I’ve always considered myself to be quite a shy person.
I know this might cause guffaws from some. Those who know me.
But it’s true.
Meeting new people. Joining groups. Starting conversations. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s often a struggle. And sometimes. I dread it.
I do. However. Work bloody hard at disguising it. Overcoming it.
I met up with one of my oldest and best friends recently. We’ve known each other since we were 16. From way back in the good old oversized-lumberjack-shirt and bomber-jacket days.
For some reason were were reminiscing. About those teenage years. Back in the early 90s. Ah. The heady mix of White Lightning and Anais Anais.
She started to recount the story of how we first met. A memory that – I’m ashamed to admit – I’d completely forgotten.
It was the first day at 6th form college. A room full of tense nervous teenagers. Strangers.
We were told to move our seats into a large circle. So we could introduce ourselves one-by-one to the group. Scary.
My now-good-friend explained that I went to sit down. But as I did. The chair broke. I fell backwards on to the floor. Legs akimbo.
I still don’t have any memory of this. No wonder. I probably blocked it out. But nonetheless it does sound like the kind of cack-handed thing I’d do. If Mr Bean had a wife, it’d be me!
All the other tense nervous teenagers fell silent. Stared at the freckly short-haired girl on the floor. No doubt with a huge sense of relief. That it was me doing my best impression of an upturned beetle. And not them.
My now-good-friend said she’d been utterly mortified for me. How humiliating she’d have found it if it had been her. That she’d have shrivelled up into a ball. Or run crying out of the room.
I don’t remember. But I know I would have felt like doing all of that. And more. I would have been on the edge of tears. It would’ve felt like the worst possible scenario. Like one of those anxiety dreams. When your teeth start to crumble. Or you’re naked in TK Maxx again.
But. Instead. I got up from the floor. Looked everyone in the eye. Performed a theatrical bow. And said ‘and for my next trick…’
Everyone had laughed. The tension dissolved. Day One and I was already the class clown.
My now-good-friend said she’d been so impressed. At how confident and funny I was. At how well I’d handled a potentially piece-crumbling moment. Little did she know.
You may be wondering where on earth I’m going with this. A trip down memory lane (albeit a bad memory, in my case) is all well and good. But what’s it got to do with the price of fish?
Well. Hold your horses. I’m getting to that bit.
As she recounted this story we were walking along a narrow hill-path. She was ahead of me as she explained it.
Because I had no recollection whatsoever of this event, I was listening along to my friend as if it was a story about someone else. A nice gentle easy-going tale. About the first day of college. Some clumsy teenage buffoon falling off her chair.
And then. She said the last bit. The bit at the end. My reaction. The precise way she recalled it. How I stood up. The theatrical bow. The exclamation of ‘and for my next trick…’
I momentarily stopped. Held my stomach for a second. Winded
There it was.
That reaction. That exact reaction.
It was Mum.
Through and through.
Exactly the same ‘routine’ I’d seen her do. On more than one occasion. After something similar had happened to her.
Just over two years she’s been gone.
Two years since I held her hand. As she’d taken her last breaths. As that bastard lung cancer had consumed her.
And now here she was. Out of nowhere. Completely unexpected. On a hill-path walk with my friend. Inadvertently tucked away in her memory of me from 22 years ago.
It was like a very quick and sudden intense flash of Mum. Her essence. Inside my reaction. Inside my friend’s memory.
A peculiarly beautiful set of Russian dolls.
If you’ve been reading along with my posts, you’ll have picked up that my Mum was also shy.
Far more than me though. Any new interactions. Situations. Attention. She really struggled.
I always thought I managed my shyness better because of my sense of humour.
It’s got me through many an awkward moment. Just like that first day at 6th form college.
But it’s also got me through many a normal-life moment too. Given me a way-in to make friends. To connect with others. Understand myself.
It’s always been there. Lurking. It’s only since that awful 18 months – my ‘periodis horribilis’ – that I started to realise how important it was: Mum’s terminal diagnosis. My 10 year relationship falling apart. And then Mum’s death.
Along with my treasured friends, my sense of humour got me through that 18 months. It supported me. Gave me a way of coping. Understanding. Of having a morsel of optimism and hope.
It’s become very much a part of who I am. The lens through which I see the world. A philosophy, even.
I used to think it was only as I went into my 30s that I started to become more like my Mum.
But I realise now it was always there. Even as an oversized-lumberjack-shirt wearing teenager. Her sensitivity. Her shyness. And now. The penny’s dropping. Her humour.
In the past I’ve wished I had fewer freckles. Smaller hips. Less rabbit-caught-in-the-headlight eyes. Well. You can forget all those. It’s pointless. Enhance me. Augment me. Photo-shop me all you like. My sense of humour will still always be my greatest asset. And that is something – another thing – Mum gave me.
Back on the hill path. My eyes filled up. My throat went tight.
I carried on walking, behind my friend. I commented on something. My voice cracked. We continued along the hill-path.
There’s something wonderful about knowing she’s still very much ‘there’. In ways I’d never imagined. In other people’s memories of me. In hill-top walks. In my behaviour. My strengths. Even in my weaknesses.
It’s also wonderful to know that other unexpected visits will probably pop up in other ways. In the future. Something to look forward to. To take comfort from. To help me feel she’s not really gone at all. Just lurking. Ready for her next trick…
Oh. And lastly (but not leastly). The photograph at the top. It’s called Mother & Child. The perfect photo for this post. For obvious reasons of course. But also. Because it’s a photograph taken by the very same now-good-friend – the talented photographer and jewellery maker, Lisa Hull. Thanks so much, Lisa. For letting me use your beautiful photo here. But also for the inadvertent memory and all it sparked. P.S You didn’t see my knickers, did you?
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