Fear first, trembling, mask
face, bent, clenched like a secret
Her eyes lift, bright blue.
* * *
Trust me, he said, love,
hot lies whispered in her ear
Broken heart, raw truth,
* * *
A defining, life-changing moment at the age of six.
My friend’s voice is soft, she is not a leader but a follower, I have no problem with this but some of my more straight-shooter, take control friends might. They have dominant voices, sit in attendance at board meetings, screaming, making a loud fuss about things that are important to them. Quiet people can’t or won’t do that but they still have their opinions. Louder people yell sometimes so that they don’t hear the soft voices in the background because nobody wants to speak over them.
Why should they? When they start to softly voice their concerns sometimes they feel berated. “Anyone who is scared to stand up for what they believe in is a scaredy-cat” loosely paraphrased someone said. Exhibit A. That, my friend, is a judgment, name calling. Softer voices have opinions too but are not as equipped as some of the more confident, take charge people to talk at meetings, to make a fuss but their opinions, sometimes silently, count too. They also vote. Some people shy away from conflict, this is not a judgment call, I would call it a style.
Where am I in all this? Straight down the middle like a true Libra. Balancing each side, over and over again. Quietly. Making a huge fuss when it is important to me. Family. Family. Family.
When my daughter was young she hid behind me and if she was shy or afraid, she would place her arms in the air in front of me and say “Up, Up” and I would lift her up and feel her body instantly relaxing against mine. Our son, the first-born,always bossed people around, he still does. Our daughter had planned her birthday parties years in advance and stuck to each theme, always wanted to see her cake beforehand and read the last page of every book before she decided to read it. Our son loved the element of surprise, he had to be the good guy and I was always the bad guy and left rooms always trying to have the last word, saying “No more conversations, no new conversations.” Two adult children, two very different styles. I love them equally.
It took me a long time for me to find my voice, as a second child with an older sister who was very strong and bossy, (Some other people would call it overbearing.) When I was young I was shy, bashful so I can truly understand both sides. As soon as my sister went to college I found my voice and it was dramatic and beautiful and real.
Listen. Try silencing your voice and make people feel safe and don’t criticize them automatically for their fear or reluctance, I know you do it, you know it too. Not everyone is like you, though, the world is not made of people as strong as you. They need their own voices to be heard, in their own way. Sometimes with care, sometimes written, or spoken in whispers to friends who are willing to take the time to listen and not judge.
Whether you outright say it or not, people feel your judgment straight from your body to theirs, not all judgment is verbal, of course. You can feel it from someone’s eyes or body language. I will not judge you for hushed tones like a sleepy mouse, I will applaud you if anxiety enabled you to speak softly about it in the first place. We’re all just different in how we express things. Let’s try to play together, without judgment or criticism. The point is, everyone, in their own way, is entitled to be heard.
Dedicated to my good friend, D.E.G.
for getting the conversation started.
(credit to above named photographers)
Curled toes, sand digging
a whiff of air blowing cold
sunshine sleeps at night.
White, lace dress, demure
dances wildly on her own
leaving me coy, shy.
Air, thick with mud, stands
with evil eyes to taunt us
waiting for a breeze.
She had always given up too easily. As long as she could remember, she chose not to fight but to deflate, like the air sizzling, slowly, out of a big brightly colored blue balloon. Why, she wondered now? Was it just her character or was she never able to feel safe and confident as a young girl even in her own home? It was hard to differentiate one from the other. Nature vs. Nurture? Was it because she had been six weeks premature and had to stay in the hospital for that long in a heated crib? She had always been a shy girl, an anxious one too. Whose fault was that, she asked herself, in her older years. Surely it was not hers alone? Did her parents not think this was unusual enough to warrant some extra attention?
She didn’t like “playing board games”like Scrabble because there was no game that she thought she could do well in and she was easily embarrassed and ashamed. Had she dug right in, like others she knew and practiced feverishly, she could probably have been on top in at least one or two things but she never stayed long enough. It was a shame, she thought, later on in her life. No one had ever encouraged her to keep trying, it was almost as if they expected little so she gave them what they expected. She felt just like a tiny speck against a world made up of giant red rocks and icy mountain peaks, even large green valleys. She could disappear easily and no one would notice.
She tried to disappear one day when she was about thirteen or fourteen. Their family had a shared cabana at a beach club and one day she took off walking a very long distance and stayed away for hours. She wanted her family and friends to worry, to look for her, she wanted to be missed but when she eventually started walking back, and came “home” no one said a thing; they never even knew she was missing. She was upset, and mad that no one had even noticed.
She gave up all the time, but it didn’t seem like giving up when she was doing it, only years later, while looking back at her youth she figured out that she had been too scared, too fragile, too afraid to try new things. She gave up before she could fail; that was a very lonely and limiting life. She pushed boyfriends away before they became too close. She knew they weren’t serious, so she ended the relationship, knowing it would never be more than what they had then. She regretted that only once in her life but she didn’t have the emotional capacity, at the time, to communicate well.
Looking back forty years, she could see when her life had come to an emotional halt. It’s as if the brakes were firmly pushed and there she stood, alone and apart from most of her friends. Her husband still teased her about playing with Barbie dolls at fourteen with her friend, Linda. She was definitely a “late bloomer,” her comfort companions were stuffed animals that surrounded her bed for many years. Even now, one or two are tucked under her pillow.
Now, as an older person, she sees the world in a different way. While physically she cannot run anymore, her mind jogs like the wind, as fast as possible. She is no longer shy and introverted but strong in her opinions and in her intuitive feelings. When she walks now, she walks with a brightly, colorful cane to help her balance issues but that does not stop her from walking, it fuels her with confidence, a confidence she never before had. Lastly, if she doesn’t like the sound of something she has written or a photograph she has taken, she will take another and another and not give up, until she knows, in her heart that it is exceptional and only she has to love it for it to be magnificent and divine.
I stood without words
fearful, like a mouse darting
Not yet knowing strength.
I proved them all wrong.
Mom said to the audience
I was too shy. No!!!
I lived the safe life
Protected, not encouraged
My own person now.
I’m usually very outgoing, but it depends on the situation. I think most people would be surprised to learn that I can be very shy. When I was a child I was painfully shy and to this day I am still quiet around very boisterous people. It all depends on who I am with and whether I am comfortable. I’m so much better now than I was years ago but every so often it creeps up on me like a little gray mouse and I become the very quiet, very shy, young me.
Candy I Could Understand…..
I was about 6 when I snuck the small size, plastic tube of Elmer’s Glue from Mr. Bees’ store. Why I took it I have no idea, I certainly did not crave glue. Candy I could have understood but glue? Why didn’t I just ask my mom to buy it for me? I can’t give you the answer but I can tell you it sure wasn’t worth it. My mom marched me into the store, glue in my guilty little hand and made me give it back and apologize; not an easy thing for a shy, quiet little girl to do. I learned my lesson though, my short-lived career as a thief was over.