It's Never Too Late To Have a Happy Childhood (Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone).
“When we’ve finally learned the answers, God changes the questions.”
In the midst of my social rehab after my divorce, I’d gotten off my butt, got out of the house, and out to brunch with girlfriends.
I was proud.
But then, stretching me out of my comfort zone, my friend Mary invited me to join her group of hospital friends in their weekly Happy Hours.
(Sigh). Why is it that socializing with people has to mean drinking alcohol?
I have an embarrassing secret: I can’t drink to save my life. I’m a disgrace for all Dominicans.
Drinking is as part of the Dominican life as breathing is. I was shocked to learn that here in the US they have “Open Container law.” For a Dominican, half the fun of being outdoors is having a beer in hand. We even had drive-through places where you could buy your alcohol from your car. What do you think car cupholders are for? For your bottle of rum, of course—so you can take sips at the red lights.
And who ever heard about drinking age? Dominicans coined a verb, “Añorcar,” to describe the act of putting rum in a baby’s bottle to “help the baby sleep better.”
Me? It’s not even funny, like those people who can brag, “I had a few tequila shots, and then I woke up in a garbage dump in Kansas with a new tattoo.” No. My stories are boring like: “I took two sips from a mojito, felt dizzy, and had to leave the party and sleep twelve hours.”
But my hesitation to join the Happy Hours was not only about having to drink. I may have mastered the one-in-one socialization with girlfriends, but I was far from ready to interact with men. Or even worse: socialize in large groups.
My challenges about interacting with humans who belong to the other gender date back to childhood and deserve a separate story. When you grow up hearing that “a perfect little lady doesn’t play with the boys,” it’s hard to undo the message.
But even harder than interacting with men, was the challenge of socializing in a group.
I’ve always been intimidated by groups. Talk about being a misfit among Dominicans! My American-born friends roll their eyes at me when I say I’m insecure or shy. They say that, from the outside, I look very sociable and personable. Now that my self-esteem is patched up, Id’ come to realize that it was NOT that growing up I was a “shrinking violet.” I was a regular daisy. The problem is that everybody else around me was a gigantic sunflower. My problem was that I grew up surrounded by nuclear reactors of personality.
You have no idea of what an exuberant-personality the average Dominican has. My poor, sweet, Yankee husband gets jittery when we spend a while with my Dominican aunts and uncles. He says we speak too loud and too fast (“You sound like machine guns!”). Yet that’s nothing compared to the flamboyancy of my school and college friends.
I learned early in life not to even try to edge a word among my friends. My voice was not very loud, and it always ended up drowned out by everybody else’s. I spent my childhood and teenage years sitting quietly; watching other kids talk, yell, wave their arms and occasionally dance on top of tables; without me trying to contribute. I was a spectator, never a performer.
So I dragged my feet about joining Mary and her friends for a happy hour. Then, thank God, she changed the strategy. She invited me instead to join them at one of the girl’s apartments the night of the Oscars, to watch the awards.
Completely out of the blue, I found myself welcomed with open arms by a new group of friends.
The “Happy Hour group” was large. Many of them were hospitalists, which meant they’d work seven days in a row, then have seven days off. Their free time allowed them to accommodate their frequent gatherings, and I could join them whenever my kids were with their dad. In the group, there were only two married couples—two sets of husband and wife doctors from the Philippines. Everybody else was single or divorced.
We were mostly in our thirties. We were mostly doctors, Mary the nurse practitioner, and one pharmacist. We all shared the original wound of having fallen for the mistake of a career in Healthcare––which meant, having sacrificed our twenties. It also meant we all were at one point of our lives atypical, above average students (which means, we all had had our nerdy side). So, in a way, we were all trying to make up for the time lost by holding on to childishness.
My friends were teenagers trapped in the body of grownups. They had a joyfulness that seemed out of place for the gray and depressing hospital—maybe that was their way to cope with the serious job of medicine. Their favorite activities included gossiping about who had a crush on who in the hospital, watching silly YouTube videos of overweight people bending over at Walmart, and holding heated debates about which smartphone was better––and tease me about my flip-phone. They even purchased a Barbie doll and a toy car once, to create a mini-me of Sara, the beautiful Korean hospitalist who had all the boys star-struck.
My new friends were all very good-looking. Both the girls and the guys. Thank God the guys were harmless. I suspected one of the guys was gay. Two of them were married. The rest of the guys? Well. That’s another story.
Have you ever been lucky enough to get a chance for a re-do in life? I was. For those months, I had a chance to feel what my early youth would have been if I hadn’t been an alien nerd.
All these gorgeous people sat together for lunch at the hospital lounge––and some days I could join them. I loved it! I remember the strange feeling of satisfaction one day when I realized other doctors were looking at us with envy. For the first time in my life I was sitting at the Popular Kids’ table.
I was undoing the past.
Every time I made a joke and someone laughed, the 13-year-old inside of me took a little jump, celebrating that she wasn’t invisible. Every time we met for a happy hour and I sipped my virgin-Pina colada or virgin-daiquiri, (Yes. My drinks are an excuse to have sugar ), a 21-year-old inside of me who should’ve been out celebrating with friends, but instead was on call in the hospital, felt a little more healed.
Maybe it’s never too late to have a happy past.
I remember one day seeing a surgeon—someone who was not bad-looking, and who was successful professionally—nervously chortle next to us. He was shaking mildly, his posture slumped and his stance was insecure. He looked at us with longing.
And it hit me.
“This guy thinks he’s an alien nerd too! The difference is that I somehow broke into the circle and he’s still outside.”
My only explanation why he was outside and I was in was that I’d made progress in my own self-image, while he probably hadn’t. He was still thinking “I’m the nerdy kid.” And the other kids around him said, “Amen.”
There in that group I met the next set of girlfriends in my journey. My friend Rosa––the super model looking blonde form Mexico, used to fancy NYC and trapped in The Boondocks for visa issues. My friend Sara—the beautiful Korean all the boys had a crush on. She was my hero as the single woman who had traveled everywhere by herself, and the one who introduced me to the “Lonely Planet” books. She had recently gone to Sidney, Australia! (who goes there?). And between Mary’s beautiful chocolate skin, Rosa’s blondness and Sara’s gorgeous Asian face, I felt like we were a Benetton’s ad.
And for the first time, I fitted in.
Who would have thought that so much good could have come from forcing myself to do something I didn’t like—pretend I was drinking?
From my group of Happy Hour friends I learned that we broadcast what’s in our minds. By the time I reached them, I’d started to like myself, and they could sense it. But I also learned that gorgeous popular kids can also be nice––maybe it was me who didn’t give a chance to the kids in my school.
But the best miracle from having found those friends was Rosa. She was the next flap in the butterfly wing.
Rosa was he one who declared (she didn’t ask me. She announced to me) that I was going to sign up for online dating.
“It’s not about finding a boyfriend yet. You need dating practice, to lose your fear of men,” she said.
Shoot. Talk about God changing the questions.
When I told her I wasn’t ready yet, she let me be––for the moment. But she was determined to get me dating and she was determined to teach me the secrets of successful single life.
But those are two different stories.
stay tuned for the continuation of this story (and other surprises arising from my author's adhd)
-The Magical Power of Delusional Thinking
-Playing with the Boys
-Rosa’s Guide to Modern Singlehood (Pedicures, Botox and a Vibrator)