There is no logical explanation why I should be intimidated by her. I’m not bashful by nature. Just the opposite, actually, unless you stick me at a podium in front of a large audience; should that happen, I turn into a quaking, tongue-tied buffoon. A one-on-one confab is usually no problem. Yet when I attempt conversation with this particular woman, I’m suddenly an awkward 14-year-old again, one who’s been forced to sit at the grownups’ table at the monthly church supper.
It isn’t her fault. From what I’ve gathered the two times I’ve been around her, she’s a truly lovely, unassuming person. Come to think of it, she’s the one who’s a bit shy. In a totally charming way. Which, of course, intimidates the hell out of me.
Oh, and did I mention she’s an M.D.? She doesn’t practice anymore, however. According to her husband — a surgeon I’m perfectly comfortable with — she quit the doctor gig because of her slight shyness. It made it a little difficult for her to be a family practitioner.
You’d think that would bring the intimidation factor down a notch, wouldn’t you? To my perceived societal level? Nah. She’s still an M.D., whether a practicing one or not. Anyway, it’s not the doctor thing that throws me off, case in point her surgeon spouse and the fact that I’ve known plenty of people with impressive credentials. Ph.D’s, J.D.’s, C.E.O.’s, C.P.A.’s, S.O.B.’s, T.G.I.F.’s. I’ve chatted up any number of multi-initialed types without feeling the tiniest hint of an inferiority complex.
Heck, in our neighborhood alone I’ve broken bread with a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a renowned Classical musician who conducted orchestra at the Lincoln Center, a professional artist whose photography has been shown in galleries around the world, published authors and more psychoanalysts than you could shake a stick at. (Although I wouldn’t advise stick shaking if at all avoidable — you might never hear the end of how your anger issues were your mother’s fault somehow).
It isn’t this woman’s physical appearance, either, that reduces my interpersonal skills to those of a trained monkey. I mean, she’s slender and pretty — more cute than beautiful, really — but I’ve been good friends with some real lookers through the years. In fact, I recently hit it off with a downright knockout who lives nearby. She’s ten years my senior yet when we’re together, she’s the one who turns heads. It doesn’t bother me. Much.
Whatever the case, I was determined to exude nothing but confidence in my next encounter with the charmingly shy, non-practicing M.D. She even opened the door by sending an email saying she hoped I’d make it to the New Year’s Day party we’d both been invited to. This was going to be my Big Chance to behave like a Big Girl.
It might have turned out that way, too, if I hadn’t worn my sweater with all different sized and shaped buttons.
She immediately complimented me on the sweater, and I explained it had been a Christmas gift from John. Isn’t it something that he buys most of my clothes for me! Yes, ha ha! My husband sure doesn’t buy my clothes! Smiles all around, buddies trading spousal stories. The muscles in my neck began to relax as I reached for my wine.
I noticed her look at it funny. Did she think I’d had too much? It was only my second glass, I swear!
“All those different buttons remind me of the curtains I’m working on,” she said, finally, her gaze slowly shifting away from the wine and back to my sweater.
“Oh, you make curtains?”
“Yes, I love to sew! You too?” She appeared hopeful, as if we’d soon be giggling over the intricacies of hemlines, or how best to cut along the bias.
“No, no. Not at all,” I disappointed. “In fact, one year my mother-in-law offered to buy me a sewing machine and I told her not to.”
I smiled weakly and muttered something incoherent. Any poise I’d previously mustered fell with a splat to the floor.
Later, she showed a small group of us how you can hold your arms straight out from your body, and by placing one fist on top of the other starting at the horizon, be able to tell what time it is. “It works the same for everyone,” she explained, “since each person’s arms and fists are proportionate!”
Had I been able to come up with a good segue, I might have interjected a little tidbit of my own by pointing out the best way to get rid of hiccups is to get on your hands and knees and drink a full glass of water upside down. That likely would have only reinforced her opinion of me as a drunkard, though. A drunkard who wouldn’t pick up a needle and thread if someone had gashed their foot — on one of my many broken wine glasses — and needed emergency stitching STAT.
So instead, I chuckled with amazement along with everyone else and made a mental note to add “knows clever anecdotes about telling time” to the list of possible causes for my uncharacteristic timidity around this woman.
Who’s to say what she’ll come up with next time I see her. All I know is whether she announces she’s found a cure for cancer or the best way to wash windows without leaving streaks, I’m grabbing the first 14-year-old girl I find — preferably one with braces who has a huge crush on that cute boy in third period U.S. History class — and we’re headed to the mall for an afternoon gabfest at the food court. Quality time spent with an intellectual and emotional equal should be just the fix I need.