It never entered my mind that I would one day actually need to think about ways to introduce myself to potential friends at the ripe old age of thirty-six. I mean, haven't I been doing this for years? I'm a born introvert that has been forced to learn how to exist in an extrovert's world. During first year orientation at my law firm years ago, all 100+ of us were lined up in the shape of a horseshoe around the perimeter of a large conference room - from most extroverted to most introverted, according to the Myers-Briggs assessment we had just taken. I found myself second to last on the introverted end of the spectrum with my friends waving and smiling at me from the opposite end of the room mouthing "I can't believe you are wayyyy over there!" During interviews for my next in-house counsel job, my soon-to-be boss asked me about my weaknesses. Oh, don't go there, there are many. I settled on, "Well, I'm extremely introverted. Standing in front of a group giving a presentation is torture for me, but I can do it! I promise!" I can do anything. A year later, we sat in her office as she laughed "There is NO WAY that was true." Oh, but it was. I'm sure you are thinking Wait, she did television and radio interviews to raise awareness about the danger of hot cars after her son passed away last summer. True. However, I have yet to read the Time Magazine article or watch a single television interview, including either The Today's Show or CNN. I fast forwarded through random bits of a few early ones and then swore them off. Watching myself on television makes me nervous, and hearing myself talk isn't my favorite pastime either - my accent is still so surprisingly Southern. Most importantly, though, the simple act of watching an interview makes this all too real. It happened. This not a dream from which I will wake up. I remember one of our best friends telling me "You have no idea what people will say about you if you go on television. People are spewing venom." I know it hurt our friends and family just reading it. Some of them voluntarily got off social media because of the venom and debate that ensued in the months after Ben's death. But, she was right, I didn't know, since we had both deleted our Facebook accounts long ago and refused to read comments to articles and other blogs after a few early mistakes. But, I have to. I can't explain it. They can't hurt us anymore than we are already hurt. People will judge us no matter what we do, so why not try to make a difference and let them see the real us?
No matter how introverted you may be, speaking, making introductions and navigating social settings, whether in the office or at a party, is a necessity. I have grown to enjoy it....small office meetings, presentations or other gatherings; intimate social settings at parties. The ebb and flow of social interactions - it is representative of life itself. Looking people in the eye, trying to gauge their emotions, wondering how you may be a part of their life, whether professionally or personally. What is their story? I truly want to know. As a lawyer, you learn how to read tone and guide conversations, kindly cut people off before it gets too heated, or insert a joke in just the right place to soothe irritations left over from arguments.
So, introductions with new, potential friends should be easy, right? It is the answer to the ubiquitous question that I thought I would have figured out by now: Who am I?
But, these days I'm finding myself in uncharted waters. I've come to realize that part of the purpose of life may be to answer that ultimate question of Who Am I? and it may take a lifetime or more to get there. Throughout my life to-date the answers have varied from "Hi, I'm Lindsey,
...the kid who knows nothing about life but wants to one day.
...the student and runner, aspiring to be a single, successful working professional.
...the writer, wife and rambling post-grad trying....struggling through an existential crisis...to find her path in life.
...the wife and stay-at-home mom of a wonderful daughter, beginning to get restless.
...the wife and mother of two daughters trying to make it through law school with an ounce of sanity left.
...the wife, mother and lawyer focusing on her career.
...the disillusioned female attorney trying to show it can be done, but missing her kids down to the depths of her bones.
...the happy mom who has found a balance of friends, work and family. The mother of K, R, and...her new, baby boy Benjamin."
A few weeks ago, I was invited to join a neighborhood Ladies Night, which rotates from house to house each month. "Okay, I'd love to come." But, as the night grew closer, I found myself retreating back to where I am most comfortable these days - at home (or running), with the kids and Kyle, reading or writing. I'll just skip, I can still cancel, no worries. But the day before the event, the kind neighbor who had invited me and arranged the entire event ran into us, while we were walking Harley. "You're coming tomorrow night right??" Pause. "Yes, I think I can make it." You see, "think" still left me room to come up with an excuse.
What am I avoiding? Its two-fold:
"Do you have kids? How many?" leading to the overarching "Who are you really?"; and
Friendship. (It scares me these days. I'm too old to start all over amidst our new reality.)
We decided to move from Connecticut to Colorado in mid-October, after much heart-wrenching discussion, back-and-forth debates and soul searching. We always knew we'd move if Kyle was charged (as a Sandy Hook mom reiterated to me one night on the phone), and I think a part of my consciousness knew he would be. My primary concern originating from the first moments after I learned of Ben's death was to maintain my girls' innocence and childhood. Once taken, they would never get it back. I also had a profound concern about Kyle's well-being in Connecticut. We had seen the best of humanity - family, friends, community, new media - supporting us and showing intense compassion. But, we had also seen the worst of humanity - those shielded by anonymity, who didn't know us at all but wanted a voice, and spoke as if they would lose faith in "justice" if he were not burned at the stake. I will always remember the quote I read in a local article: "We all know what should happen here." Do we? What did happen here? Who are you? Can I please look you in the eyes as you say such things? Each turn through our beloved small town contained either a good memory (Remember the day we took Ben to that park? The way the sun's rays split through the green leaves above us, falling on his sandy blond hair. His giggles, as you tickled his legs. Yes, we will never forget that day.) or a horrible memory (That's where I saw your car and didn't text you to ask how you had gotten there so fast. See Jersey Mike's, where you went to lunch that day without a single thought that Ben was anywhere except at daycare. Safe. And...this is the spot where you hit someone trying to drive to the hospital faster. Screaming, crying.) In ways we felt like lepers. Some didn't know what to say to us. Just say hey! I know it seems impossible, but we're going to be okay. The look of shock on a neighbor's face when I simply said hello and started a conversation shook me to my core. So, we both knew that a new setting would greatly expedite our healing, especially Kyle's. After a long talk with the girls over S'mores and a fire pit in our backyard, we received their answer: "Yes, if you decide to move, we can totally dig a new family adventure!"
But, there has always been my Achille's heel (actually, just one of them because there are many). Our friends. I do not take friendship lightly because true friends are hard to come by. Those that you feel are your soul mates from another life, that will stand by you no matter what happens. And, you would do the same for them. Those few that you allow to see your true Self. Through my nomadic life, it had taken me thirty-four years to find my "adult family." And, I would soon have to leave them. At least we had a few weeks to plan. We told those closest to us that we were leaving and planned our last nights out together. It would work out. I would ignore the pain building inside my chest. It would all be fine.
But, then we received the news. It was around 5:15 pm on Friday November 7th. Kyle's lawyer called, while a DCF caseworker was at our house for his weekly visit. I will never forget the moment my husband told me. "So." I felt his pause, viscerally, and just knew without him having to say a word. "They are going to charge me with criminally negligent homicide but they said I can voluntarily surrender." Pause. Breathe. Think. Calm Yourself Down, Control Your Mind. "Okay, we need to leave asap instead of next Friday. I'll finish packing. Tonight. When the media finds out, they will be at our doorstep within a second. We've got to protect the girls from this." I immediately called a trusted friend and reiterated the facts and my conclusion to her. "Tell me if I'm being rational or not because I can't think clearly. Do we leave or wait?" I had asked. We are back to square one, I thought, it feels like July 7th all over again. Our bodies are overcome with anxiety, shaking, unable to form sentences correctly. "Lindsey, if I were you, I would leave. Do it. Now," she responded very matter-of-factly. I searched for flights and found one that left early the next morning. My fingers involuntarily started texting my best friends He's being charged. We are leaving tomorrow morning. I don't remember much of that night. Maybe that is how your mind protects itself during trauma. I drove to some friends' houses Goodbye. Some were gathered together playing games with the family, laughing. I want those days back. But, it can't happen. Accept it and try to move on. I remember thinking, Don't cry or you won't make it through this. Yes, friends are one of my Achille's heels. The pain of losing friends after a tragedy can rip you apart.
So, a few days ago I met my neighbor at the top of our hill and we walked together to Ladies Night. I have never felt so awkward, placed in a surreal situation. Who Am I? Do I have two kids or three? I have three, my son passed away this past summer. But, I can't say that because that will lead to...how did he pass away? What do I do for a living? What does my husband do? We're taking some time off right now. We are simply trying to live. Isn't that enough? Why did you move here....career, military? We moved because the purity of God in Nature here saved us. We found Ben here, on the mountain, do you want me to take you there?
The night ended up not being as bad as I had imagined. During the first hour, I stood safely with my plate in a spot where I wouldn't look like a complete introvert but still protected me from....being vulnerable. Small-talk ensued. It ended up my neighbor had already done her duty and informed new arrivals that "We have someone new tonight. She has two girls in school here." So, my answer was simple: "K is eight and in third grade, and R is six and in first grade." I stopped there. "We moved due to...a life's change. We're taking some time off with the kids right now." End of story. The next few hours flowed with more ease, I laughed, we joked. I could just be "Me," not having to talk about this reality.
I still struggle with the hermit syndrome. Do I let people in? Do I wait until we are friends and then drop the bomb, or do I tell them up-front at the beginning so they can choose? If I take the latter route, I can vet those that will love, accept and be there for the real me, whoever that turns out to be. But, am I damaged goods, someone who has undergone too much irreparable harm to make new meaningful friendships after all of this? Or is it just a momentary weakness of mine to be scared of true friendship that can be lost or gained in an instant?
Only time will tell.
For now, Who am I?
I am a writer. I am broken and imperfect. I am a mother of three, who lost part of her heart when her son died. I am a wife who loves her husband through the good and the bad. And, I am a friend, who is trying to believe (maybe naively) that if I say all of this...there may be a few who will respond with "Okay. Tell me more. Let's hang out."