Warning: mention of eating disorders
When most of your identity hinges on if you are liked by people (at least most people), you’ll dedicate a lot of your life to achieving that. Even the recurring failure of that goal won’t stop you, but you get tempted to quit trying. Nobody would ever care as much for you as you do for them.
I’m not asking for much. I am new here, and would be content with a few close friends, and for every person who gets on with me to at least enjoy my company when I invite them over. I don’t need fifty constant companions. I just want to connect with people more than just the once-in-passing it seems to be with the vast majority.
It’s easy to tell yourself that it’s your appearance, or it’s being an outsider, or maybe your breath smelled the first time someone met you. I don’t know.. It could be all of those things. I’m not necessarily delusional or imagining things. But how does an outsider become an insider? It’s simple really: hang out with the outsider and show them your ways, get to know them. I’m the outsider and I simply want to be known.
Why are people afraid to be neighborly? I get that the pandemic got people isolating even when they really didn’t want to do so, and for some it was a welcomed friend. I’m the former… isolation wrecks me. I can’t be alone too long. I have a deep love for food - making and eating. The thing is… I love it too much most days, especially on my lonesome. Since 2020 it truly became the only friend I had some days. I created some of my best meals (best for the soul, even if not for my body at times), and proceeded to eat too much of it.
But even before 2020, when people still lived a bit more, people would rush into their garages before their car door closed. They wouldn’t wave and smile, or bring a meal over to the new guy, or offer to dog sit when they passed each other on walks. People ignore each other. In 2022, it still seems that way, though the shadows seem to be lifting.
I lay here awake too late, having made an attempt to invite my whole neighborhood earlier today for a sort of belated housewarming open house…for myself. I don’t have a few close friends nor do I even seem to have acquaintances. The party’s in a couple days and I wonder if I should’ve given people more notice. In all honesty, even more time would give people ample time to excuse themselves from my invitation. I made it clear I need no gifts. In fact, while I quite enjoy giving gifts, receiving them means less to me than quality time and a giving hand do. People wouldn’t know what to get me anyway. I only offered to have an array of food for them, a comforting and open home, and a time to connect with games, laughter, and conversation. Put people around a home with food and it’s bound to naturally happen.
Nobody has told me they’d come. I’ve been left on read by many, ignored by a few, and gotten some nos. A couple face-to-face invites gave me a strong maybe. Nobody wants to commit themselves, but I would welcome people to pop in, even if they said they couldn’t come, or said nothing at all.
I suppose we’ll see. I don’t know people yet either, so I’ve decided to go all out, even with low expectations. Pasta, salads, breads, desserts, finger foods, dips, and a few other things should cover preferences and food allergies. My desire to be liked is matched with my love language of food.
***the next day, the day before the party***
Most of the food is getting prepared today. It’s easier to prepare the space when all I have to do is reheat, or make small dishes day-of. I’m glad to have a decent savings and no job until next month, so I can focus my energy on getting into the neighborhood… you know, not physically, but in every other way. Then again, having my new job begin could give me adult interaction, even if it’s only professional. You never know…
Cell phone chimes
"Hi neighbor! I should be able to pop by tomorrow. I should be able to stay a bit. We’ll play it by ear. Also, what’s your name again? I saved this as 'neighbor' and forgot… this is Lydia, btw."
Well, this seems promising, other than maybe her not knowing my name. At least I know somebody will show up.
"Lydia, can’t wait to meet you again. (The name’s Henry). Come hungry!"
***the day of the party***
I’m almost done with most of the dishes, and I just know I’ve outdone it with really only one confirmed guest. It’s quite sad, I can see that, but maybe I’ll have some sneaky people come that love to show up without RSVPing. Better to overprepare and not need to than the opposite.
***6pm, doors are open***
I expected nobody to come on time. These days, I don't even love being the first to arrive somewhere. But it’s funny… someone still has to be first. Maybe they expect a group to arrive at once. For now, I’ll sit with my only company, my favorite dip and chips, and my dog Rufus.
Hearing cars pass every few minutes makes Rufus outwardly express my inner thoughts that someone might be parking and coming in. But wouldn’t you know that an hour passed, then two, and not even Lydia showed. I’m sure she’ll send a pity text tomorrow with some believable but untrue excuse.
Don’t be fooled though… food got eaten… by me and Rufus, but there’s still so much leftover. Here I sit with a full stomach and empty heart.
"Henry, so sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I had a car appointment hold me over… hope it went well!"
Well I was wrong about one thing; she didn’t wait until morning.
As I wrap up uneaten food, wash the few dishes I used, and put things away, tears fall and I can’t help but not care that my dishes are being washed with them. I won’t even know if people like my food. They wouldn’t even show up. I took so much time for people who can’t remember my name. It’s hard not to take it personally when people and food are as personal as it gets for me.
***the next day, the day after the party***
I need to leave the house, even if I leave the neighborhood for a while today. I have little to no errands but I’ll make them up if I have to.
The local grocery store does have a homeless problem. I have a soft spot for them though. I feel I can sense when someone really is down and out and when someone else is working the system. I simply call it a problem because it seems rampant in this area… and regardless of their motive, they stay out in the elements and don’t likely have the comfort of home and family. I have the home mostly (at least the house that will become one) but my family is out of state and as is acutely clear, I have no friends yet here. I have no spouse or kids of my own. It’s my parents and siblings who live elsewhere.
Without even trying, I run into a sun-worn man about the age of my dad whose eyes show longing for companionship like I felt last night. I don’t feel holier or mightier than most here, even in front of this man. “Sir… this might be unexpected, but would you enjoy a home cooked meal?”
Taken aback, he answers “I always enjoy those. It’s been a long time.”
I’m not sure if it was fatigue or an accent, but I understood him enough to respond “how about now? I can take you to my home, give you a meal, and bring you wherever you want afterwards.”
“Oh sir…” as tears filled his weary eyes “... if you won’t be turned away by me.”
My heart felt more fulfilled in this interaction than sitting in my home last night with a buffet on an empty table. I took this man to my home, as kind as he was grateful and tired, and we talked the whole way. In a 10 minute drive, which felt much longer, we talked of his past in the military and his losses. It took us pulling into the driveway before I asked his name.
“My name is Eugene, and this means so much to me. I won’t be a bother.”
How he could say he won’t be a bother stung my heart as I thought of how much of a bother he probably feels on a daily basis. He’s definitely an honest guy, one of the good ones. Rufus sees no socioeconomics, and loves every human he meets, so he jumped up touching Eugene’s knees the moment he arrived. It took only a few minutes for my fridge to empty back onto my table and I already felt more encouraged. This food won’t be wasted by a binge from me, nor down the trash by spoiling.
“Stay as long as you want, Eugene. No rush. And I’ll send some of this home… well, with you when I drop you wherever you’d like to go later.”
“Henry, that’s so kind, sir. I was wondering…” he said between messy bites of potato salad, “I have some friends who wouldn’t mind a decent meal. Could I have trays for them?”
“I’m happy to send them some food with you! But I’ll do one better. How about…” as I glanced at my calendar for the day of the week it was… “every Saturday I come grab you and a few friends to my place? You can have at least a weekly meal to rely on.”
“Oh my, well that would be appreciated! Some of us can walk too, if we know what time to come by.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
I was in awe how respectful, thankful, and unthreatening Eugene was, but at the same time I could tell he had great influence at some point.
As I got ready to send Eugene arms full of leftover food, the door opened to a shocked face who I knew to be Lydia, with her hand up in a fist as if she was about to knock.
“Henry, good to see you and…”
Lydia looked at me as if to nonverbally say “should I be here? I feel conflicted.”
I decided to jump in as a response to what I believed she was thinking, “Lydia, want to come inside? I’m dropping Eugene off but I won’t be long.”
“I won’t be staying long, but yes, I can stay for a little, while you make the run.”
“I felt strange as I wanted in a way to part with Eugene swiftly to figure out why Lydia just showed up, but to also not blow Eugene off so selfishly.”
I decided not to prolong anything but not to rush anything either. After parking at a nearby hotel for Eugene to meet some friends, I spoke with him a few minutes longer with his leading. He broke out of his shell easily and thanked me again for the food and that he’d speak to his friends about regular visits. He nodded at a group of them already in the parking lot, in an area that seemed familiar to them.
“So good to meet you Eugene. I’m happy to help. I can meet you here around 5pm on Saturdays and I’ll take whoever wants to come.”
He shook my hand with a soldier’s grip and smiled, and I could almost see the clean-shaven military-trained man underneath his tattered clothes and toasted skin.
When he left the car and walked slowly to his friends with containers of food, I took a few moments to appreciate my state of things, then my brain reminded me that Lydia was waiting.
When I got home, Lydia was there still and it relieved me, surprised me even. She did blow me off the other night so I wasn’t sure she’d stay.
But when I walked through the door, she stood from the couch where she and Rufus were, and in a nervous but sincere way explained her case.
“Henry, I’m sorry for not coming last night…”
“You don’t need to apolog…”
She interrupted me, but it didn’t turn me off since she seemed eager to explain.
“But you see… I wasn’t honest with you. I have no right to be this open with someone I met days ago on my dog’s walk but I felt badly for not coming after I said I would, and not even telling you the truth when I didn’t follow through. It’s just sometimes things are better said in person.”
We both naturally sat down on the couch simultaneously as she continued…
“I actually have a hard time going almost anywhere. I have an eating disorder and it’s hard enough in my own home alone, let alone being surrounded by a buffet of food at a party. My choices are to binge in the company of others, eat nothing in the company of others, or avoid gatherings altogether. I often choose to avoid things.”
My heart burned with a knowing feeling of conflict with food. I wanted to interject my understanding, but all I said was “Lydia, it means a lot you’d share something so personal with me. It means a lot you’d not blow me off indefinitely.” I instantly regretted telling her she blew me off, as true as it felt, after her spilling her guts, but she seemed to handle my comment with grace.
It felt natural to tell her more about Eugene, since she seemed a little put off earlier, and she told me she wants to try to overcome her struggles with food by contributing meals weekly for my endeavor, and I agreed. It seems I made a friend in a time and way just slightly differently than I expected and planned.
“Lydia, I’d love your contribution. Only if you feel it’s helpful to you! Don’t feel pressure.”
“I don’t… or at least hope I won’t! Let’s take it week by week.” she said with a smile.
We slowly floated to the door - at least it seemed that way - and she said “See you later, Henry.” Only this time, I believed her.