A lot of the kids I went to high school with people I’d gone to preschool with… I just sort of floated around the different friendship groups. But I always thought it was nice to be the person who reached out to the new kid, and showed them around until they found solid friendships with other people.
Going to Uni everyone is new. They’re not the people I’ve known for as long as I can remember… but they also haven’t known each other for as long as they can remember. So it’s like a social blank slate. It’s good… and also bad.
There’s a lot of small talk involved which I mostly hate, but Pa’s told me that even though people don’t care about the answers to small talk questions, they’re displaying interest in me as a person. And that I don’t need to care about their small talk answers either, but by asking and answering them I can show that I am interested in them as people too, and once that mutual interest is established we might be able to actually do something with it.
Dad thinks people should just skip straight to having actual conversations about things they care about, but Pa says that most people need to build up some kind of trust with other people before they display any kind of vulnerability.
So I do the small talk thing, even though it’s very boring, and display interest in talking to the person, even when it’s clear neither of us have interest in what we’re actually saying. Which works surprisingly well?
I find that my family is a thing that people find interesting enough to talk about. I can mention that I’m pleased that my parents are allowed to get married now… and if people have any kind of negative reaction to that, I know they’re probably not someone I want to get to know.
I used to hate it when people asked me which one is my real Dad. As though Dad is less important because he’s ‘only’ my uncle. But it does give me the opportunity to say that if Pa’s my real father than that means Dad must be imaginary, and that my family is complex… and when someone laughs at that joke I think they’re probably someone I want to get to know.
So I do the small talk thing even though it kind of sucks and it kind of works? People start to wave and say ‘hey’ to me when they recognise me around the campus and as I do the same thing over and over we start to have actual conversations.
I’d always thought that friendships just sort of… happened. But Pa says I can probably try and form them on purpose, so I try to do that.
There’s this girl, Kate, in one of my classes who always shows up early. So… I try and show up early as well. I like to look at her when she’s reading because sometimes her hair falls down over her shoulder like a little curtain and then she flicks it back again… and it’s strangely exciting.
And now sometimes she talks to me. Just like… how’s your weekend, how’s class and all that. I tell her how hard I find it to make myself show up to all of my classes. I shrug and smile as I say it in a way which I hope indicates that I don’t need her to have any kind of emotional reaction to what I said. Pa says that’s important because people get stressed out if you say things that they think they need to have some kind of feeling about before they’re properly prepared for it.
“What do you mean? You’re always here. You ask the most interesting questions.” She smiles at me. “You’re Mani, right?”
Ahhhh she knows my name.
And I guess that’s the first time I really notice that someone else is saying things just for the sake of showing that they want to be talking to me.
This one class might be the exception. To the whole struggling to show up to classes thing. This one class is different. Because it has Kate, and her hair.
I’d been excited to go to university. Pa had never been, of course and Dad told me he kind of wishes he hadn’t. But they were both so proud of me. And they were both so excited for me.
I’m like… clever, I guess? And people kept just assuming I’d move on and do something great. So I started Uni and I felt like such an… adult. Briefly.
I mean… I’ve never been the smartest person in the room if I’m ever in a room with Pa. But I guess I’d always assumed that I was ready and prepared…
And… Oh man.
I never realised just how much I relied on them until they weren’t there. Dad’s rigid adherence to schedule used to make me roll my eyes but suddenly when I was left to set my own pace I found that it was actually quite soothing to make colour coded charts and lists and plan everything out. And really… really easy to ignore them after that.
I’d always seen myself as a pretty even balance between my parents. I share more DNA with Pa, but I’m still quite a lot like Dad. And I love them. And recognising them in myself always used to make me feel quite proud.
I just feel like I’m the worst of both of them somehow. Dad’s anxiety and Pa’s inability to follow anything through. I’m distracted and irritable and easily frustrated. Did they baby me somehow?
It’s like… It’s like I’ve spent my whole life swimming in a nice safe pool. With my floaties and my parents right there within reach. And any time I got myself into trouble they’d be there to lift me up and fix it before I even noticed. So when they told me, ‘You’re so strong and brave and clever, Mani,’ I’d just believed them. never thought about how much they were just always there.
Now I’ve been thrown in the deep end. No – into the fucking ocean. And I’m ridiculously unprepared.
The work isn’t hard if I can actually force myself to do it. But it is so, so easy to ignore and having people who want to hang out and invite me to places gives me more excuses not to study.
And… Oh man.
There is this guy, Dale, who is always at the bar on a Friday and he always seems happy to see me there.
I complained to him that nobody ever taught me how to study. How to actually sit and make myself do things without being constantly reminded. Nobody ever taught me how to remember things without writing them down. Or how to remember where to look where I wrote them. Or how to remember that I wrote them down.
“I just can’t seem to make myself do things. Even though I want to,” I tell him.
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” he says. He runs his fingers through his perfect wavy black hair and… am I a hair guy? Do I have a thing about hair? Is that weird?
“Am I weird?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “One of the reasons I like you.” And he grins.
“What do you do if you… like two different people?” I ask Cello.
“Throw yourself into the garbage,” she says. “Fuck, I don’t know. Love is crap. Ask your parents.”
“What do you do if you… like two different people?” I ask my parents.
“I don’t think that is ever a problem I have had,” says Dad.
Pa says he didn’t have that problem either. I think Cello’s advice was probably more helpful.
I tell them about Kate and how I noticed where she usually sits in the lecture theatre, and I’d choose my seat just a bit behind where she was so I could look at her. But how she noticed where I usually sat and she’s changed where she sits and now she sits right next to me… and I can smell her shampoo and see that sometimes some of her hair gets caught in the tiny studs in her ears that are in the shape of elephants… and sometimes when she flicks her hair back over her shoulder it touches my shoulder.
I tell them about Dale and how he says ‘Mani! You’re here at last!’ when I show up at the pub on Fridays and how he’d said ‘I don’t have a girlfriend or a boyfriend,’ and looked right at me when someone had asked if he were seeing anyone. And how he runs his fingers through his perfect wavy hair.
“The bisexual part is not the problem here,” I tell my parents. “Also, I don’t have, like, a hair fetish or anything? They just both happen to have really nice hair.”
Being interested in Kate makes me want to do Uni work so I can be near her, and being interested in Dale makes me want to avoid Uni work so I can be near him.
That makes it sound like maybe Dale isn’t a good influence, but he’s the one that tells me maybe… maybe it shouldn’t have to be this hard. That it isn’t normal to have to force myself to do things that I actually really want to do. That maybe I should talk to someone about it.
I’ve always talked to my parents about everything, but I don’t really know how to talk about how I maybe just suck entirely in every way at being a functioning adult.