Saturday, February 21, 2009

Camp counselor

The few real-life friends who read this and have known me for some time will get the above reference. But as of late, I've found myself back in my old camp counselor shoes. No, I was never an actual camp counselor, but that was always how friends referred to my (and often our communal) tendency to be the one people wanted to talk to about their problems. The person people sought for advice. I know a lot of secrets. And in almost every case, those secrets have stayed exclusively with me. Then that habit faded for several years. Perhaps it had something to do with my own problems becoming more apparent and all-consuming... I'm thinking about an HNT possibly demonstrating as much one of these days.

Anyway. In the past few weeks, I have suddenly found myself back in the camp counselor position. Strangely enough, this time it's basically entirely with boys. (Traditionally, the clientele were almost all women.) It's possible this is a side-effect of my recent conversion into "one of the boys" - really, more of a solidification of my status there - but it seems strange to me that suddenly people are coming to me. And in every case, I can almost watch myself from the outside, as if someone else was narrating. I can hear the tone in these guys' voices, (or, sometimes, pick it up through our conversations online) and I just get the feeling that they desperately want someone to listen. So that's what I do. I ask them questions, prodding them to keep going. And they do. And sometimes they don't stop, at all. Occasionally, they stop periodically to apologize for blathering on about themselves, at which point I assure them I don't mind, then continue asking them questions about themselves. And they seem to appreciate it.

One case has been exclusively online, but is nonetheless interesting. He was a classmate I went to school with my freshman year of college, which puts us currently on opposite ends of the country. Up until about a month ago, he and I hadn't spoken since I left that school in 2006. Not even when I visited the campus last year - he and I didn't run into each other. We weren't exceptionally close friends when we were classmates, though we did live a few doors down from one another, have many mutual friends, and a shared sense that we were both a little "weird." (A term I use knowing both of us still identify as such and enjoy it.) I happened to make a comment about his status on facebook about a month ago, which started a conversation that has essentially been running since.

After the obligatory catch-ups (where are you at? what's your major? single or not? etc), he launched into a discussion about sexuality. He and I had never particularly talked about it before, although I probably looked more like I was into what I'm into then than I do now. (That was a terrible sentence. The cough syrup is getting to me.) Anyway, he launched into a conversation about sexuality, heading towards non-monogamy. It was honestly fascinating to stumble across another person in my life who embraces this "non-normative" sexuality so openly. He's also fascinatingly at peace with himself - something he's actually helping me work my way towards. But he seems so eager to have someone to talk to about his relationship, and these new things he's exploring... It's great to be that person for him. I'm sure I'm not the only one in his life, but I get the impression he really enjoys having someone who is honestly interested and curious about what he's doing. Tonight, he was exploring how he's feeling about the fact that his long-distance fiancee is going to be with another guy (pre-discussed, determined, OK'd and all that, of course) and deciding whether or not he wanted to watch via webcam. He was so nervous and anxious and excited... It was carrying through in his responses. And he kept coming back to talk to me, more emotions he wanted to work through. It was fun to be there for him. Of course, in situations like this, it's easy to be the camp counselor.

Then today, another friend contacted me out of the blue. He graduated from my current university last year, and was my right-hand-man when I was running the magazine last year. We didn't exactly have a falling out, but he came under the impression I had feelings for him (which I entertained for about five seconds) and ran scared. He has since apologized, but we haven't actually seen one another although he's been back to visit periodically.

He called me up tonight - I couldn't quite tell if he was drunk. My guess is that he'd had a few. But he started telling me to put off the real world as long as I could. I got a feeling this wasn't simply a phone call to offer me advice. So I asked him what he meant. And off he went, talking about how he hates being tied down to one place, how he wanted to travel and DO something with his life. And he likes where he is but he doesn't like what he's doing and so on. I reminded him that he's 23. And his life is hardly over. I reminded him that while yes, he does have some responsibilities, he's a single, talented guy (working in advertising presently) and he can still do anything he wants to. He wanted to rant more. So I let him. And then assured him, again, that things would be OK.

There was one other particularly shocking incident as of late - someone who I had neatly tucked away into the "Pleasant Memories" file reappeared and turned that drawer upside down, leaving its contents in a pile on the floor. I'm still sorting through the remains. Trying my damndest to file them away again. That was a good place for them to stay. But when he called, his voice sounded so vulnerable. He asked me if I was happy, and I couldn't tell if the tone in his voice was one almost hoping I'd say no so that he might not be alone... But I confidently and honestly told him I was happy. And I asked him the same question, mostly just to reciprocate. But it came out as something much bigger. "What about you, are you... happy?" I asked. And I heard him take a deep breath. And answer me honestly. And in that moment I wished I WAS a camp counselor and that we were sitting on some bench together and I could throw my arms around him. And maybe then he wouldn't have hustled himself off the phone, or sounded so surprised when I asked him a question that was relevant, but revealed that I'd really listened to his previous answers, even to our conversations a year ago. It always breaks my heart a little when people like him are so surprised that I'm so awed by them. I don't know what else to be, and it makes me sad to realize that others aren't aware of what these incredible people are worth.

But I guess, if everyone realized things like that, there would be no camp counselors. I wouldn't be needed. So perhaps I should be happy that, even though it's out of the blue and seems to come in waves from the people I least expect, it shows that I am needed sometimes. And that these certain people still trust me. It's a good thing, I suppose. To be worthy of people's trust.

And thank you to you, dear readers, for being MY camp counselor. I think it's no coincidence that I'm able to handle people's secrets once again because I have somewhere to unload my own. And recieve your wonderful feedback. I am truly a very lucky girl.


Amalthea said...

Interesante my dear, and our similarities increase. Good luck with that drawer... :)

(I definitely think being solidified as one of the guys increases the chance of this happening too. They see you as safe to share with and you likely listen in a much different way than their male friends.)

Merlin said...

Listening is an art, one that will serve you well in almost any endeavor. People do want to talk about themselves to someone who will listen without criticizing or trying to "fix" the person's "problems." And when you have some common ground with your confidant, as with your former classmate, the process becomes more interesting/exciting/pleasurable for you as well.