My Life — It’s All Wrong

Somehow, I got the story of my life wrong.

I’m really not at all sure how it happened.   But apparently I did.  I don’t like to talk about it.  But I can feel you twisting my arm.  UNCLE!!!!

The thing is, I’ve been telling the story of my life for years.  For my whole life, in fact.  It’s fascinating.  Intriguing.  Hilarious.  Well, it is the way I tell it, anyhow.

It’s the stuff of legends.  Because like every good heroine in every good novel, I had a transformation.  A metamorphosis.  A change of life (no, not that kind).   I went from being a pathetic, shy, “please don’t notice me” sort of person into, well, me.  The person I am today.  And you will agree, that I am not shy, retiring or ashamed of breathing air.  But I used to be.  Really.  You can trust me on that. You see, I was there.

Besides, I can pinpoint the transformation.  I know exactly when the moth turned into the butterfly.  It happened on  January 22, 1977.

As it happened, I’d moved to Boston in October, and truth be told I was horribly lonely.  Living away from home was not the wild time I had dreamed of in my yearning to be an adult living in the big city away from my parents.  There I was living in Boston, a city filled to breaking point with people my age, but I didn’t know a soul.   I had no friends.  No one to talk to.  No one to go out with, and I hated going out by myself. I was miserable.

Actually, I was so painfully shy that I avoided talking to anyone I didn’t have to.  I didn’t know how to make friends.  I was afraid that if people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.  So I made sure that no one had any opinion of me at all.  I was pretty much invisible.

In fact, that’s how I had always lived my life.  In high school, I had a small group of close friends, and really didn’t ever try to go beyond them.  I was in Players, but there I could pretend to be someone else.  That’s what we were supposed to do.  But mostly, I was still friends with the folks I’d gone to junior high school with.  I didn’t branch out much.  I kept quiet, kept my head down.  Nobody knew me.  I always worried that if people knew what I was really like that they wouldn’t like me.  So I didn’t let anybody in.  Then if they didn’t like me, well, they didn’t know me.

My invisibility was confirmed a year or so after my transformation when I was parking my car at my hometown’s train station.  My boyfriend Erik was with me, when Kevin, the heartthrob of Players pulled up next to me.  I’d had a huge crush on Kevin all through school.  He played the lead in all the plays, could sing and dance and was incredibly handsome and talented.   In spite of that Kevin was always nice to me – in fact, he was one of the first people to seriously encourage me to sing.

(Google Image)

(Google Image)

I got out of the car, walked over to him and said:

“Hi Kevin, it’s Elyse.  How are you?”

“Ummm,” said Kevin, clearly not recognizing me.

“We went to high school together,” I reminded him.  I mentioned the plays we’d done together.  Erik stood next to me.

“Sorry,” he said.  “I don’t remember you.”  And he walked away.

Naturally, I was mortified.  It was proof positive, in front of a witness, that I had been invisible.  That nobody had noticed me.  That this guy who had really actually given me my first smidge of confidence on the stage didn’t remember me.  (And we won’t even get into the fact that he could have just said, ‘oh, yeah, how are you doing, it’s been a while.’)

Now, back to my transformation.

Being shy was fine as long as I was at home – my few friends were still nearby.  But when I moved?  I didn’t know a soul.  Worse, I didn’t know how to make friends.  And I had no idea how to learn a skill that I believed you either have or don’t have.  I didn’t have it.

In January 1977 I found myself in the hospital.  Sick, miserable, far from home and family.   My boss, on his way to visit a sick colleague, stopped in to say hello.  He was embarrassed as I was sitting in bed in my nightgown.  He didn’t stay long.    Nancy, my office mate, came too.  But she was older, married with kids.  She too could only stay a minute.   My parents came up over the weekend.   Otherwise, my only contact was with doctors and nurses.  People who got paid to talk to me.

Cambridge Hospital

(Google Image)

It was pathetic.  I was pathetic.  I had no friends.  Nobody cared.  I cried myself to sleep for the first two nights I was there.

On the 22nd, a light bulb went off.

Maybe if I talked to other people, if I took my nose out of my book, well then maybe, maybe I could make a friend or two.

And really at that moment I decided that being shy was stupid.  All it got me was loneliness.  And being lonely for life, well, that didn’t sound appealing.

So I forced myself to be not shy.  I made myself talk to people I didn’t know.  To let them get to know me and decide, based on knowing what I was really like, whether they liked me or didn’t.

But talking to strangers is really hard.  So I developed a fool-proof strategy.  Whenever I was with someone I didn’t know, I’d say to them:

“Don’t you hate trying to figure out what to say to people you don’t know?”

As it turns out, everybody hates trying to figure out what to say to people they don’t know.

I’d stumbled onto success.  And then I went further.  I was nice to people.  I made them laugh.  I asked them about their lives.  Let them tell me their stories.  Let them help me develop my own.

I was a different person.  A completely different person.

I even have a witness to this transformation.  You see, I was in a play that winter/spring.  Rehearsals started in January, just before I went into the hospital.  And at the first couple of rehearsals, I sat next to Howard.  Howard kept chatting me up, being friendly to me.  I had my nose in a book, grunted my answers and really was too shy to be more than polite.

OK, so I was a bitch to Howard.  He remembers.  He would testify to the existence of the shy Elyse.  After my metamorphosis, Howard became one of my closest friends.

It’s a great story isn’t it?

But, you ask, how did you get it wrong, Elyse?  You know I’m going to tell you.

You see, about 3 years ago, I went to a reunion of my high school acting group, the Players.  It was the 50th anniversary of the start of the group, which is well known in Southern Connecticut.  There was to be a tour of the completely renovated school building, a review show staring Players from all the different eras who still lived in the area, a dinner and many, many drinks.

My old, close friend and fellow Player Sue and I decided to meet and share a hotel room.  I picked her up at the train station, and we drove through our memories together.  It was great – we caught up, laughed, acted like 16 year olds who were allowed to drink.  We had a blast.

At some point, I mentioned to her how shy I was in high school.

Shy kid

“You weren’t shy in high school.”

“Yes I was.  I was horribly shy.  Afraid of everyone.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“Well, you were one of my best friends,” I responded.  “Of course I wasn’t shy with you.”

Sue looked at me skeptically and the conversation went on to more interesting topics.

The next day, the day of the reunion, we linked up with other friends from our era.  Of course my close friends remembered me.  But so did people I didn’t remember.  Most people from those days remembered me.  I was shocked.  How could people remember  invisible me?

I mentioned my surprise to Karen.  Now Karen was someone I looked up to.  She was (is) smart.  Funny.  Talented.  She’s someone I would have liked to have been close to in high school, but, really, I was way too shy.  And she was really cool.

“I would have had a lot more fun in high school if I hadn’t been so shy,” I said to Karen.

“Elyse, what are you talking about?” Karen said with her eyebrows furrowed and her entire body leaned towards me across the table.   “You were exactly like you are now back in high school.  Talkative.  Funny.  Vivacious.  You weren’t shy in the least.

Vivacious?  Me?

According to everybody there, which constituted most of my high school universe, the story I’d told for decades is wrong.  I was not shy.  I did not transform.  I am probably not even a damn butterfly.

I am so confused.  How do you get the story of your own life wrong?

87 Comments

Filed under Childhood Traumas, Health and Medicine, History, Humor

87 responses to “My Life — It’s All Wrong

  1. Wow, this is a great story, with an ending i didn’t expect. I have no idea how that happens, except maybe that perception is reality. In that two different people can be in the same room witnessing (or experiencing) the same thing and remember it two different ways. Neither is wrong. Their perception is their reality. What a fantastic thing it is, this humaness!

    • HI again, Karyn,

      I didn’t expect the ending either. In fact, I’m still quite baffled by it. This happened 3 years ago! I was shy. I was shy. I was shy. I remember. Don’t I?

      I don’t know if I agree with you about being human as a fantastic thing. Personally I find it embarrassing more often than not. Then again, what would I write about?

  2. OOOOh, ask me ask me! I know that one. Now wait a minute, I’m in the middle of a philosophy 101 class and that’s ummmm, asymmetric reality, no, dualism, no, no it’s ……………..oh never mind. Guess I better get back to class huh?

  3. JSD

    Wonderful post. As I read it, I was thinking you were describing me…painfully shy, afraid of my own shadow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the light-bulb moment like you of realizing what I had to do to get beyond it, so it’s taken me a lot longer. I imagine you would have been lots of fun to know back then…and you sound like you’d be a great person to know now. :)

  4. Hmmmm…very interesting. I’d love to hear how my classmates would characterize me from our high school days. Of course, I think a large portion of the 86 people in my graduating class are on my Facebook, so I could ask? But I’m too shy…. :-) Great post

  5. This was a delightful story, and I think most people can relate. No one is seen in the way they perceive themselves. It’s the same as when we first hear our voices on a recording, the most common response is: “that doesn’t sound anything like me.”

  6. I think other people see us differently. the friends I’ve made in Portugal say I shoot stragiht from the hip and can be really scary, but they’ve told me to my face they’ve never heard me say anything bad against anyone bhend their backs. I thought I WAS shy, but apparently not. Apparently II speak my mind.

    • You never know how folks see you, do you. Personally, I like my friends to be straight shooters. They’re the ones you can depend upon.

  7. Just goes to show how people can see us as something so different than what we feel like inside. I could relate to so much of your life story. I always thought of myself as ‘shy’ growing up, but I look at old photos and think, “who was that girl?” I was always smiling and happy. I did have a small group of friends but wasn’t very confident in social situations. But I had a sharp sense of observation and preferred to listen to people rather than take the spotlight.

    I also had a period where I lived alone and was pretty scared, not knowing many people. Now I look back and I think I was introverted for sure, but not really shy. Once a person gets to know me, I am pretty bold and outspoken. Now that I’m in my 40s it’s like a light switch and I’m much more confident because I don’t care that much about what people think of me in general.

  8. Wonderful story. Often times people are hypercritical of themselves and don’t see the beauty within that is readily apparent to others. As long as you are happy with yourself, “now” that’s all that really matters.

  9. I have accepted that I really have no idea of how people perceive me and when they tell me, I think they must be stoned. But the days when I did my damnedest to correct them have passed and now I just plaster on a smile and say “thanks (pothead)”. It turns out, I can be a whole lot more rotten before people even notice.

    • Oh, I find it hard to believe that you can be that rotten. I mean, we all have our moments (and I am funniest when I am rotten), but still. I can promise you that I am not stoned when I say that I find you very un-rotten indeed! (As I am at work, though, I can honestly say I’m doing drugs)

  10. I think shyness is often confused with other things, like; quiet or (as Carrie Rubin mentioned) introvert. Also not wanting to be the centre of attention is not particularly shy. People always saw me as shy, some people still do, but the people who really know me know I’m not shy and that I never really was shy. I think it’s the people who really know you that count.

  11. Forget the past and look to the future! I think you’re on the right track now, so enjoy your life in all its glory.

  12. We never see ourselves the way others do. Because I’m always thinking, thinking, thinking I’ve been told I’m snobby by my own sisters. Yet others who know me much more intimately and possibly for much longer than they, all told, say I am the most sensitive, sweet person they know. Go figure. Seems many of us may have gotten it all wrong. I don’t care who you are or how you got here – I just roar reading your funniness, sister-woman. Thanks for the giggles LMFAO

  13. I think Kevin has some type of long term amnesia. What a douche.
    And everyone else was playing a cruel trick.We know ourselves better than anyone else. If you believe you were shy, then damn, you were shy!
    It’s a conspiracy I tell you!
    I’m laughing out loud…. :)

    • OH, I feel so bad about slamming Kevin. He’s really a nice guy — just captured in blogdom in one of those terrible moments we all had. Truthfully, I had long long hair in high school and when I saw him it was short and very professional looking. So I’m going to go for that.

      It’s so nice to see you back in the sphere. I hope all is well

  14. Dang! Sounds like you’ve been suffering from a bad case of Cocoon Confusion.

    Great story, but I was hoping it would end with Kevin coming up to you at that reunion and admitting he just said he didn’t know you because he had been so intimidated by vivacious you back in the day, he was covering up. I guess that would happen in a made for TV movie, not real life.

  15. Great story. Maybe they were all more shy than you were. I bet if that was the case, the teachers were one happy group!

    Hey, Elyse, never let their “facts” get in the way of your memories because their “facts” are just as much memories as your “facts”: are. If that sounds confusing it was meant to be. Sometimes confusing can be comforting… ;)

  16. I’ve always wondered how that works. We all see ourselves as one thing and then others perceive us as totally different.
    I do know I have watched as a perfectly vivacious little girl was described as shy and sensitive (among other things) by her mother constantly. It didn’t take long before the girl started acting like she was told she was like and not like the lively, friendly, entertaining little imp I had known.
    It’s a hard thing to watch without wanting to slap somebody upside the head.

    • Can I help with the slapping? Because reinforcing shyness is not a win-win situation for the kid. Shyness can become a disability if it goes too far. I’m sure there’s an App for that.

  17. I guess you never know how other people are perceiving you. Reminds me that when I was graduating college, I was voted the most anonymous (or invisible?) senior. I loved the irony of being VOTED most anonymous!

    • No, you never really know. Especially when high school is involved. Nobody thinks about anything but their own perception of that.

      I think the fact that you were VOTED the most anonymous is hilarious. Obviously they didn’t know you.

      In my day, being voted most anything was no longer cool. Being a cheer leader was likewise passe.

  18. twindaddy

    Perhaps you weren’t as shy as you thought until you were on your own and scared in the big city?

  19. I kept waiting to see if Kevin (at the reunion) would remember not knowing you … and what you would say to him. One of the positive points of your perceived transformation is how you allowed the conversation to focus on others, thus not yourself.

  20. Reserved rather than shy maybe? That’s me all over. Becoming a mother made me much less reserved though as company when dealing with toddlers was so much easier. I took to chatting to other mums in the playground – didn’t always work out but most of the time I was surprised to find it did!

    • That’s a great time to come out of your shell — I have some great friends from when my son was little. And really, I think everybody feels awkward talking to strangers. Everybody. But it is sooooo hard.

  21. perception is a lens through which we often find ourselves peering into a blurred vision of what our memories tell us … what we believe becomes our reality, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, our reality becomes what we believe

    • Yes, memories are so foggy that getting the story right is more difficult than you expect. (That’s why ‘eye witness’ testimony is so challenging). I much prefer to be the sometime extrovert to the all-the-time shy person/introvert I was. But I’m still shy sometimes. We all are.

      Thanks for stopping by 99 — I hope you’re feeling better and that life is progressing well.

  22. I’m glad you were more than you thought you were back in high school. I’m sorry you had a period of loneliness when you moved to a new place. I’ve been in that same state since 1997 when I left my home town. I find it incredibly hard to make friends & once your kids grow up you can’t use them to make friends anymore. It doesn’t help when you have a very gregarious hubby who can talk to anyone in the world, but then talks their ear off so they can’t wait to leave before you get a chance to make friends with them. :(

    • I think that some places are easier for making friends than others. Many New Englanders stay put and have their old friends around them. I had a terrible time making friends when I lived in central Connecticut — until I met a group of folks from “away” and we became good friends. We called ourselves the “kids nobody liked”. But seriously, if you hadn’t gone to kindergarten with a person they just weren’t interested.

      That said, my line really does work — it’s the best ice breaker. And being involved in stuff helps too — perhaps a writer’s workshop. Or organize local WP bloggers — you might be surprised at how many people are in the same boat as you. But it does take quite a bit of effort. Sigh.

  23. Moe

    Elyse, I look at pix of myself from ten or 15 or 20 and more years ago and am astonished. ‘Gee’, I sez to me, ‘I looked really good! How can that be?’ We see ourselves in ways that may not comport iwth the actual evidence. With what others – or cameras – see.

    Thanks for the pix of the Wpt Station – if I close my eyes, I’m coming out of Mario’s, headed for the stairs, headed for the City.

    • Hi Moe, Yes, isn’t it funny how we really are so different than what we imagine. That’s why I avoid cameras because I couldn’t really look like that.

      And it was wonderful going back to Westport for this. In fact, for some unknown reason, I googled my house address and found that it had been on a house tour: http://www.westport-news.com/news/article/House-tour-offers-glimpse-of-history-in-holiday-2345761.php#photo-1862236
      It was wonderful going back, although in my day it wouldn’t have been on the house tour route — my mother had the worst taste imaginable!

      • Moe

        I remember when the Westport News started up – first editor was Jo Brosius – no idea hwat happened to her. At that time, I worked at The Town Crier, which was – before it died – in continuous publication foor over 100 years. We publlished 3x a week – two editions, Fairfield and Westport. And Elyse, now that I’ve seen it, I remember your house.

        • Do you? It was white with red trim when we had it. I loved that place. Still do!

          Did you work for the Westport news?

          • Moe

            Yup. I remember the gingerbread trim.

            I never worked for the News, but knew that staff very well, at least the earlly days staff. While we were competitors, we also overlapped a lot and mostly became friends.

            The Town Crier had its editorial offices right on the Post Road just down from the library and accross the street from the movies – don’t know if that’s even still there?

  24. So interesting! I think of myself as shy, but no one would believe it, as I perform before crowds with my storytelling. But we react differently in different situations. My kids wouldn’t believe I was shy, because when we travel, I ask everyone for their stories, and chat in the breakfast room. But I tend to be more reserved in my real life, or more shy at a big conference.

    • When you’re on stage, I think it is completely different. You have a role, an act, a something that keeps you from having to be yourself. You put yourself out in a different way and if folks don’t like you, well, it’s the part or the routine that they disliked, not the person inside. It’s easier. And wonderful. I miss performing (although you should see me in a staff meeting …)

      I often wonder how much of all of this is just perception… A lot I think.

  25. I am sorry, as I read this I felt so sorry for you. Then I got to the end I was laughing. You really did get it wrong, either that or all your school mates have early onset Alzheimer. What do you think the likelihood of that is? The single reinforcement you have of your invisibility is Kevin, clearly an Azzhat. I wouldn’t take his narcissism for validation of your perception.

    So you really were vivacious, funny and out there. You just didn’t know it.

    Consider, you were a member of the Players. How many ‘shy’ people would do that? Well Duh!

    I am going with Carrie on this one Introvert, not shy.

    • Shy people often go into acting, actually. Actors are generally a bunch of insecure babies, which is why they cultivate followers.

      Poor Kevin. He was/is handsome, talented. He was nice to me in high school — when I thought it amazing that someone like him knew my name. So I’ll cut Kev a break — he’s had a more challenging life than anyone would have predicted. Besides, I’d had very long hair in school, and when I saw him at the station it was short. Yeah, I’ll go with that. (It still doesn’t excuse him not even pretending to know me, though!).

      Introvert? Maybe. My husband is an introvert, though. And we couldn’t be more different.

  26. Maybe, like me, you always thought you were shy when in reality, you were an introvert. The two are not the same. I happen to be both, but as an adult, the shyness has faded while the introvertedness has grown. But at least I see it for what it is now. Interesting story.

    • I think of introverts more as people who are analytical and thoughtful. I was neither. I think I was really afraid that if people knew me they might not like me. So I didn’t let anybody know me. Or so I thought.

      It was a few years ago, now, and I am still baffled by this story. How can folks remember me when I wasn’t there????

  27. Clinton

    Indeed, how little we resemble the person we see in the mirror.

  28. Why am I not surprised? How fun it would have been to know you in those years. Now is fun too:-)

    • Bella, I would have been afraid to talk to you. That’s my story. Others have a different version.

      But after my metamorphosis (real or imagined) I became disgustingly nice. I’m still friends with several folks from back then — nobody knows how they didn’t just slap me silly.

      • I was horribly shy too. Maybe there is a theme here…..bloggers who find their voice on the net :-)

        • It is certainly easier to be “out there” on a blog. It’s a wonderful freedom.

          But I changed 35 years ago. I really did put myself out and forced my self to talk to folks I ddin’t know. It was terrifying and incredibly rewarding. It’s much easier to make friends if you talk to people!

  29. Perception is reality.
    Fly, butterfly, fly!

Play nice, please.

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