By Becky Barton
When we met, I explained to you that I am shy. That’s my opening line every time I meet someone new. You joked that you’d “pull me outta that”, and I laughed as though I hadn’t heard those tired words a thousand times before.
You heard me laugh, and you laughed at one of my jokes. Suddenly, you decided I was making it up that I’m shy. You teased and berated me, in front of other friends. You dismissed my desperate attempt to open up to you and explain how it works, for me at least.
I turn to stone
So I kept my distance. I tried to observe your personality and learn the best way to communicate with you, because I wanted us to be friends. I always want people to be my friends. But I can’t just say that, like a “normal” person. The words transform into a river of bile in my throat. Fear turns me to useless stone.
I used to think I was lucky that no one ever noticed that. Everyone is always too busy laughing and talking. Like a wild animal hoping it’s camouflaged, blending in with its surroundings until the danger passes, I just stand frozen. No one even glances in my direction. Relief melts the paralyzing fear, and I slip away before someone notices movement in the shadows.
A cruel, mistaken verdict
Once I started hiding and refusing any interaction or conversation, you slammed down your horrible gavel. It punctuated your cruel, mistaken verdict. You expected your words to anger me, to elicit a reaction that, for whatever reason, was preferable to you than my awkward silence. But instead, all it did was break my heart and remind me why I have such trouble with the shyness. You became another sadistic face in the sea of medieval torturers that haunt my sleep. The sleep into which I cry myself those nights when another friendship connection lays waste to hope.
When I would not face or confront you, you drove wedges between me and the few people who had stuck around long enough for me to trust and feel love for. I had warmed up to them. Suddenly, everyone believed things about me too heinous for my skittish mind to comprehend. Such horrible things could not reside inside me. There’s no room; self-conscious paranoia fills even the smallest, invisible corners.
Will I become those things they hated in me?
Some of the people who came to see what you thought you saw eventually rekindled friendship with me. But most of those friendships are now cracked with distrust and guilt and constant fear. They will never be whole again, because my reassurance isn’t enough to take away the punishment these people inflict on themselves. They know they were cruel and callous at a time when I’ve never needed compassion and fellowship more.
I trust that they care for me, and that they didn’t mean any of the horrible things that were said. However, now I fear that I will become the things they briefly hated in me. I feel that, if those monsters were seen by people so close to me, even for a second, they must be lurking, waiting to spring and destroy those I love most.
How shy works
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not blame you! You didn’t know any better, and you only reacted and behaved the way YOU react and behave in those situations. You had no idea, and I was physically incapable of telling you. So, my apology to you is this: a better explanation of what shy is, and how it REALLY works.
That joke I told kept you from hearing my stomach churn as it tied itself into knots. My quick smile at your witty response hid the earthquake threatening to possess my lips. My long silences were my most sincere attempt to figure out how your mind works. To understand what makes you laugh, what makes you mad and, most of all, what would make us closer, faster.
My sudden disappearance was to avoid embarrassing you in front of your other friends when I started to cry in frightened, hysterical fits. And, by avoiding you just a little longer after that, I had hoped to finally give you the explanation you deserved, so I would be worthy of your attention and conversation.
You, however, thought I was just being lazy and selfish, and such people make you bitterly angry. I know, and I understand!
Remember when you tried to tell me how pretty you thought I was, and the dry comment with which I responded? I see now how that sounded very rude and snobby of me, but that was not at all my intention! That remark was the stampede that trampled on my dark opinions of my appearance and disposition. Your kind words made me blush, and I only wanted to keep you from thinking badly of me for … well, for thinking badly of myself.
I wish …
So, you see, I really do understand why you got that awful impression of me. I wish I could erase all those defence mechanism detonations. I wish I could rid myself of the petrified shell that needs those tools. Maybe someday I’ll learn, even if it’s with baby steps. Maybe it will get easier with time, and then I can show you what my few friends get to see. The person I can be once I’m sure I won’t frighten you away and I start warming up to you. But, in case I never get that chance, please know that I’m so sorry I made you feel that way about me.
I wish there was something more I could say, but what’s done is done.
For what it’s worth, though, I thought you were really cool, and a lot of fun, and I thought being friends with you would have been awesome!