In my hundred year old stairwell laid a green post-it note. It remained so, reserved and patient for three days. On the third day, it rose up into my hands. Holding the dirty square in one hand, and Little Lotte’s leash in the other, I unlocked my apartment unit, unleashed Lotte, threw my keys in the general area they belonged in, and then sat on my couch with muted curiosity at this note. Written on it was the following:
“A fundamental misunderstanding prevails which has since run through my whole life like a scarlet thread.”
I looked at it with disgust, and allowed the usual sinking feeling I feel when stepping through my threshold, which the low burning wonder this little piece of paper had for a moment held at bay, surround me with familiar despair. Why had I thought this paper would invoke some epiphany, resolve, a change of character? Why must I always try to find meaning in my life in every act, every word, every encounter? In some stranger’s discarded scribbling? I feel I’ve always been looking for signs that I’m going the right way, some reassurance from—somewhere. But it was just a dirty post-it note.
Later, however, I was curious again, and googled the quote. It comes from Three Case Histories by Sigmund Freud. This quote was said by a man named Daniel Paul Schreber, an intellectual who’s decline into insanity was recorded by Freud. The good doctor interrupted Schreber’s illness as a result repressed homosexual attraction aimed at his father and brother.
I don’t think, however, that was the misunderstanding Schreber meant.
We all have our own misunderstandings. My own has caused me anger and bitterness, although I hate to have a literal Freudian excuse:
Introverted is not shy. Introverted is not always quiet.
Those two word have been the bane of my life, the bitter taste on my tongue when someone tries to simplify my whole existence with such adjectives.
From the beginning of my social life, my reserved actions were treated as a defect that had to be cured. Many a person had grabbed me and made it their mission to make me come out of my shell: fellow students, teachers, even my family, (at first) and later co-workers. The shell’s just fine, thanks. I haven’t been sitting around waiting for you to help me socially. I reveal myself to those I want, not those who were charitable enough speak to me. As a child, I had a select handful of friends, who would often tell me “If you acted the way you do with us with everyone else, if you said what you were thinking, you’d be popular!” Maybe I would have been. But I wouldn’t have been me.
My extroverted childhood friends tried to protect and promote me, but it didn’t work. My middle school experience went as one would expect. There’s the old clique of cool kids and dorks, but I was neither, as my friends were cool. So I was nothing.
But they misunderstood me. I was not shy. I was not a doormat. I was not there to add to their lives. By high school, everyone knew this. My freshman year I was justifiably well hated in my literature class. One particularly amusing incident occurred when one student was asked to explain a passage in Huckleberry Finn. When he was finished, I announced
“That’s not it.” I was scribbling in a notebook, covering the whole paper in the smudged ink of my pencil. In unison, the class turned and yelled at me,
“Then what is it?!!!” I didn’t look up, and replied with my understanding of the narrative. The teacher nodded and said I was corrected, and the classroom stilled into a silence in which I had gained no respect. Then I was no longer shy, which people equate with sweet, kind, a doormat. I was now quiet, icy, and a bitch. These were my options as an introvert. Today, people view me as the latter.
“We were just talking about your car.” My co-worker JS announced as I slid to lean next to Amber at the bar on a recent night shift. JS was bartender, Amber was sitting at ‘bar 1’.
“Oh?” I drive a light colored Beetle.
“Yea. Like, it’s 90% not you, but 10% totally is you.”
“And what does that mean?” I asked, knowing the answer. I watched his face as he searched for a polite way to respond, which in itself was interesting, as JS is also an introvert who is not shy.
“It belongs to a—sunnier person.” Then he backtracked gracefully to spare feelings I’ve long since hardened. “I’m not one to talk, I’m not the sunniest person. I’m gloomy as fuck most days.”
“Me too. I can be a downer.” Amber added, trying to help to defuse what she thought was going to be a situation.
But they misunderstood me.
“You may be right, you may be wrong. In your defense, neither of you know me.” I answered without feeling. They looked down awkwardly, and I realized I hurt them by stating the truth. We had been working together for a year. I hadn’t meant to. They were just talking about a car.
Where is the balance between being the ice queen, and being the quiet, shy, nothing? Is there a wide difference of a canyon, or the thin delicate line of a scarlet thread?
All this because someone dropped their psychology note on my stairwell. New objects excite us, no matter how dull or mundane, us introverts who’ve made a cage of our minds.
I hope I continue to be misunderstood. It let’s me know I’m on the right track.