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How I Ended Up at the KISS Concert

February 12, 2020

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI was a little young when the heavy metal glam-rock band, KISS, became a phenomenon. I knew enough to be able to name its members and could sing the refrain to exactly three of their songs: “Lick It Up”, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, and “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night (And Party Every Day)”. I was also vaguely aware that they made a movie of some sort. It was called “KISS Meets the Phantom” or something like that. I never saw it, but I remember watching the commercials for it on TV and thinking, “Hmm, that looks freaky.” Basically, KISS was to my young self what the Kardashians are to me now. I knew they were big; I knew a lot about them through cultural osmosis; but I wasn’t a fan, per se.

Yet, when my friend Susan reached out to me a few weeks ago with a text that read, “KISS is coming to Charlottesville – wanna go?”… despite the fact that I didn’t want to shell out over $100 for a band whose music I didn’t listen to, and who sang in a genre I wasn’t particularly fond of, I said, “Sign me up!”

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I should back up right here and tell you a little bit about my social history over the past twelve years. Namely that it’s pathetic, and I’m not using even a trace of hyperbole here. For most of my life, I’ve been an outgoing, sociable person who had a certain grace with conversation and was able to make friends pretty easily and with a wide variety of people. Growing up as a bit of a cultural outlier as the daughter of Czech immigrants in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood, I got pretty good at operating outside of my comfort zone and seeking common ground with peers. I got so good at it I even married an Irish Catholic and feel perfectly at home in his predictably large, boisterous family.

As an adult, I moved not only all over the United States, but also studied, worked, and lived in several countries in Europe. In fact, as I sit back and take an inventory of people with whom I’ve had friendships, or at the very least have successfully broken bread, or shared a drink with, it’s a roster that reaches well beyond the usual parameters of racial and ethnic diversity. It’s a list that includes, but is not limited to, nurses, doctors, teachers, plumbers, war photographers, men and women in uniform, journalists, diplomats, hippies, bartenders, hair stylists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, a handful of tech zillionaires, three British hooligans, a mobster, a nudist, a car salesman, an erotic film producer, an ex-con turned musician, a sculptor, a Hari Krishna, a Baha’i pioneer, an antiques dealer who found a way to have herself declared legally dead so that she wouldn’t have to pay taxes, a pro athlete or two, a forest ranger, a professional gambler, a fashion designer, a vacuum salesman, a hobo, a Greek gigolo, and a Bollywood star who played the villain in a James Bond movie. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I used to be able to talk to anyone.

Even when my husband was offered a job in Mumbai, India, I didn’t blink about moving our young family there and didn’t feel the least bit intimidated about the prospect of making friends and finding a community. In fact, the only reason we didn’t end up going was because our third and youngest child was born so sick that we simply couldn’t leave our home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I guess that’s when my social problems started.

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At first, my self-sequestering was circumstantial. Our daughter’s illness put our family in crisis mode and pretty much anything that didn’t revolve around her survival and our family’s ability to cope, was put on the backburner. The only relationships we had the energy to maintain were with family and people who already were like family. Essentially, the near and dear we didn’t have to put any additional work into. They knew us; they loved us; they got us.

On the rare occasions when I did leave our house – say, for school field trips, or for other child-related social obligations – I truly felt like an alien. I distinctly remember sitting in the back seat of a Honda Pilot, on the way to a science museum for my son’s field trip, and listening to two good friends of mine having a casual conversation in the front seat. I recall having neither the desire, nor the ability, to join. And I remember wanting to cry.

The peak of our crisis mode lasted about a year, but our daughter needed a great deal of attention for five solid years. After that, things normalized for us, as she began living like a healthy child. We were able to go on dates, and hit the beach for a week in the summer. I was able to focus on work more, and start making up for lost time. It’s a huge blessing that I love what I do. Writing isn’t a chore for me, it’s a profound pleasure that has the added benefit of helping me sort through my emotional conflicts.

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But it’s also something that I do almost exclusively from my home. With the advent of social media, which corresponded roughly with the start of my daughter’s illness, I was suddenly able to have relationships with readers and colleagues that were entirely online and didn’t require me to meet anyone anywhere ever.

And while I fully expected to get my social mojo back once our lives had attained some level of balance and security again, the fact is…I didn’t. For several New Years in a row, my resolution was to get out, make new friends, and accept more invitations.

Only I didn’t.

Our home became a gilded prison cell. One that was filled with all of the people and things I loved most. Our food was great, our cocktails greater, our music was excellent – why would I ever want to leave?

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Then, about five years ago, a friend of mine – the mother of one of my son’s buddies – recommended my novel, “The Bone Church”, to her book club. I have a personal policy of not strong-arming my friends into reading my fiction, and think writers who don’t have that policy end up having a lot of resentful friends. So, I was really touched that she did that, and hadn’t expected it at all. This warm and fuzzy feeling, however, was quickly replaced by burning shame when she said to me, essentially, I like what you’ve been writing, so I thought I’d give our friendship one more try, even though you pretty much dumped me. She didn’t say it exactly like that – she was much nicer about it – but the meaning was clear, and I was absolutely dumfounded. I wanted to scream, “No! No, I didn’t dump you! I swear!”

But I didn’t do that either. The truth is, I didn’t even know how to explain my hermit status to her, so I just said, “Um…I never go out.”

That friend ended up moving to Texas, but in the years since that incident, I really have tried to get out more, meet new people even. Usually with mixed success. My social isolation has put me out of synch with the ebb and flow of a conversation that isn’t on the written page. On paper or computer screen, I can pause, reflect, and construct a joke. All of the things I used to be able to do spontaneously, and in person. In recent years, when I’ve forced myself to go out, it’s been clear to me and others that I’m more than a little rusty. This has set up a vicious circle of promises to myself: I will talk to people more; I will make an effort to make friends! The promises are quickly followed by discouragement and failure. I talked too much, said the wrong thing, came on too strong. I had become… weird.

Once again, I would find myself falling back into the cozy embrace of my house, my family, my core group of entrenched simpaticos. I would stop accepting invitations, and by and large, they would stop coming. What began as a fear that I would never recover my social life and skills, grew into a feeling of grudging acceptance that this was the new normal: the outgoing woman I was in my teens, twenties and even into my thirties was a gone girl.

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Then, a couple of weeks before Christmas this year, my son was invited to a party hosted by the parents of a school friend. It was a raucous mix of teens and adults, and most of the grown-ups hit the open bar pretty hard. The next morning, when our son began regaling us with stories of our tipsy neighbors, he mentioned that three different sets of parents – flush with alcohol – made comments about the fact that we never go out and aren’t a part of the community.

This hit me hard. Worse than sitting in the back seat of a Honda Pilot fighting tears. Even worse than having a friend think I ghosted her. This was coming from my kid, who had discovered what I thought I had largely kept secret from him. I was surprised at how contrite and embarrassed I felt.

But like all hard truths, it opened up an opportunity for me to take a cold, critical look at myself – “a moment of clarity, as the counselors say. I saw the chances I’d lost – to perform a kindness, to try something new – and became painfully aware of the way my walls had gone from providing me protection to closing in on me.

This year, just days after my son attended that party, I made my New Year’s resolution once again. Only this time, it was a vow. Instead of swearing up and down that I was going to go out more in that eye-rolling way unserious people swear they’re going to quit smoking, give up sugar, quit their dead-end jobs, I made a covenant with myself to become a social animal again. Whatever the invitation, unless I had a genuine conflict, I was going to say yes! No excuses, no exceptions.

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Since January 1, 2020, I’ve been at a birthday party, two dinner dates, a UVA basketball game and a wine and cheese get-together that I actually hosted at my house!

And last Friday night, I found myself making devil horns at the KISS concert, accompanied by a friend who never gave up on me.

It was freakin’ awesome!

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P.S. I don’t make my in-person neighborhood friends buy my books, but my reader friends are a whole different story, so here’s are some links ;).

Savage Island – new release! (ebook on sale through Valentine’s Day for .99 cents)

The Bone Church

The Hungarian

Cold

Welcome to the Hotel Yalta

Oh, and here’s 19 seconds of KISS for your enjoyment!

8 Comments
  1. When I lived in Connecticut in the 70’s Ace Frehley was a neighbor. He was very quiet and pretty much kept to himself. A different person from his public persona. Best wishes on your desire to socialize. I have found after 40 + years of it, the peace and quiet are both welcome. I enjoyed the sharing of your situation, Thank you, Victoria.

  2. Thanks, John. Peace and quiet are welcome, too.

  3. Hell, you’re smart, perceptive, and in touch with yours and others’ feelings. You’ll handle it fine.

  4. Judy permalink

    You are such a lovely person and have it all in you to do and be whatever and whoever you choose at any moment in time. I delight in your sharing and in receiving your e-mails. I can definitely relate and finding a home church has helped me to get out there and participate more in life since retirement. I still love being home best and I don’t see that ever changing. Getting out there is not always comfortable but I always bring something back home with me. New thoughts ideas and caring which as a writer I know will add to all you already have going on in that brilliant brain of yours. Happy Valentines Day.

  5. Thanks Judy – ended up at a terrific dinner party full of great people the other night, by the way…so, you’re so right about just getting out there. Hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

  6. Patricia Yarian permalink

    I truly enjoyed your story of KISS. I can also understand exactly how you felt in your early years of not getting”out there”. I too have experienced-as I call it-the stay inside (in more ways than one)era of my life. Thanks again for sharing, and for letting us peek into your personal window!! Oh, I also just purchased the Bone ChurchYard.– here’s to good reading!! –P/

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