Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's Alright to Cry*

A few months ago I got a speeding ticket. I was driving along a road right near my house, that I travel all the time. The posted speed limit there is 35 mph. It is a fairly busy street, and unless the traffic is bad, people generally drive 40-50 mph. That day was no different. I happened to be the last car in a line of cars, all driving around 45-50 mph. I had no idea I was speeding; I was simply driving with the flow of traffic.

That day had been a particularly bad day already. I was worried about Isaac, since his pediatrician had told us in no uncertain terms to get him to a specialist. I was worried about money, since Lance's car had just been diagnosed with a $3000 problem, not covered under the warranty. I was tired, since Vivian had not slept well the night before. I don't remember what else, but I remember feeling fragile as I carted the kids around for errands.

When the policeman turned on his light (he was driving a motorcycle, I didn't even see him behind me) and motioned for me to pull over, I panicked. I started crying. Not sobbing, but slight shaking with tears, no noise. All I could think was, how much would this cost? And how could I have been speeding, when everyone else was driving this fast??

Here's the kicker. Although I was crying as I pulled over, I immediately got control of myself so that by the time the officer came to the window, I was composed. I even smiled at him. I apologized, dutifully handed over my license and registration, and then as soon as he returned to his bike, started crying again.

This time in addition to already stated reasons, I was crying because I was such an idiot. Why couldn't I cry in front of the officer, like everyone else? For God's sake, if there was a time to use tears to my advantage, this was it. And they wouldn't even be fake tears! But, nooo. I was too afraid to look like a fool in front of a police officer who I would never see again.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to blog about this. I've been thinking about it since it happened. I guess it's more of the same: I am too embarrassed to blog about being too embarrassed to show my true emotions.

For as long as I can remember, I have been deathly afraid to look stupid or foolish in front of other people. I realize nobody wants to look like this, but for me, the fear is particularly strong. Ironically, it has caused me to look stupid on numerous occasions. For example, someone will say something that I either don't hear or don't understand. But instead of admitting this, I just nod and smile and hope that the rest of the conversation will enlighten me. Invariably, because of the smiling and the nodding, I end up agreeing to something I don't mean to agree to.

In school, my comments were always along the lines of "Amy has a lot to offer, but she is much too reticent in class." In fact, I learned the word reticent from my report cards. But--God Forbid!--raise my hand? Admit that I know the answer? What if I was wrong? What if everyone stared at me? OHMIGOD don't make me speak aloud in class.

When I was 17, my best friend, "S", got into a fender bender in front of the home of another friend of mine "C". S and C had only met once, since C went to a different school, and was one year behind us. Being (naive, dramatic, scared) 17, S freaked out. She didn't know what to do, so she walked to C's house and knocked on the door. Then, crying the whole time, she introduced herself to C's mom and asked for help. C's mom helped her call the police (there was extensive damage to both cars), exchange information with the other driver and get through the whole ordeal. When S told me this story later, I was completely stunned. If that had happened to me, I would NEVER have had the nerve to ring the doorbell of a person I had only met once, especially given the fact that said person might not even be there and I might have to instead deal with an adult! And certainly not if I was crying, or had just committed some kind of mistake. I probably would have just smiled and nodded when the other driver said something like, "Well I don't want to get my insurance involved so here I'll just give you a check for $100, okay?"

(Of course, I didn't admit to S that this action of hers was so unfathomable to me. I just acted like, oh, of course that's what you do when you're in that kind of situation. In fact, the only way S will ever know how much I admired her at that moment is if she reads this post. Hi, S!)

I really hate this about myself. Why am I so afraid to admit a mistake? What do I think will happen if the police officer sees me cry? In my rational brain, I tell myself--hey! Cry now! He will feel sorry for you and give you a break! But my emotional response to that is so strong--"No way! Get a grip on yourself! Don't let him see you're upset!--that rationality has no chance.

Well, I'm not sure where this is going. The fact is that if I got pulled over tomorrow, I'd react the same way. If I pronounce your name incorrectly I will never again be able to look you in the eye, and will avoid you at all costs. If you mumble or speak with a thick accent, give up communicating effectively with me. Further, if you misunderstand me, know that I will not correct you until I absolutely have to, resulting in embarrassment for both of us. The moral of this story? I'm an idiot. But you already knew that. Cheers!

*Can you guess what this title is from?

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