Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7

For an introverted person, I actually draw a lot of positive energy from people--close friends and family. Ever since I can remember, I used to hide when my parents invited over friends. They didn't invite new friends or people from work all too often. It was usually the same old, same old. Our closest family friends were the Honbos and the Lumsdaines, both friends of Dad's since he was in Kindergarten. It was no surprise when they came over. You'd think I would have adjusted eventually. When I was younger than 5, I didn't have a great place to hide. At my first home, I just remember feeling terrified that people were coming and that I was stuck in the open for so long. I have no idea if people talked to me. I only remember looking forward to seeing Robin, the Lumsdaine's daughter. She was 7 years older, so she was like a nice adult. Not as big as one, but not as dreadful as another kid my age. Or worse: someone younger.

But year after year, visit after visit, it really didn't get better. Later, we moved to our permanent house where I would grow up and leave when I went away for college. All throughout elementary school, I would hide behind the front door when people arrived. I would peek out through the crack in the door as people walked in, hugging and greeting my parents. At other times, I would hide behind the large L-shaped sofa or behind the wall that separated the hallway and the living room, where everyone would gather and talk. Sometimes I would just lie under my twin bed and rest on the cool nubbly carpet, listening to people's voices and hoping that I would not get summoned by my parents to be social.

At school, however, I was very social. I tended to hang out with one friend and only one friend. I was not a two-friend person, really, although I generally got along quite well with all the people in my grade. I also made an effort to get to know most everyone in the whole school, particularly the people in the class below me and the class above me. We took so many classes together because we were in the Gifted and Talented program, and we did many activities together. Eventually, however, I left for middle school at a 7-12th grade school--a tiny private school in West LA. From the beginning, I had social problems. It was back to being introverted for me because quiet time calmed me.

I had never been to a school where there were drug problems and heavy partying. No one seemed to know grammar or spelling, and no one seemed to actually do the homework. I was appalled. What kind of school was this? I felt like an oddball because I wasn't having sex or doing drugs. I was a complete geek. I didn't feel at home, and I could not find a way to fit in with anyone. I decided, though, that I could be nothing else since that is all I felt like doing, so I spent every lunchtime reading in the hallway. I had never read a series before, and certainly not a fantasy book. But the founder of the school suggested that I might like a Piers Anthony book since I enjoyed word play so much. I thought she was out of her mind. Fantasy books were full of unicorns and dragons and all sorts of stupid purple and pink flying things and girls in flowy, gauzy tunics using magic to escape real life. Boy, was this going to be a waste of time.

But I began reading, and by the first page, I was hooked. Thank goodness that Piers Anthony wrote many, many series. I had no idea what else I should be reading, so I simply read as many books as I could by him, series after series, during lunch time. I usually sat by the math department door in the carpeted hallway of this Boy-Scout-lodge-turned-school since the only teacher I liked was a math teacher and I could see her every once in a while if I sat by her door. It finally got to the point where I was reading very adult-themed sci-fi (still by Piers Anthony--I had no mind to change: if it ain't broke...), but it was downright embarrassing. I did not like romantic books (I was only an 8th grader), and these books were getting pretty racy! Still, it was better than having to talk with someone, and I could enjoy the silent hallway alone.

Once again, I tried to find only one friend: a boy who was half-Japanese, half-white American. But he was from Wyoming and would return there by the year's end, and boys did not hang out with girls, so I had chosen the wrong friend. He was also a terrible student, which was also disappointing to me. But he was in my Latin class, as were a few other extremely introverted kids in this class of seven, and over time, three of them became my friends even though the boy from Wyoming left as planned.

As close as I was to these few friends, all introverted boys and one girl, a close friend from elementary school whom I cajoled into attending school with me, I always wondered if it wouldn't be more valuable to have many friends. Whether it was or was not, I would never know because I was just how I was. My friends were few, but straight-forward and loyal. They, too, were late bloomers, they knew that friendship was precious. These were easy friends to trust, unlike most of the girls and the popular boys.

Over the years, I have gathered friends very slowly, as usual. Not more than one a year. Nowadays, it is compromised by time, location, and if my husband can tolerate them. I have recently begun a graduate program which requires me to fly out to the Bay Area regularly, and each time I stay with a friend or with family. My cohort members always ask me with whom I am staying, and they seem amazed that I am always at someone's house and not in a hotel. The more that I get an amazed response, the more I realize how special it is that I have friends with whom I can stay--all friends whom I haven't seen in over 8 years. (I have at least seen my family once or twice since then!) It has given me pause that my friends still trust and believe in me and our relationship even though we haven't kept in regular touch. When we visit, it's as if we had just seen each other, and we pick up where we left off. Now I feel like quite a social butterfly when I think of all the people I draw on to stay with when I am out there for my graduate classes. It makes me see that there is value in being me, and that even as an introvert, I am able to enjoy what extroverts have, too.


  1. It's quite a special, personal story, Laurel. I love that you included the details of this memory, like the nubby carpet under that twin bed, looking for the math teacher & reading all those Piers Anthony books. It also is quite a memoir in that you showed you learned something special about yourself. Beautiful words!

  2. Laurel,
    Slices about friendship are always fun to read. Thanks for sharing this.
    Happy writing,