The Curious Case of a Life of Anonymity

by Keith Kilmer, , April 21, 2009

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In my short time here at Cortland, I have sat in on many discussions about how this college isn't as open as other institutions. By open, I mean they feel the student body here is very exclusionary, like in high school. If you don't look the same or act the same or wear the same clothes, you get the scornful look. I listen politely to these conversations, but inside I have always felt: who cares? Not who cares if they like you-I'm not that callous- but rather, why do you care if they like you? I've spent my entire life not caring about what the populace that I've had to weave my way through in life thought of me.

As far back as I can remember, at least in piecemeal form, people have never gravitated to me as they do to normal people. Obviously, I'm abnorma--that's beside the point--but I've begun to wonder is there a quality I possess that pushes people away?

The furthest time period back that I can recall is kindergarten. At the time I entered kindergarten, I had very little in the way of social interaction. I didn't attend a pre-school program; few people did back then. So I believe I was ill-prepared for assimilation into the multi-child, low-supervision classroom. I didn't react well to how the children naturally gravitated into cliques.

I can remember a particular day in which I played the class clown. Obviously I sought their attention and acceptance. I had pulled my wool hat down over my eyes and played about the class-making an ass out of myself-when the biggest, strongest, most popular boy in class, punched me in the stomach. Maybe he felt threatened with me vying for the other children's attention. Naturally, the rest of the children laughed all the more until the teacher came to my aid. None of the kids helped me nor showed compassion. I believe at that point I began to set up barriers to mentally protect myself for the coming years.

For the next few years I had little or no friends who weren't my family. I'm not sure why: maybe I was a stinky kid or something. I know you're laughing, but there was always this one kid who stunk terribly and the kids avoided and made fun of him. We never think it's us-but maybe I was. I always wore hand-me down clothes, but back then it wasn't abnormal for people to recycle clothes rather than waste money on kids who will outgrow them in no time.

When I finally did start making friends, I did so in moderation. I never let more than one person get too close at a time. This model held true for most of my school years; I remained solitary and reveled in it. I spent many long days sitting next to trout creeks, waiting for my father to return, all the while scribbling stories on pieces of paper. Writing became my defense against a world in which I felt out of place. I spent my time playing with people, who never existed except on the page, or in my mind. I could manipulate them anyway I desired. This was a world I could disappear into and fit in. I did this to the exclusion of people knowing me, the real me. Many kids would see me in the halls and know my face but know nothing about me.

Acceptance in the real world didn't come for me until my teenage years. I met someone who was like me, in that he didn't quite fit into this world; we gelled together like brothers. We found our way into teen society by using beer. I'm sure if a psychologist were to look into my brain he/she would say I had some sort of social anxiety, and self-medicating the way we do, beer helped me.

In my school, like every other school in America, the kids where divided up into like-minded groups. When we started partying, we had a way of drawing the rest of those groups together. Where we went, a good time always followed and people flocked to us. For the first time people knew who I was. Though they didn't call me Keith; my nickname was Absolut (for obvious reasons). I became recognizable, but people didn't know me, the real me. When my dear friend passed away prematurely, I closed the doors again and put up my defenses. I remained invisible to the world as I grew into a man.

When I went to work at the hospital, people couldn't remember my name. People in the department I worked in called me Kevin, Kurt, and even Tom. I corrected them for the first month or so and then decided it was a losing battle. Besides, I thought, people had been calling me worse names for most of my life. I dipped further into the unknown. People began to refer to me as caricatures. They'd call looking for the 'little green man' and finally 'super'. After twelve years of working there, people still have no idea who I am.

You see, it's not that I don't like other people; on the contrary, I like other people very much. What I have a problem with is if I get into groups of more than a couple people I know, or into situations where I don't know people, I get anxious, extremely anxious. I'd love to talk to you, really I would, but my mind goes blank. What gives me anxiety is small talk. Have you ever sat back in a room full of people and just listened to the interactions? All the conversations get recycled as one person makes their way around the room. The conversations are usually superficial and mundane, yet the person speaking believes at some core level that the person they are talking to desires to know these mundane facts about them. That's where I have the problem; carrying with me that interaction when I was a small child, I don't believe that people wish to know about the mundane moments of my life. So I tend to clam up and keep quiet, even with people who may have shown a genuine interest in me.

Now, after a few years here at school, I have met and gotten to know very few people. The ones I have gotten to know a bit are professors, not students. I have always felt the same way about it through the years: it's their loss, not mine. Recently I've begun to think maybe I've been mistaken. Maybe, I'm missing out on some really beautiful and talented people, and it is tragic. That is my loss. So, I'm here to remind all the students out there who tend to turn their noses up at people who may be a bit different than you: you may be missing that beautifully talented soul as well. So why not take a second to say hello to the older adult learner who may be sitting next to you in class, or the kid going out of their way to not fit in, who unknowingly stares longingly at you in the café? We may be that amazing persona that sparks the greatest creative period of your life. Worst yet, you may be ours. I've wasted so many of them already.

So I'll begin. Hi, I'm Keith, Keith Kilmer.

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