I remember the first time I ever heard that I was shy. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, maybe 6 or 7, and my family was at a party one of my step-aunts was hosting. There were so many adults and most were strangers. The only children were me and my sisters and our cousins, Katy and Leslie. Up until this point I had never been labelled as shy, but I distinctly remember my mother excusing the fact that I didn’t like strange people touching me as being shy. It stuck in my head like a deep splinter. From that point on I was the shy one, not because I was really shy but once the idea was planted it took root and grew, and I became what I had been labelled. I became afraid of meeting new people. Add to it that we moved several times while I was in school and soon, I truly was shy.
I almost outgrew it when I was in second grade. My family moved to a new home and I began a new school. My teacher there was wonderful and I adored her. She made me feel comfortable and introduced me to another new girl who soon became a close friend. This teacher discovered my love of reading and encouraged it by taking me out of the normal reading class and having me do advanced reading exercises. She sent me to the library often, almost as soon as she knew I had finished reading the current book I had checked out. I remember several instances where I’d be allowed to go to the library as soon as my classwork was done. I wasn’t the only one she did this with, mind you, but there weren’t many of us she awarded this privilege. Under Mrs. Opperman’s care, and that of my third grade teacher, Miss Crockett, I came out of my shell briefly. I suppose you could say it was the summer of my youth for that time is wrapped in my memory in sunlight and warm feelings. And then we moved again for the last time.
My stepfather got it into his head that it would be cheaper to live in the country, and so he moved us away from what we knew into something so different that it was a complete culture shock. Gone was riding my bike around my neighborhood with kids I went to school with. Gone was the environment I was responding to so well. Now, I found myself in an almost alien land with people I didn’t understand. Almost as soon as I began my new school during my fourth grade year I was the target of bullying, and not by one kid, but by several. I was the new kid, and I was short. I also loved books and school. In a country school, this is not acceptable. Plus, the teachers were strict and didn’t care if you were bullied. In fact, they encouraged you to bully back. Too soon I found myself folding in again.
From 4th grade on I kept as much to myself as possible. I had friends but not many. I rarely shared my true self with people, even my close friends. When I did it was always with a lot of anxiety that they wouldn’t like me anymore. The word shy continued to follow me. But the thing that always surprised me was that I wasn’t unfriendly. I simply had a problem being the first person to talk to others. Once someone talked to me, I could talk back to them. I could have conversations…the problem was getting me to talk to you. Because of that you could usually find me on the fringes of any group, not really fitting in, wishing I could be part of the group in the center. And yet…when I discovered that I could have been a part of the group I found that I was still going my own way, left of center, instead of conforming.
I’m still that way today. I can generally force myself out of my comfort zones and talk to people. I’ve found it’s easier to talk to those with whom I experience instant connections. For the most part though, I still stay quiet while others talk, mostly because I feel I have nothing valuable to add. I feel whatever I say will kill the conversation so I mostly listen while others talk. Some people I feel naturally comfortable with and I am grateful for these people because I can be relaxed around them and conversation flows freely. Others, however, are more high maintenance types and I can almost literally feel myself closing in and putting up a wall to protect myself from their battering personalities.
I still struggle with wanting to fit in and be the kind of person who is openly confident and outgoing. I’m still quiet and I listen. Now, though, I am comfortable in my own skin most of the time and I know my own limitations, or else I will try until I decide I can’t. I don’t let myself or others label me as shy. But, I’m still simply the person on the fringes going her own way and hoping to just get it right somehow.