Jen and I were driving to our friend’s birthday party the other night. It was the end of a long week. I’d worked about 20 more hours than I typically do, which meant I’d been around people about 20 more hours than I typically am. I think most who know me assume I’m an extrovert because I’m talkative, but the truth is that feeling like I have to be “on” all the time makes me want to cocoon. Not like in the Steve Guttenberg, Wilford Brimely way with Aliens and Fountain of Youth pool water. I mean I want to go home, wrap myself up in about 27 blankets, and read a book where the main character is a raging manic-depressive. Isn’t this how everyone unwinds?
“Oh my god, what if they want to play a game?” I asked Jen as we neared our exit. And I didn’t mean games like Yahtzee or Clue. I’m talking the kinds of games that require some sort of skill and creativity. The kinds of games where people might laugh if you can’t mime the act of peeling a banana or if you sing the wrong lyric to “Bennie and the Jets.” Jesus what if I miss the high note?
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she replied. Emphasis on the word “fuck.”
“What if this is one of those adult parties where games are played? People do that.” Seriously, I don’t know what rock Jen has been living under for the last decade, but plenty of adults like to play games at parties. She’d realize and remember that if she wasn’t the kind of person who loses interest in all games after 5 minutes and then walks away towards the closest shiny object. The fact that I’m publicly criticizing Jen as being the sort of person who doesn’t have the attention span for even one round of This is a Duck (A what? A duck? A what? A duck. Oh a duck) should convey the state of panic I found myself in, and the continued state of anxiety I still feel just thinking about it. My god, how could she let this happen to me? Still, I’d been looking forward to seeing these folks for about a month, so we kept driving with the intent of crossing the Pictionary bridge when we got there.
I don’t know when it happened, or what long suppressed childhood memory caused me to be the person I am today. The earliest memory I have of feeling embarrassed came when I was 4 or 5 and attended my first ballet class. I think I must have missed the first class of the series or something, because when we were doing our warmup exercises and Miss Marguerite, lunging around the middle of the studio in that way that “ballerinas” who have been reduced to teaching 4-year-old Daytonians how to grand jeté (the fact that this woman existed should have been my first clue that most people’s dreams never come true) do, asked everyone what the barre was made of and I confidently yelled out “WOOD,” because that’s what the fucking barre was made of, and everyone else yelled out “BUTTER,” because the only way Miss Marguerite could live with the disappointment of teaching 4-year-olds how to grand jeté was to create a fantasy world in which barres were made of butter and she mattered as a human being, and all the other kids in my class were playing along. I’m sure they’re all members of the Joffrey Ballet now. Anyway, that was public and embarrassing.
The next earliest time I remember being embarrassed was in the third grade, not long after I’d been moved to the top level reading class. We were going over our new vocabulary words, and when the teacher asked if anyone could tell us the word E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-S-E-D, I confidently shot my hand up and said, “EMBRACED.” The teacher laughed and said, “The word is embarrassed, and now Carrie is embarrassed.” Yes I was. Fuck you.
Anyway, I’m not saying these two things are the reason I don’t like to play games (or publicly have fun of any kind). I’m just saying that maybe I don’t like to look stupid. But that wasn’t going to matter at this party, because, like Jen said, “What the fuck [was I] talking about?” When was the last time you were at a party with grownups and games were played?
So about 10 minutes after we got to the party, one of our friends said, quietly, so only Jen and I could hear (bless her for being quiet), “I know a game we can play.”
I’ve known for a long time that I am the sort of person who would rather go skinny dipping with Wilford Brimely than play charades with even my closest friends, and I’ve known that there are only a couple things I could do to make the situation better. I could either get over myself and learn how to let my guard down a little bit or I could E-M-B-R-A-C-E my sickness. It didn’t end up being a conscious decision. One day I just realized that I’d rather people think I’m some sort of neurotic stick-in-the-mud than discover that I might look silly passing a lifesaver mint from my mouth to the mouth of the person next to me with my hands behind my back, aided only by the toothpick between my teeth (true story, and the one and only time I was ever a good sport). This is why when our friend told us about the fun game we could play, I told the friend, who, by the way, is possibly the loveliest person who has ever walked the earth and didn’t deserve to be shot down, the story about how I’d considered the possibility that this would be the kind of party where games were played, and the thought of it had almost been enough to make me turn around, head home, and crawl into bed with Wilford Brimely instead. Because the game suggester is possibly the loveliest person who has ever walked the earth, she did not hold this against me, nor did she try to talk me into playing the game. Bless her again.
After that near catastrophe, the party was great. I met some new folks who were smart and funny and a pleasure to talk to. After talking time was over, from a safe distance, with several ounces of whiskey sloshing around in my stomach, I watched fun, outgoing people do fun, outgoing things. Wigs were worn. Guitars were strummed. Everyone who knew the words sung along. Then, several hours later, when Jen and I finally went home I thought, that’s what I’m fucking talking about.