A Clutter of Introverts

When I have to explain the Hubleys to a new person, the shortest way to do it is to tell them that when I was a child, sometimes the doorbell would ring, and then all of us — and I mean all of us, including my baby sister, my mom, and my six-foot-tall father — would dive behind the sofa and wait there until whoever it was went away. It didn’t matter if it was a friend or a relative or a representative from the Church of Latter Day Saints. Under no circumstances, even on our best day, were we equipped to deal with opening the door to a person we weren’t expecting.

There was never any dust behind our furniture and most people learned to call before stopping by.

Later, I discovered that this was not a sign that we would all have to be carted away to some sort of Victorian era sanatorium for a rest cure. It was just another symptom of our personality type, which was and is introverted, no matter how much fun we might seem to be when we’re at parties.

My sister and father are also shy, which is not the same as introverted, but in combination, makes it harder to cope. Meg spoke so little in school that she often got notes about it from the teacher, which she presented to our mother with a trembling lip and giant, tear-filled Keane eyes. Mom would read the notes, set her mouth into a firm line, and put her purse back on her shoulder. Later, alone in our den, we would feast on the remnants of the teachers she’d destroyed, picking our teeth with their marking pens.

That is mostly made up.

I do remember one note she sent in with Meg, however, after she got marked down on a report card for not participating in class.

Dear Mrs. ____,

We received Meghan’s report card and were very happy with her grades. However, we were sorry to see that Meg was marked down for her class participation. Meg, as you probably know, is very shy. It’s not a character flaw; it’s her nature. In fact, it’s probably harder for Meg to speak up in class than it is for most children to stay silent. We’re very proud of how hard she works, and wouldn’t change one hair on her head.

Best,

Karen and John Hubley

The teacher was pretty taken with the note, and according to Meg, called her up to the front and told her that her parents clearly loved her very much. It was a nice response. I have friends who work as teachers now, and 50 percent of their day is spent dealing with parents who think little Atticus and Minerva are getting a raw deal, so I’m impressed, even in retrospect, with her good humor.

However, if she’d really wanted to be nice to my sister, she would have just let her hide under the desk.

Now, I’m a freelancer, which is the dream profession for people who would like to be left alone. It’s wonderful, but it has definitely made me even weirder. For instance, my apartment has no doorbell, and I’m mostly pretty delighted with that. When my phone rings, my first response is to swear. And when I have to ride the subway, I throw off massive amounts of creepy energy, to try to get people to move away from me. (This doesn’t work. When there’s a naked guy napping and peeing simultaneously on a bench at the other end of the car, stankface doesn’t get you very far. However, hope springs eternal, etc.)

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that I’m very much a product of my environment … and I’m getting worse or better, depending on your perspective.

None of these Amish people wants to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.
None of these Amish people want to talk to you. Not even the grandmother.
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