The Quiet One
It was Jack on our breath and his eyes locked on me while I danced. We were out together with his friends for the first time, but as soon as we arrived the two of us lost ourselves in the crowd of 100 people squeezed into a suburban backyard.
It was closing my eyes to take it in. His hand around my waist and the music shaking the walls of her living room. Him twirling me around and kissing my cheek, posing for pictures and calling me darling.
It was the way we laughed until we were in tears and looking into his eyes before I whispered that we should head back to his house.
All of it was what led to us lying in his bed the next morning, sharing waffles and mugs of tea, when he paused the episode of Parks and Rec we had on.
"You know what's the best about you?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I've never met a single girl with the kind of confidence you have."
Most people would have smiled, let the compliment soak into their skin, said thank you and moved on.
But confident isn't a word I'm used to hearing, so I burst out laughing.
I have always been the quiet one. I never speak up in classes, never could talk to the person standing next to me in the elevator, never have been described as bubbly or fun. Every start of a new school year, ever strike of midnight on New Year's Eve, I had one main resolution.
Just talk more, I'd tell myself. Be outgoing.
But every time I met someone new or got put into a group project, it was always the same.
"You're so quiet," someone would tell me. His sister, her new boyfriend, my new boss. I'd think I was doing well, making small talk and making friends, but then someone would say it and it's all I could think about for the rest of the day.
You're so quiet.
We live in our worlds of "I want" and "She's prettier". We don't fall in love and we cry when we see him moving on. We spend 18 hours in front of screens and talk about real life like it's something we have to learn to be a part of. We have a lot to say. We have a lot we keep to ourselves.
I want to be happy. I want to be prettier. I don't fall in love and I cried when I saw him move on. I spend 18 hours in front of a screen but I write about life like I've lived it. I have a lot to say. I have a lot I keep to myself. But here's one true thing—I will always be the quiet one.
Another true thing? I'm always going to hate that. And it's not because I want to be bubbly and it's not because I want to stand out, it's because people assume when you're quiet that you're afraid. A lot of times they're right.
I've been afraid to move away from home. To take a shot of whiskey and to ask for something I wanted. I've been afraid to bother people with a text message, or a phone call, or a visit. I've been afraid to close my eyes and dance in the daylight to my favorite song. I've been afraid to get on a plane by myself and I've been afraid that people will think I'm weird or annoying, indifferent or overly-emotional. I've been afraid of small spaces and I've been desperately afraid of speaking up.
I haven't learned how to not be the quiet one, but I have learned that being sure enough of myself is one way to push through a lot of that quiet space filled up with fear.
I was sure enough of myself to email people I admired until one of them agreed to be my mentor. Sure enough of myself to make plans to move and follow through with them, to hop on a plane by myself, to put my heart into articles on the Internet and to go on interview after interview when I really needed a job. To text the boy twice in a row, tell him exactly what I want, go to a party with him, lay in his bed while he tells me something I've never heard before and that most people who know me would probably question.
"Why do you think that's funny?" he asked me after I almost choked on a piece of waffle.
"Because," I said, all laughter wiped away by the seriousness in his eyes, "nobody else would describe me as confident."
The girl who spends hours getting lost in the game of comparison. The girl who complains about her weight and her skin and her hair. The girl who stands in the background and waits for an invitation inside.
"How would they describe you?"
"I don't know," I shrug. "I'm quiet."
"Yeah," he agrees. Not a second of hesitation. All the years of You're so quiet proven true in less time than it took for my heart to sink.
"But you're so sure of yourself."
I'm still afraid. I still don't speak up and I still miss my family when I'm away from home. I still wonder if I'm bothering people when I call, or text, or visit them. I have places on a list that I'm terrified to take a plane by myself to. But we only have so many chances to hear the one thing we never knew anyone else could see in us as we've been working toward being it.
So I smile. I let the compliment soak into my skin. I say thank you, and we move on.