My smile is just a frown turned upside down
Does anyone know Joyce Vincent? She was this pretty girl with a flirtatious voice who once lived in north London. I didn’t know her either and probably neither did her neighbours who also did not seem to care about her. In 2006, she was found dead in her apartment. Her body was so decomposed that her remains almost melted into the carpet. She has been dead for almost three years.
Joyce Vincent is the subject of a documentary that came out in 2011 entitled Dreams of A Life, which tried to piece together Joyce’s existence. The main mystery, apart from the manner of her death, was how a woman who was perceived to be friendly and lovely had gone unnoticed for three years. “What about Christmases?” asked one of her friends interviewed for the documentary, “didn’t they notice she was missing?” In this day and age of virtual connectivity, one of Joyce’s former friends marvelled at the fact that people can still fall into a crack and disappear. Fleeting was the word floating inside my head as I watched the documentary. Joyce was a drifter and she had no real friends who could tell exactly who she was and where she has been. Her history, her story. As expected the people interviewed for the documentary all had guilty faces. They had let her slip away without really understanding her.
The documentary did hit a nerve, to be honest. For the past few months I’ve been a semi-recluse. Yes, I do have a regular work that entailed me to talk to people. I go out and hook up with men but most have remained strangers that a few unreturned calls wouldn’t be much of an issue. Sometimes a day would pass without me talking to anyone. Sometimes the only meaningful conversation I would have in a day is with myself. Not surprisingly I saw myself in Joyce. I saw myself drawing further and further away from the world and settling for a life alone with my dogs. The Japanese have a term for this. They call them Hikikomori. This refers to a growing number of youths who have withdrawn from society and have become frightened of the outside world. At one point, I daydreamed about moving to Japan. But obviously, I wasn’t daydreaming about becoming a full-fledged Hikikomori. I was daydreaming about finding other people as lonely and as withdrawn as I am.
A few years ago, I abandoned my set of friends. I was always in a relationship and most of them have not even been in one. I was also living in a world that was completely different from theirs. It came to a point where all we had in common was our college experience. With my ever stressful relationships, I found it hard to even absorb my friends’ own problems which I thought at that time were just reruns of the problems they had already told me five years ago. I thought they were in a loop and I was moving forward with a new set of things to be sad about. Talking to them became harder and harder so I cut them loose. Apparently, I am the type who, when in a relationship, forgets everyone around me.
But now I’m single. Living alone. And barely talking to anyone. I needed to re-connect.
Earlier today, I sent a message to a friend that I haven’t talked to for almost a year. I casually invited her out for coffee and was surprised that she immediately agreed to meet with me. The first few moments as we sat down to begin our chat was awkward of course. The last time I talked to her was in our barkadas’ New Year’s get-together and because I was a ball of anger and frustration I was then bitchy with her. But there we were, today at the cafe, trying to re-connect. I thought our conversation went nowhere and that we had to make extra effort to connect. I would talk about my work and I would get utter cluelessness from her end. She would talk about her work and her family life and she probably could see that I was also clueless myself. If this happened a few years ago I would have been bratty about it and walked out. But today, strangely enough, it didn’t bother me at all. I knew that what was important was I was there trying to understand her life. Friendships apparently needed work as well. Effort should also be made and, just like in romantic relationships, it should be accorded with the same patience and love. I know that this isn’t a secret at all but I’m actually glad that at least I have come to realize this. I’m learning after all.
At the tail end of Joyce Vincent’s life, she was admitted to a shelter for abused women. None of her friends of course knew about this. No one was also aware that the once fashionable office worker had also started working as a house cleaner. Perhaps the greatest tragedy in Joyce Vincent’s short life was not the fact that it took people three years before they discovered her dead body. The real tragedy in my opinion was that in the years she was living alone no one had bothered to ask her how she was doing.