Nervously, I check my phone as I walk into the restaurant. I don’t know why I look at my phone, there’s nothing to see but the time. There are no missed messages, no texts from friends, not even an email left unread. But it gives me something to do with my hands, something to occupy my mind. I take a deep breath and open the door with shaking hands.
The hostess smiles at me and I tell her I’m with Meetup. She points me toward the back patio, like that’s enough information for me to find this group of strangers. With resolve, I slowly put one foot in front of the other, wishing the floor would swallow me up, looking more like I am going to my own execution than a party.
It’s New Year’s Eve and my kids are with their dad. I had spent the day at the beach, writing messages in the sand then watching the tide wash them away. “Goodbye 2013, hello 2014.” I was feeling lost and alone, adrift with no course charted. For hours I watched the waves crash against the shore, wondering if my life was always going to be this lonely, completely unsure how to make anything better.
One thing was certain, I couldn’t sit home feeling sorry for myself. I had to do something, anything, but wallow in my own self-pity.
My options for the night were limited, which is why I find myself inching toward potential disaster instead of celebrating with friends and family. Almost everyone I knew was still back in NH. After moving to Florida and getting a divorce that was admittedly long overdue, my life changed dramatically. By the end of 2013 I had failed at my rebound relationship which had,until that point, consumed my lonely evenings, leaving me suddenly alone on the one day of the year I find myself most introspective.
I reach the opening to the patio, my heart pounding in my chest. I desperately look around for a familiar face but find none. The room is filled with smiling, laughing people celebrating the past and welcoming the future; but nobody I know.
Could this be any more awkward?
Feeling my cheeks flush with embarrassment I scurry to a seat at one of the long, high tables reserved for our group. There are supposed to be more than 50 revelers at this party. I am afraid to count, but I know there are a lot. People all around me are chatting and having fun, while I look on in utter terror.
My eyes brim with tears but I don’t let them fall; it would be too humiliating to start crying here at the table. My stomach is churning with panic and my breath is shallow. I close my eyes for a moment to collect my thoughts and gather my courage. I can do this. I NEED to do this.
When I reopen my eyes, I pick up the menu in front of me so that I seem occupied, but I’ve been unsuccessful in my camouflage. The person sitting next to me is a rather large man with a kind smile, who has chosen this moment to introduce himself. I quietly mumble my name in reply. He attempts to engage me in conversation but I am simply not able to speak; words fail me and eventually he turns back to the person on his other side.
As the dinner progresses I surreptitiously watch what is going on around me. I listen to the conversation I’m unable to join, only daring to look up when my mouth is full of the poorly prepared hamburger I’d selected as my meal, a perfect excuse to remain silent. As soon as the waiter comes back to fill my water glass, I beg him for the check. I can’t take much more of this. I need to escape.
The second I can break free I do. I slide off my chair without saying goodbye and ease out an opening in the covering to the patio rather than walk past the other tables.
Outside I breathe a sigh of relief. I survived. I don’t know if this will get easier, but I know it’s necessary. I need to meet people. I need to have some sort of life to fill the gaping hole that is left when my kids are gone. I can’t handle any more empty nights.
This truly was one of the most difficult evenings in my life. But it was also a night that changed everything. The person who introduced himself to me has since become a close friend. Somehow, with relentless persistence, he broke down my walls, not that night, or even the next few times we found ourselves at the same event, but over time.
I have come a long way since that night, helped by several people I am now proud to call “friend.” I cherish each of them and I sincerely hope they know how much I appreciate them.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Awkward