I used to envy my friends who grew up with brothers and sisters close in age. I used to go on and on about how lonely it was to be seemingly sibling-less growing up, despite having both a younger brother and sister. My brother is six years younger than me and my sister is 15 years younger than me — both age differences were a bit too much as a kid to ever fully appreciate having what could have been a built-in best friend from the start.
The thing is, even at a young age, I always felt compelled to grab onto the people around me and keep them in my company. I craved conversation. I craved connection. I suppose I realized then how fleeting moments are. How quickly people come and go. Truth be told, I never wanted to be alone.
I say that loosely today because I’ve never really ever been alone.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom who, for lack of a better word, babysat a few of the neighborhood girls after school. My fondest childhood memories involved those girls and the time we spent together every day after school.
Over time, the girls became the sisters I never had (until, of course, my sister came boppin’ along when I was a freshman in high school). Long before cell phones and social media and the need to measure our own worth by the number of likes or favorites or retweets came crashing into our lives, it was always just me and these girls. Playing and fighting and laughing and dreaming. Face-to-face. We spent hours riding bikes around our neighborhood, taunting the boys that lived houses away from me. We’d set up neighborhood-wide games of manhunt. We laid outside and counted stars. We knew nothing of the future, but we hung onto each other. When we laughed, it was never without tears. When we fought, we kicked and we screamed and we yelled. And when we loved, when we were there for each other in the midst of divorces, threats of divorce, familial discord, and broken homes, we loved hard. We were always present. Always right there with each other.
That was my childhood. In all its glory. It was beautiful and full and connected. It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve tasted the innocence of what a childhood was. Of the simplest form of fun and happiness. Of face-to-face interactions, getting dirty and muddy and being fully present because we had no other choice but to be.
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I remember the 3rd of July the summer before I turned 21 vividly. The air was hot and sticky, but typical for that time of year on the Jersey Shore. I went with three of my girlfriends to the annual fireworks held a few towns over — a tradition we claimed as our own since we were in high school. Following the fireworks, we packed ourselves up and headed back to one of my friends dads houses. We had a girls night planned: pool, hot tub, and beer.
At 20, we were in the beginning stages of transition. We saw how quickly the world turns. How fast we went from high school seniors to college juniors. We spent that summer, and the summers following, trying to latch onto scraps of our childhood while still trudging through murky water trying to get to that light at the end of the tunnel that was college. While it seemed that summer break for most college students was defined by long days spent at the beach and nights spent funneling beers, ours were never like that. We all took summer classes, interned, worked full-time. We learned early on how difficult it would be to keep up with each other as adults.
But we tried. And we appreciated those fragments where the real world just stops and time seems to be standing still and we get these good, long, full moments with our friends.
It was the summer I realized how small I really was against the tide of love. I was in the crux of loving and hating that green eyed boy whose shallow love was enough to turn me into the boy-obsessed-girl I swore I’d never be. It was his eyes that reeled me in — I melted into those emerald greens every time he looked my way. I was infatuated and consumed and I swore he saw me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized those eyes never saw me the way I thought they did. At least not in the way I needed them to.
But I swore he was it. He was the one that would save me from every monster masked as a hero.
I became the person who, wherever she went, had her phone perched right next to her. Keep in mind this was before I got caught in the vortex of smart phones. At the time, I had the Verizon TV phone, and to me, it was the coolest thing next to the T-Mobile sidekick that I never got to claim as my own.
On that 3rd of July night in the middle of the summer of 2009, I sat in the hot tub with three of my childhood friends, beer in hand, eyes glued to my phone sitting on the ledge. Two of my other friends were on their phones as well. Somewhere in the middle of perhaps one too many beers, and I suppose an awkward silence that filled the air, but went by unnoticed at least by me, my friend who didn’t have her phone on her yelled at us. And I know she’s probably reading this right now laughing or rolling her eyes or swearing up and down that it didn’t play out that way. But I swear it did. “Can you guys get off of your phones? I just wanted to spend a night with my friends and you’re glued to the screens. We never get to spend much time together, and now that we’re here, you’re not really even here.”
And maybe those weren’t her exact words. But they were close. And she was mad. And for a long time we looked back on that night and teased her for it. We teased her for being bossy and overbearing and getting mad when all we wanted to do was stay connected with the boys on the other ends of our phone.
Little did I know then what all of that would really mean. Little did I know that trying so hard to connect really disconnected us from what was literally sitting right in front of us.
Oh, and by the way, my little Verizon TV phone fell in the hot tub that night. It took a plunge right into the warm water and sunk to its death. And I guess that’s why karma is a thing, right?
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It saddens and scares me that my sister will never have what I had. At 11 years old, her idea of spending a Friday night with her friends is sitting in front of her computer and having a group video chat with them. She’ll never know communication beyond the three inches of her iPhone. She’ll never know the excitement of coming home to a letter from a pen pal — a friend who moved away but still kept in touch via letter writing. I’m afraid she’ll never have the same affinity for deep, intellectually stimulating conversations as I do. I’m afraid that an argument between she and one of her friends will always be as a result of words that didn’t go over well in text. I’m afraid she’ll never be able to look someone square in the face and tell them what she feels.
Part of me wants to raise up the white flag, throw in the towel, and accept that this is it. We are a social-media-technologically-driven-world. You are never really ever running errands alone, because your head is in your phone having a conversation with someone about last nights date. When you’re riding the train to work, the person next to you is scrolling through his Facebook feed. Awkward silences in elevators often result in everyone pulling out their phones and pretending to be in the midst of a juicy conversation with someone.
But I just can’t bring myself to give up just yet. I want more than that. I want more than text messages and Facebook wall posts and favorites on a picture. I want to be present. Real conversations. Real Kodak moments that aren’t up for others to judge whether or not they like them. I want to be connected — really connected.
When I’m sitting in the middle of a coffee shop catching up with a friend, I am already planning the rest of the day out in my head. Did I submit that paper on time yet? Did I apply for graduation? Did I make sure I turned my hair straightener off before I left my house? When does my car need to go to the shop? And if I’m not going a mile a minute in my head, I’m scrolling through my phone. Answering people I left hanging. Sifting through e-mails making sure I didn’t miss anything. Casually checking my Instagram feed that’s usually inundated with engagement rings and feeble attempts at “Food Porn.”
I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t ever want to be sitting face-to-face with someone and miss the point.
There is still something so romantic, so beautiful, almost sacred, about real conversations. And I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to ever get so caught up in my life that I forget how much more to life there is beyond a text conversation. Because the truth is: life exists in the details. Love exists in the details. Connection exists in the details.
It’s in the smile that lights up the restaurant the second you walk in and meet up with a friend whom you haven’t seen in months. In the face-to-face conversations about the tough stuff — heartache and loss and love and careers and life-altering decisions. It’s in being there. Being present. Eyes up, ears open. It’s in falling in love with the sound of his voice, or his crooked smile, or the way he can’t keep from grinning when he sees you. It’s waiting by the phone for his call because even though you just left his house, you need to hear his voice. And that voice is what matters. Not a text. Not lifeless words through a screen. But tone and warmth and I’m falling in love with yous whispered in the middle of the night.
And you just can’t get that through a screen.
“Conversation is so much more than words: a conversation is eyes, the smile, the silences between words.” -Annika Thor
The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘I Had A Dream’ by Kelly Clarkson.