I was born with a hole in my heart. At least, that’s what my father called it. Who knows what it would be called today—that was 73 years ago.
In any case, the treatment for this exotic and (the way my parents acted) potentially life threatening condition was rest, rest, rest.
“Don’t get your heart rate up,” my mother was always saying. “Stop that!” “Be quiet!”
I felt like an egg with a shell so fragile it would crack if I laughed too loud.
Even when I started school there was no playing outside with the other kids during recess. In general there was no running, no jumping, no swimming, no skates, bikes or kites, no nothing but lots of time lying down alone in my bedroom with books like Heidi and the Goatherd, The Lives of the Saints, or Why Does God Love you?
When I was about 10 years old the doctors said that I had outgrown whatever heart condition I had that required my invalid lifestyle.
“Here’s a brand new pair of skates, Melanie,” my father said one night when he came home from work. “Tomorrow, you can go out and skate with your friends.”
But I didn’t have any friends.
I had never learned how to make friends—or how to play with them if I had them. I had gone to the school of keeping my own company. I hadn’t gone to the school of playgrounds and sidewalk skating and bike rides and sleepovers. I wasn’t even sure that making friends was something I myself wanted.
When it came to socializing with my peers I felt awkward—like I was in a foreign land and didn’t know the language.
While over time I learned how to casually chat people up and how to be charming and friendly, I was never comfortable in the role and it always left me feeling exhausted and drained.
My husband and I recently went to the memorial service of an extended family member. There were about 50 people there, and I wondered to myself how in the world somebody could manage to have relationships with that many people.
Not me. Aside from my immediate family, it would just be too many interactions and energies to deal with.
I did, however, recently discover a social phenomenon that allowed me to make friends with others while being alone. A phenomenon in which I could communicate in the language of the written word—the language that is the most comfortable to me—manage the amount of time I spent with others, package my thoughts carefully before “blurting” them out and not feel overwhelmed by the interactions and energies coming my way.
To me, Facebook is the biggest playground I ever imagined playing on; one where, by watching and slowly paying attention, I have learned the the culture and found other people who wanted to play with me too—even at my slow pace.
It has been a perfect way for a loner (or introvert) like me to be social. In fact, it is so perfect that it makes me wonder if all of the other people on Facebook aren’t introverts too.
When I was in my 40s, the man I was working for invited my husband and I to a Christmas party at his house. The house was decorated beautifully, the food was abundant and the live music provided by a string quartet from the University lent a magical quality to the gathering.
I’ve never forgotten that party because of a certain event that took place while we were there.
My boss’s wife motioned me over to join her and a circle of women. She went around the circle one by one, giving the name and a teeny bit of history of each of the women, who, as it turned out, were all friends.
“How do you guys happen to know each other,” I asked, wondering at such a coincidence. “Do you work together? Are you neighbors?”
“We’re all in Mary’s Jazzercise class,” one of the women responded.
Mary, my boss’ wife, had invited her entire Jazzercise class to her Christmas party.
When I was the little girl who stayed in her bedroom, read books and didn’t have any friends, my father acted like there was something wrong with me.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that there was nothing wrong with me and that it was okay to not be the person who would invite her entire Jazzercise class to her house for a party. A long time for me to realize that it was okay for the little girl in me who spent all that time alone to keep on doing that.
Who knows whether I was a natural-born introvert or not. It no longer matters to me how it happened. I’m happy with who I am and the amount of friends I have—or don’t have.
The bottom line is I have just enough of them to fit together with me and my books into my bedroom of all those years ago.
And so do you.
And that’s just fine with me.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Travis Swan/Flickr