This is an older entry from the Other Other Blog. It's an apology to some, an explanation to others, and a warning for the rest.
A few months ago, I took a trip home because the stars aligned and a few family events were happening at the same time. My cousin's twins were having their 1st birthday, my aunt was celebrating her Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary of being a nun) and there was a big family reunion. And of course, I would get to see my little nephew, who as of this writing is nearly 9 months old.
The family reunion is the interesting one. It was a gathering of my mother's side of the family. About 150 people attended. I knew about 15 of them well, the people that I think of as "my family" at holidays and such. About 10 more I had met perhaps once or twice at some point in my life. The rest were complete strangers. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I thought, "well, I'm home anyway, it'll make my mom happy, and it's only 4 hours". My attitude was one of annoyance, not dread. But that all changed the second we walked in the door.
Now, those of you who know me well know that I am quite shy, and that at times it goes past merely shy and all the way to anxious and fearful. I can honestly say that this reunion provoked an anxiety in me that I have not felt in as long as I can remember, at least all the way back to high school. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted and given name tags to stick to our shirts. It started right then. I don't know why, but this overwhelming feeling of anxiety and dread took hold of me. The event was held in a church cafetorium, and our family group of about 15 staked out a table right in the middle of the room. We settled in, and then the others started to mingle and head for the bar. I sat and didn't move until we left. Four hours in a folding chair at that table and I did not so much as stand up. I was so afraid that I can't even describe it. I did not get in line for the bar and I did not get in line for food, because I was scared that someone would talk to me. My parents and others in my family kept asking me questions. "Why don't you get a drink?" "Aren't you going to eat something?" "Are you feeling all right?" I just said I was feeling sick because I couldn't possibly tell them what was really going on. Honestly, even if someone brought me food or drink I wouldn't have had any because my insides were so jumpy that I would have thrown it up.
The worst part was toward the end. The guy who had organized the reunion was giving away door prizes for things like "oldest person here", "longest married couple" and things like that. He announced one for "person who came the longest distance". I froze, as I knew that except for one person from San Diego, it was probably me. And I also knew that my mother would immediately jump up and point to me.
My mother is the most extroverted person I know, and she has never understood my shyness. Further, I really don't think that deep down she thinks it's even real. When I've displayed shyness before, whether it's been refusal to dance or reluctance to talk to people, she just accuses me of being surly, sullen and an "old fart". Like I'm just doing it to be a jerkoff. The thing about mothers is that they are certain that everything you do is done to them, for them, in response to them or as a representative of them.
As expected, my mother's hand shot up like a teacher's pet and she squealed "Los Angeles! Los Angeles!" while gesticulating wildly in my direction. I immediately wished the the floor would open and swallow me up. I was feeling the same as I would if I were standing on the table naked and doing an Irish jig. I turned around and shot my mother a look of absolute anger and violence. A look that said "If you don't shut your mouth right now I'll come over there and shut it for you". She noticeably recoiled and threw her hands up. To make things worse, no one immediately went up to claim the prize, and many people had heard "Los Angeles". A brittle woman whom I am apparently related to leaned over from another table to urge me to go up. I told her that someone else here was from San Diego, and silently prayed that Ms. San Diego would finish up in the bathroom and save me. This woman, rather than take the hint, proceeded to engage me in a geographical debate about which city was further from Philadelphia. I was flustered, so I don't remember exactly how that played out. But in the end, a shambling, mulleted Rhode Islander, a savior in striped Zubaz pants, staggered away from his pitchers of beer and up to the stage to claim the prize. Soon after, someone's child was urged/commanded to sing what turned out to be a quite lovely version of "Danny Boy", and the event was over. On the way out, Mrs. Rand McNally said goodbye and made a subtly snide comment that made me want to knock her out and that I wish I remembered.
On the way home, I apologized to my mother for snapping at her. She didn't ask what the hell was going on, and I didn't offer.
I don't know why this happened. Ostensibly, these people are family and should have nothing but kind things to say to me. And if this had never happened to me in a group of strangers, why should it happen now? The only thing I can think of is that since these people were family and this was a reunion, I was actually expected to talk to them. In a group of strangers nobody cares. I wish I weren't like this. "You just have to get out there and mingle, meet people!", I hear from well-meaning people. "Everyone is nervous around new people and if you don't start being more outgoing, you're going to wind up alone." Well, this is what I am. I can't change it. It's not a matter of just deciding to be more outgoing. You might as well tell a blind man that if he doesn't start opening his eyes, he's going to keep bumping into things. But they are partly right. I really do think that it's going to cause me to wind up alone. I'm not saying, "oh woe is me", because I've done just fine so far being alone. I just wish I were like everybody else.