This one’s going to take a while and that’s why you’re reading Part I. I don’t know how many parts will end up here, but bear with me because this is way cheaper than therapy.
In elementary school I don’t recall having an issue making friends. Everyone seemed to be okay with each other regardless of gender, hair color, race, amount of cooties, etc. Anything could be overlooked – in fact my best friend at the time was someone who had vomited on my workbook in kindergarten. And the reason I remember her vomiting on my workbook so clearly was because, not only is it pretty unforgettable to have someone turn to you and vomit on the page where you’re currently working on your fine motor skills by tracing a line through a circular maze without touching the sides, but when your teacher decides the best course of action is to simply wipe the vomit off the page so that you can continue to use the same book for the remainder of the year, you are reminded every time you turn the wrinkled, stuck, fetid pages. Which is often. So throw up wasn’t a deterrent from forming a friendship, being comfortable around people wasn’t a chore, and I was so uninhibited that I was actually the annoying, disruptive kid with the most amount of X’s on the conduct chart (sorry, Mrs. DeBenedictis.)
Somewhere around 5th grade that all changed. I don’t know if it’s more related to a series of events that resulted in me going to school every day for the second half of the year having no one (except for the teachers who seemed oblivious to the situation) speak to me at all unless it was to make fun of my pants or call me a loser or in any other way make me feel worthless – which totally worked* – or if my human psyche didn’t agree with some growth or adjustment stage I may have been going through, or if it was any combination of the two. Whatever the cause, I became cripplingly shy. I went from having no problem talking to anyone to feeling that I had a legitimate social disorder. Entering middle school only made it worse, and I have never again felt comfortable talking to someone I wasn’t already thoroughly familiar with. (You have to see the contradiction here – I don’t have a lot of friends because I’m uncomfortable talking to people, but I’m not comfortable talking to people that I’m not already friends with.) Somewhere along the line I went from acting like a total moron for cheap laughs in front of my whole class to wanting to be completely invisible. For example, in 6th grade the kid that sat next to me in Spanish class was funny, and cute, and had a retainer, and would talk to me a little bit. When I came to the realization that I ‘like‘ liked him, I was done. Couldn’t look at him, felt sick, was sure the expression on my face was obviously and awkwardly projecting my inner turmoil directly at him, which just enhanced this inner turmoil. Never talked to him again. Liked him for years (like, ‘like‘ liked him,) but never talked to him again. I know that this is somewhat normal for middle school, but it’s amazing I made it out of there without having a stroke. (Or maybe I did. It does run in my family. I’d feel better if I could use that as an excuse.)
Luckily I found a good friend who was outgoing and could talk to anyone, so I stuck by her and leeched onto all the friends she easily made. I was her parasitic sidekick. I tried to learn from her, but that would be like someone with no hands trying to learn to play the piano by hanging around with Liberace. My awkward social skills have never gotten any better, but I learned to deal with it in ways that make my life easier. For years I’ve been convinced that I have an undiagnosed social defect. Only recently have I learned that there’s a much less stigmatizing word for it – I’m an introvert.
*There’s a whole separate story here that I don’t have the energy to get into now, but I may or may not share it at another point in time. I don’t want to be stuck in 5th grade forever! [pours another massive glass of wine]