Growing up in a small village in Wales, community was one of the things I grew up dying to escape. Community was one of those ‘unsay able’ words in my head and conjured up visuals of group hugs and, god help me, belonging.
As a kid I hated that everyone knew my sister, asking after my mum or mentioned seeing my dad. In school I was ‘Faye’s sister’, the local policeman alerted my mother to my early drinking forays and I’ll never forget being grounded for swearing within earshot of (unbeknownst to me), one of my Dad’s coworkers. Our next door neighbor regularly popped into the house to shout hello, even wandering into the bathroom to let you know she was there. No.. I’m not kidding. We weren’t a neighborhood ‘community’, we were symbiotically attached to each other.
And yes, this is why I get claustrophobic around people sometimes.
I used to dream of moving to a big city where no-one knew what my mother did for a living or compared me to my sister. To walk down the street and not recognize anyone.. wow… I couldn’t imagine how liberating that must be. How free I would feel. Why, I could be anyone, do anything and no-one would ever know. Sure they might wonder who that weirdo in the cape and sequined the Dr. Martens was.. but no-one would be recounting it to my mother.
After college I moved to London and thrived in walking the streets, people watching and not knowing a soul. I didn’t exactly morph into a completely different person, but I did love not being connected to anything. Walking around unrecognized. Not knowing anyone or belonging to any group other than ‘London’. Me and 5,999,999 other people. Just about the right size community for me.
Fast forward to 1997 when I moved to the US and found myself in a country where I knew no-one.
It was a beautiful thing.
But over time, even a city of 2 million can become familiar. Over time I started to know people who knew people who knew me. And while no neighbor ever walked in and did the dishes (yes, that happened back in the village), I did start to know their names. Which started to freak me out and I considered moving somewhere more anonymous. Not because I’m a Montana militia sort who thinks the government is monitoring my thoughts (which they are), but because I liked that freedom to fuck up without it making everyone’s breakfast discussion.
So I resisted the idea connecting to a community. I deliberately didn’t chat with my neighbors or hang out with people from the gym, or the writers workshop. I didn’t want to ‘belong’ because my associations had always been so claustrophobic. I had visions of not being able to breath. Having people getting into my business. And yes, having a neighbor walk in on me in the shower (I’m scarred for life by that ‘norm’). Having sought refuge from prying eyes in another country, it seemed peculiar to even consider inviting random people into my life (outside of immediate friends or lovers). But then I got older.. and suddenly I needed some roots (man). I needed that community. It got kind of lonely without one…
So I joined a community garden ( it even has the word in the title), I started cross fit (and talked to my fellow nut jobs) and enjoyed watching my neighbors develop a tight little community – without stepping into Melrose Place territory. (less sex, more dogs and BBQs). And these days its nice to have that sense that I’m not on my own. That I don’t need to struggle through everything myself. That I need my 9mm if I’m scared or to hire someone to help me do everything. Community has come to mean having people to lean on (rather than people to tattle to your parents or invade your bathroom), and I have to admit, I really kind of like it. I used to think that ‘belonging’ was the death of individually, but at 41, I believe that you need to belong to something in order to survive.
Its a pretty lonely road to travel all on your own, and plus I need someone to tell all my dating stories to.