Singular in Society

July 14, 2008
Kelani’s soothing, yet passionate voice singing “You and me are gonna’ light up this town” fills the basement. This CD had been repeated every Saturday night at our small group meetings since I had started coming that fall and it had long ago been committed to memory. As had the multicolored brown carpet that hides the dirt, but does little to cushion the hard floor beneath it, and the wood paneled walls that are painted a creamy white to make the L shaped room appear larger than it is. Holding the hand of those familiarities though, are my emotions. I close my eyes to the mass of people around me so I don’t have to observe the crowd interact around me—so I don’t have to witness the intimacies that seem so distant.

The cinnamon fragrance of the red, melted down candle on the gray and white brick mantle behind me is overpowering. The faint pop of a plastic container’s lid being peeled back is barely audible amidst the music, but I am assured my hearing didn’t deceive me as a waft of homemade chocolate cookies soon follows. A chip bag crackles from the food table and chips rattle as they are dropped onto a Styrofoam plate.
The crammed basement was stifling. Sweat had started to form on my hairline and I dared not lift my arms least someone spy the dark splotches underneath them. Stripping off my light blue sweatshirt had only helped to cool me off for a brief moment. I am finally relieved as the door to the sunroom turned playroom squeals open and a blast of cold air shortly follows. Except, the night air cools me off too suddenly and chills start to shoot through my body, but I know from experience that if I were to put my sweatshirt on I would get too hot. The temperature was now at that awkward point where I had to choose between sweating or shivering. I settled for sinking into the couch just a little more and turning my back to the door.

I try to return my focus to the music, but the shrill laughter of a two year-old girl pries open my eyes. She is in the middle of the floor, playing with two college students and her nine year-old sister. The little girl growls at one of the students, sending him sprawling on the floor in mock horror while she falls into his girlfriend, Anna’s, arms. Her shockingly light blond hair contrasts with Jenna’s brown mass of tight curls as they sit giggling. I quickly divert my eyes. The scene makes me smile, yet that all too familiar emotion weighs upon me and outshines the joy. It is hard not to be envious of that love and companionship Anna attracts from little girls and adults alike.
As is turn my eyes elsewhere loneliness and envy clutch onto my heart with a steel grip and I cannot escape witnessing the rapport of those in the room. The couple who owns the house and leads the group stand talking in the corner by the door that leads upstairs. Beside them, squeezed into a blue folding chair, is a large middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a black and gray plaid shirt over worn-out jeans. He has a slight grin on his face as his new wife sways in worship beside him. Her dark eyes are outlined by rectangular, black rimmed glasses and her short hair is a sheet of black silk that frames her tanned skin. In-between them and the food table, in front of a massive homemade fish tank, are a younger couple. He sits holding their baby boy and his petite wife’s dancing is interrupted by her toddler’s plea for food. Her desire was no doubt sparked by another two year-old. Rachel is standing in front of the food table with a seized cookie in her hand. Her grandmother also notices the energized girl’s latest find. It is impossible for her nana not to oblige he big blue eyes and mischievous smile. Rachel will soon discard the cookie among all her other outcast food on a Styrofoam plate resting on the lid of an aging piano that’s chipped black wood shows its maturity.

Sweet, high-pitched singing steals my attention to the other end of the room. I know exactly who it is that briefly debuted her voice. She is wearing a bright pink sweater and gray sweatpants with Messiah, the name of her college, printed down the side in blue. As always, she is smiling and hugging a friend among the small group of girls encompassing her. A couple of them are reclining on the deep green couch that is a smaller version of the one I am on. The rest are on the floor crammed between the couch, the long wooden coffee table, and the narrow, light wooden entertainment center that reaches toward the white ceiling. Some are singing or whispering, others are hugging or resting their head on another’s shoulder. They are all basking in the open display of affection.
Now, more than ever, my position curled up on the end of the couch is pronounced. My knees are pinned to my chest and I am mindlessly twisting my blond hair around my index finger. Nobody is talking or smiling at me; nobody is holding my hand or giving me an affectionate touch. I snap my eyes shut and hope what I saw will disintegrate and vanish into the melodies of the CD. Yet no matter how much I center on the music, those families, those couples, those girls are vibrant reminders week after week. The song has ended and the whispers around me seem deafening. Nobody is nearby to block the chill breeze from enveloping me. I draw my legs up even closer to my body and pray that one day I will not be the one in the middle of the room surrounded by people—by myself.

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