rightness with eating, taking on more and more responsibility, and running. The imperfect balance of gluttony and binge exercise hidden as self-improvement got me through a trip to Scotland with my parents and immediate family, but at the end of September, I had had enough of it and was determined to drop the extra weight I'd gained in three months, something ridiculous like eight kilograms, and try to get some control. I've done it for many years, this same cycle. It's impossible to break until suddenly it isn't. You just flip the switch. I can't explain it.

Things have gone well enough since that flipping of the switch. I've lost about four kilograms and am running with a bit more strength ahead of my marathon, although this week, the taper week, has been full of cold symptoms and running about with obligations that seem to endlessly cascade on me until some time in the evening when I sink an hour or more into my phone and feel guilty that I've not written anything all day and not made any progress in mending the fallout of the bean-to-cup coffee machine, something I need to mend for some semblance of a future. I fall asleep and wake up exactly where I was the day before, another series of tasks and time when I should be writing that I end up watching YouTube videos about drama or chess or some influencer who is pregnant now and unbelievably happy, although I know that they are not, of course, unbelievably happy. 

The blindspot I sense here is an inability to pace myself against others, something I never learned as a homeschooled kid. I couldn't think of anyone but myself, and what I was capable of and whether I was achieving that. Was I doing my best: I certainly wasn't, I never was. Jesus, when Jesus could be a bit of an asshole, said, Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. I took this seriously like it was a thing that could be done, not catching the irony, actually considering cutting off my hand for sinning. How high should I jump, Jesus, just tell me and I'll do it. My kid ask me what I want out of life and I say sarcastically, I don't know, to be happy? but I'm actually sort of serious about it. I say something about the pursuit of happiness, being American, and I can't tell if I'm joking anymore. Who can really think about that in an honest way when there are so many other things to think about. Can I be honest? I want the people I love to not resent me. I want to be loved and wanted. What a pathetic middle-aged man thought, it's embarrassing. In a dream, a woman I don't know flirts with me — how silly it was to fear that when I was younger, to never believe it was okay to be wanted. I do want to be happy, as petty and silly and American and immature as that is.