My Life — It’s All Wrong — Again (Still?)

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 heart-throb 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 my hospital bed (appropriately) 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 at all 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.  And they all have something to say about just how hard it is!

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 starring 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.  In fact, 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, her eyebrows furrowed and her entire body leaning 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?

*     *     *

I decided to re-post this piece from last year after a fun discussion about introverts and extroverts over at Gibber Jabber.

So what are you, an introvert, an extrovert, or as brilliantly suggested by Glazed suggested in yesterday’s comments, an ambivert?

72 Comments

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72 responses to “My Life — It’s All Wrong — Again (Still?)

  1. I may have read this before, it struck such a chord, I can’t believe I haven’t. But maybe, it’s like reading something so very true to the universe that, after you’ve read it, you can’t believe it didn’t exist all along. That!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since writing it, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they were a completely different person than I remember them being. Maybe this happens to many of us, or maybe we all just feel invisible at that age.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is pretty funny! I keep having revelations too! I didn’t realize why I had a hard time taking a joke when I was young. My brother pointed out during a recent visit that our parents didn’t teach us teasing or sarcasm, so we were eaten up in elementary and high school. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The most interesting moment at a high school reunion came when I was talking to one of the most popular girls in our class. She had everything, to my eyes. She was pretty, well-liked, dated cute guys. “God, high school sucked,” she told me at the reunion. “I felt so alone.” I was shocked by this admission and realized not everything (or everyone) is what they seem. We all struggle. That was one of my epiphanies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t that funny how everybody, even those who should have liked high school hated it? I especially found it funny when I was speaking to Nancy, who, along with her best friend, Pam, was the most popular girl. Pam was a snob and a bitch. Often mean. Nancy, however, was unfailingly kind. I remember saying to her “you were so nice” and then thinking how warped our childhood definition of “popular” was. Nancy was the only one of the popular kids who was nice!

      Like

  4. whew … glad you told us at the end it was a re-post … I kept thinking I had heard this story before (maybe?), but knowing how my memory works, wasn’t so sure … funny how what we THINK our story is may not match with what other folks would say. Interesting. I’m pretty sure I was invisible, but maybe not. Maybe the only one who couldn’t see me, was me. 🙂

    Like

    • Oh dear. I saw this comment on my phone on Sunday just as the battery was going. Then I forgot to answer it. Sorry!

      I do cheat when I repost — hardly anyone has read any of my old stuff, so, since I am swamped at work, I’ve been doing a lot of reposting! If something looks familiar over here, there is probably a good reason!

      It is funny how we all think we were invisible back then, isn’t it? I wonder what we can do to make it so the next round of folks don’t feel that way. Or is it an important part of growing up — going from invisible to visible?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! This really struck a nerve with me. Now I’m questioning my own transformation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it’s interesting that introverts and shy people are drawn to acting. They don’t have to be themselves on a stage. They can be someone else and leave behind all the qualities they find disagreeable. It’s all very Freudian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or they can be very disagreeable and get away with it! I loved that Art (of the parts)!

      Like

    • I think it also may be because shy people often have an external locus of identity, looking for social nourishment solutions to come from the outside without directly asking etc. With one hand they want community, with the other they associate intimacy fear of loss, pain or whatever so they simultaneously avoid what they really need.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. For whatever reason, I remember this post … I was going crazy thinking it was a new one, until you say so at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am a bit of both, always have been. I was not fond of my classmates in school and kept them at arms length but had a cadre of friends and was often in the center of things, mostly trouble. Still today, I like my own company and spend hours, even days alone in my own head. I have a small circle of friends but don’t like social settings very much, don’t like crowds either. Yet, I speak in public settings and my work requires me to interact with groups constantly. So, I am both though I suspect I lean toward introvert by nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I grew up wallflower shy. Painfully shy. But my first year in college I discovered how much fun I had when we had parties and I had a bit of liquid courage. (Drinking age was 18). After a while, I figured out I could have the same fun without getting blasted. Pretty soon I came out of my shell. These days I can be an extrovert, but I still very much enjoy my alone, “me” time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For that very reason, I’ve always felt for folks who never live away from their families. Imagine being pegged your whole life. It’s when you get away that you can blossom. With or without beer!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good post. I have always been shy, but I am pretty good at hiding.it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I THOUGHT this looked familiar. It’s fascinating to me that many (most?) of us have a different view of ourselves than others have. But which is real – what we think? what they think? Probably neither view, or possibly both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be (shy) or not to be shy. That is the question!

      Isn’t it funny? When this happened I was sure I was the only one who thought/felt this way. But instead, I’m finally in with the in crowd!

      Like

  12. NotAPunkRocker

    Introvert. How much so? Here’s how a training class I went one time:

    1. Me and two other participants are asked to go outside in the hallway.
    2. We stand around, not talking, hearing laughter and cacophony in the room.
    3. We are called back in and asked to write on the flip chart our ideal vacation spot.
    4. Turns out the three most extreme extroverts in the class were asked to do this while we were in the hall.
    5. We write our stuff down, no extra discussion or laughter, just do it and sit down ASAP.
    6. Much finger-pointing and conjecture about us “unfun” introverts because we didn’t talk when put on the spot.

    The End.

    (I usually test at 100% I on those questions on different tests)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a great post! I’m pretty sure nobody ever called me shy. In fact once in college I went to a movie alone and ran into someone I knew vaguely. He was staring and even blurted out that he’d never seen me alone, that I was usually in the middle of a crowd. (Not sure if there’s a connection, but he and I have now been married almost 35 years…)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dana

    What about your crush, did you talk to him at the reunion?

    Like

  15. Good gravy, Elyse. You only became shy in Boston. So you only got the first few chapters wrong. The middle part and transformation was still right. Butterfly to caterpillar to butterfly. Or something like that.

    Now about me. I was not in the cool crowd in my big Long Island high school. I had enough friends, the middle group of kids, sports lovers but not the star athletes, not painfully shy and sitting alone at lunch … middle ground in the mid-70s. So my friend Mike and I go upstate to the same two-year college, and our parents both pull away after dropping us and our belongings off, we’re both studying journalism, in the same dorm on the same floor, even. I pull Mike aside, and this is my transformatiion moment, Aug. 27, 1975, Morrisville, N.Y., at a burger barbecue outside of Stewart Hall. I say to Mike: “Nobody knows us here. We can be cool now.” And then I went on to be a DJ at the campus radio station and a sports writer at the campus paper and I met girls and I drank beer and I WAS COOL. Mike and I both transfered to the University of Maryland when we graduated from Morrisville. I hired him when I became an editor at the Syracuse Post-Standard. He lives on Long Island now, working at Newsday, a cool friend. I am still an extrovert, Elyse.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh and thank you for the mention how sweet of you!

    Like

  17. Did you have some trauma as a kid? It could be why you forgot if so.

    Like

  18. Elyse, I don’t think you got it wrong at all! It’s what you felt that counts, that defines your youth. It seems that your naturally warm personally got through, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t find it hard, or that you weren’t an introvert! I don’t think our insides and our outsides every match. (OK, that was a weird and disgusting image, but you know what I mean….)
    I think I’m a natural extrovert who is becoming more introverted and misanthropic as I age!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must say, that imAge from Galaxy Quest of the Beemer beast that turned inside out did come to mind …

      But really I think we are all different people WITH different people. Which is why for many people, it is so important to venture away from home.

      I think both versions were me. Are me. I can work a crowd but not always (and never, damn it, for business reasons). So I am, at heart, an anmnivert.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I think to a large degree, I am what you think you were and trying to be more like what you really are. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. You’ve got your own story wrong. Because you just wrote MY story!

    Like

  21. A wonderful sketch of your own self-impressions! So funny how twisted are own memories can be sometimes. Oh, and Kevin’s a jerk.

    Like

    • Thanks, Snake. I think the truth, actually lies somewhere in between. I was comfortable with a group of people, those are the ones that came to this reunion. But the rest of my class — and the world — I kept at arms’ length. So I guess I am an ambivert!

      As for Kevin, he was a jerk that day. But I give him a pass. He was nice to me in high school and I have heard that he did wonderful things for first responders in NYC after 9/11. So I give him a pass. Plus, in high school I had really long hair — down to my waist. When I saw him again, it was chin-length. So … (But he still should have faked it. He’s a damn actor, after all!)

      Like

  22. Me? I’m the bear and there’s nothing else anything like me!
    😛

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Sounds pretty much like my life in high school and young adulthood. I also thought I was invisible. I was shocked years later to discover that people remembered me from that era, and remembered me with fondness. I think a lot of us have gone through the same experience. Great post!

    Like

    • Thanks, CM. It is funny how we all felt so invisible in high school. It was really surprising that folks recognized me. It was an acting group reunion, and so we all tried to stand out of the crowd when we were together. Not so much elsewhere in my life. I will always think I am somewhere in between shy and outgoing. Depends on the audience!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. This is really interesting to me, Elyse. I too was terribly shy. I still have many friendly acquaintances and a much smaller circle of close friends. My mother told me her secret, and which has always been successful at any social function, from one on one to big parties. Mom used to say, “Just ask a person about her/himself, and not only will that break the ice–most people enjoy talking about themselves–but you learn a lot about that person.” It has served me well, and I have passed that advice on to my kids.

    Like

    • That does work well — and I use it too. But I find that opening more awkward. Somehow, and maybe it is just me, but everybody likes to gripe! Get someone griping and you have a friend for life!

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Paul

    Really cool story Elyse. It says so many things on so many levels. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I would say that I am a introvert with extrovert tendencies…

    Like

  27. You know? I can totally relate to this. Perhaps it’s the drama in our hearts and minds. We tell ourselves stories. We make up scenes. Heck, I get in arguments that take place (both parts) in my own head. The other person doesn’t even know I’m mad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do you know when you’re made at yourself?! Or did I missunderstand who you are mad at and who doesn’t get it 😉

      High school is sooooooooo full of drama. It is a wonder any of us make it out.

      Welcome, Liesl.

      Like

  28. I wasn’t exactly shy, but mostly invisible as I walked in the shadow of a big sister who everyone said did everything better than me (well, apart from music). Even my Mum got my name wrong growing up but these days it doesn’t matter.
    Moving away from the family ‘county’ was good for me as there were no comparisons and I was free to make my own mistakes (and I made some whoppers!).
    I am who I am, I like who I am, and Hubby loves who I am, so I must have done something right somewhere!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being younger IS awful and great, isn’t it. I’m the youngest of 5. Everybody had done everything by the time I came around (good and bad) But every time my father lectured me, he’d start the exact same way: “Lease, we’ve had FIVE kids, Beth, Bob, Judy, Fred and now you Lease … then he’d continue with the lecture. One day I finally got so fed up I shouted “Why don’t you just call me Number 5? That’d be easier!” — it became his pet name for me, and my very favorite number.

      I have one son, and I call him by my brother’s name, my husband’s name and worst of all, by the DOG’s NAME. It’s a mom thing, I’ve decided.

      And I like who you are too.

      Like

  29. This goes to show that oftentimes it’s not our perception of ourselves that matters. It’s other people’s perception of us that carries weight. Doesn’t matter what we think. It’s their perception of us that will determine how they treat us. People often perceive us differently than we feel inside. For introverts like me, that’s probably because over time we get good at wearing a mask. It’s often enlightening to learn what others have to say about us, even if it can sometimes be difficult to hear. :/

    Liked by 1 person

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