You are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation – and you are not looking for the way out, and you are not wanting to run away, and this is a big deal.
You didn’t have an eighteenth birthday party. You were invited to some, but turned down the invitations after that night. You could feel the beat of the music when you reached the front gate. Through your body. Thumping in your head. Constant. Beat. Beat. You stood at the door. Beat. Beat. Silhouetted against the window those inside interacted. Beat. Beat. You knocked (did you knock? Did you really knock?) trying not to be heard, looking for an excuse not to go in, an excuse to go back to the house, knowing that the “you’re home early”s could be more easily dealt with than what was in there, people who – despite sharing classrooms with them for years – you barely knew. There was no answer. You didn’t wait long, walked back along back roads to avoid bumping into anyone who might be going. It was cold on the walk back. You were sick in the small park near the house. You stood there for some time, leaning against a wall, conscious of each breath. Later invitations were easy to turn down, a range of excuses prepared.
Was this simply the teenage awkwardness of fearing your emotions where you feel each beat of the heart push the blood through you, where you feel that blood career through your body, where you feel that blood in your ears, and where every sound, every whisper, echoes so it hurts? Was it the shyness that comes from knowing someone you like might talk to you and find out exactly what you are and why you are? Turned out it wasn’t. As time passed it became apparent that it was something more. That anxiety, the discomfort of strangers, persisted – and gatherings were missed, reception invitations rejected, and excuses easier to come by the older you get. And when forced (usually, unavoidably, for work) into groups beyond two or three people you became conscious that you didn’t listen to what was going on but looked over the shoulders and over the heads of those near you checking for exits.
But there are a dozen people in this room. And you are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation without trying to leave – with someone who only a few months ago you’d never met. And it might not seem like much to the naturally gregarious, those around whom a group gravitates. But it is. And it feels odd to be as comfortable as you are in the company of people you’ve met in person only a couple of times but who you feel you know well. But that’s social media for you – it’s genuinely social, even for the anti-social. Interaction on-line makes interaction with the real people easier. Because they know your foibles and quirks, and are quicker to forgive the awkwardness. And living becomes a little easier.