I’m a What?!

The best compliment you could’ve given to my 16-year-old-self was by far:

“You’re normal!”

Maybe this goes for most teenagers, but I think the word “normal” holds even more power for those among us who were (whisper this) homeschooled. As one of those people, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I could spot them coming a mile away. There was something about the way homeschooled kids dressed that told you. Maybe it had a little bit to do with how they interacted with adults. That’s a pretty good give-away, too.

But I won’t go so far as to say that it is the actual homeschooling that makes people different – sure, it has its ability to shape us, as all experiences do – but I think its the kind of people who choose to homeschool that has even more to do with that difference.

What was I most afraid of growing up? Being different, sure. But even above that, I was afraid of being weak, afraid of seeming like I couldn’t handle life.

That was one of the biggies.

[Oh, also the part about being unlovable. Whew. That took a lot of my brain time in high school.]

So, in an effort to seem like I had it together, I assumed a posture of higher-than-thou. Everything was a competition. Everything mattered. And I wasn’t about to let my cards show. I held people at a good distance, because opening up and letting people know me looked a little too much like weakness, and I wanted to win!

You know that friend who will always be special because he or she spoke truth into something you didn’t even know needed it?

I have one of those friends. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was fairly happy. I liked my classes, I loved singing, and I had recently learned the art of witty banter with the opposite sex (witty banter, for me, can sometimes turn into slightly mean teasing – I was working on the logistics).

I don’t remember what started the conversation, but I do remember what he said to me in the car:

It’s not like you really let people get to know you.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I dropped him off and parked the car and thought about it all day until I couldn’t take it anymore and called him and made him meet me at the dining hall and sit across from me, look me in the eye, and say (and I quote):

Catherine, I don’t know how to say this, but sometimes you come across as a b****.

I blinked hard. He looked down at his very white hands and seemed sad.

But he was right. In all my years of trying to be strong, I had crafted for myself a woman who didn’t put up with bullshit (I usually try not to swear, but please, allow me this apt phrasing). I didn’t put up with it, and I didn’t care for people who did. I cloaked myself in smart words and flashing eyes, and, like he said, sometimes I came across as a b****.

Back in my dorm on the hill, I didn’t know how to change this fact. I hadn’t even known it until that evening, and I looked at the past few years and felt shame. Shame at my pride. Shame at my ignorance. Shame at how I had treated people.

I also felt gratitude. Even in the midst of this, this man had chosen me as a friend, and had looked me in the eye and told me the truth.

Now, perhaps, some would say that I have gone too far in the other direction. I’m pretty open about my struggles, about what I’m thinking and feeling (sorry, guys!). It can be overwhelming sometimes, I know, because since that night it is as though my emotions have (blossomed? exploded? what is the right word?!), and that can be a lot for those of us who tend to be more cerebral.

It can be tough, but I would choose this way of being over the former any day.

I praise God for friends who know when to speak and when not to speak. I praise God for speaking through them. And I can tell you that the pain you feel when you listen can’t compare with the joy of growth afterwards.

2 Replies to “I’m a What?!”

  1. Wow, Cath!
    In many ways, this sounds like my experience – training myself in high school to seem put together and unaffected by all the emotional parts of life. And then learning, through years, through friends, through failure, to be vulnerable, and to value emotion, and to be ok with not being a self-contained know-it-all.
    Thank you for these words!
    (Blossomed is more like it than exploded. It’s like when you finally allow water and sunlight on the plant, boy does it grow!)

    1. “Self-contained” – he used that wording too 🙂 I’m glad you can relate – I can definitely see how you’ve grown in the past year! 🙂 And I prefer blossoming, too, I think.

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