17 comments

Western Christmas Holiday

I wake up, sliding quietly out of bed. I’m careful not to wake her as I tiptoe out of the room. I shut the door behind me. I’ve been doing this for years. She tells all of her friends how considerate I am. I smile and say something charming like, “I’ll try not to hurt my arm patting myself on the back.” Everyone laughs; they always laugh. It’s my job to make them laugh. I wonder what she would think if she knew I snuck out of our bedroom so I could be by myself. Would she brag to her friends if she knew it was just a way to be alone?


Safe in the solitude of my favorite wingback chair, I read stories on my phone. This is my favorite time of the day. I can read about sports or politics or whatever interests me in the moment. No one is awake to entertain—no one is interrupting me with questions about what I’m reading or suggesting how I spend my day. The phone rings. It always rings exactly seven times. I know this because I never answer. I don’t even look at the caller id. I don’t want to feel the obligation. If I do, I’ll have to put on my mask—the mask everyone knows. He’s so funny. He’s so interesting. It must be a hoot being married to him.


My daughter comes down the stairs. I love her more than life itself. Still, I hope she doesn’t talk to me for very long. She thinks I’m the perfect dad. I have her fooled. I just make it up as I go along. She tells me she wants me to meet her new friend. I told her how funny you are! Yet another person I have to make laugh. I find it oppressive.


Now I’m in my car, the second favorite part of my day. I am an aggressive driver. I cut people off. I don’t let people in. I cuss out loud. I would never cuss out loud if they could hear me because then they would know me. I can’t stand the idea of anyone knowing me. I’m not a bad person. I’m not an angry person. I just need a way to let off steam. The car acts like the release valve on a pressure cooker, one I need to get through the rest of the day. I wish the drive were longer, but it’s never long enough. All too soon, I’m at work.


It’s time to do my morning dance. I scan the parking lot. Is anyone getting out of their car? Is anyone pulling in? On good days, I can time it exactly right so I’m too late to ride the elevator with the people in front of me while being far enough ahead of the next group to avoid them as well. 


Not this morning. 


Today I’m forced to ride up in the elevator with Barry and Char. Barry asks me how my weekend was and Char turns to listen. “Same as always, too short.” They both laugh. Char says I crack her up. Char is the kind of person who would do anything to help a stranger and Barry is my best friend at work. I still wish I was alone. Three floors up seems an eternity to me. I smile, praying no one else gets on.


I work in a call center, an ironic job for someone who hates talking on the phone. I am still so pleasant to talk to. I ask my customers questions about their lives. I empathize with their struggles. I make them laugh. I tell them I’ll call back with an answer, but I never do. Once they are off my phone, they are dead to me. They only get to see the mask I am paid to wear.


I have to stop on the way home. I need a new shirt for a party tonight. I dread the store. A salesperson has to talk to me. I don my mask once again. The conversation is endless, Jehovah’s Witness meets Amway rep endless. I hate every second. Finally another customer comes in, relieving me of my obligation to be pleasant. When I buy my shirt, I say, “I hope that card works—I found it in the parking lot.” He laughs. I’ve done my job and now I can leave.


Back in my car for the ride home, freedom again. I eat in the car. I sing in the car. I cry in the car. I am myself in the car. More than once I contemplate driving right by my exit and never turning back. Only I know my curse will follow me wherever I go. In a new town with a new name, I’ll still be me.


I’m home again; she’s working. I’m happy she’s otherwise occupied, as I don’t have to tell jokes or be interesting or be interested. I can go back to my chair and enjoy the few quiet moments before the party. I made plans with three friends. I’ll disappoint two. Saying yes is easier than saying no, but I’m always overbooked with events I don’t want to attend. I settle for the least offensive.


At the party, I talk and I listen. When the conversation starts to lag, everyone looks to me to liven it up. I tell a joke—I always have a joke. Tonight there is karaoke—I love to sing. People think it’s because I love the attention. It isn’t. On the stage, I get to be alone. I’m willing to sing poorly just for a moment of respite. I want to be the first to leave the party, but I’m always the last.


Now I’m back home. She tells me what a great time she had. She has made plans to do it all again. I tell her I’m tired, but I’m not. Not really. I just want to go to sleep so I can be alone once again. Such is my curse. 


There are no support groups for extroverted introverts. Everyone would RSVP but no one would attend.


I need to sleep. Wearing a mask all day is exhausting and tomorrow it will start all over again. 



July 29, 2021 19:24

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17 comments

Jonathan Blaauw
09:22 Aug 01, 2021

Thom, this is powerful! I really, really connect with this story. It puts things into words that I (and I think most people) feel without ever fully acknowledging it. It's almost uncomfortable to read because I relate so much, wearing masks to the point that, when you're alone, you're not quite sure who you are because your behavior is defined by the expectations of others and the role you're required to play. The tragedy is, it's so subtle as to be almost indefinable, so there is no solution, no support groups, as you mention. I think that...

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I.B. Dunn
23:23 Aug 05, 2021

Jonathan, I’ve been on vacation and neglecting my friends. Once again you not only encourage me but you get me. This was an easy story and a hard one. It was easy because I’m so familiar with the subject matter and so hard because so much of it hit close to home. We introverts don’t like showing ourselves. Please come to America so I can buy you a beer. Heck I’ll buy all night. Thanks again for everything.

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Zilla Babbitt
21:55 Jul 30, 2021

I'm so happy I have a few moments I can sit down and comment on this. I love the beginning, how sad and dogged the character seems. I also liked that you removed "Such is the life of an extroverted introvert" from the first draft -- it seemed to take something away from the sadness expressed elsewhere. I think you'd have a greater shot at a shortlist if a) you expanded the "support group" sentence and application to lonely people in general and b) added more side-tracking anecdotes. Maybe lengthen the conversation with Barry and Char, make...

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I.B. Dunn
22:33 Jul 30, 2021

Zilla, such good advice. I’ll see about some tweaks. I really love your feedback. You have been a Reedsy friend since I first started. It’s just over a year now. Now do me a favor and write a story. I miss your weekly offerings.

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Zilla Babbitt
14:06 Aug 01, 2021

Of course! I had been playing with the idea but your comment solidified my resolve. I'll be posting this Thursday :)

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Zilla Babbitt
00:37 Aug 05, 2021

Just posted!

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I.B. Dunn
23:03 Aug 05, 2021

I’ll be over tonight or tomorrow. I can’t wait. 😀

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Julie Ward
14:07 Aug 01, 2021

Well, if I ever wondered if I was and extroverted introvert or an extroverted extrovert, now I know. (I'm the extrovert, squared.) It's so interesting to me how some of us are completely charged up by being with people, and others are exhausted by them. The people in my house are half extrovert squared and half introvert squared, so I completely understand your character. I really like that your character has a full and happy life, but that he also battles with his constant desire to hide. That his job requires him to interact with peop...

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I.B. Dunn
17:19 Aug 01, 2021

Julie I’m so glad you stopped by. I need to learn to use the full word count. More than once I leave words unused that could make a good story great. This one was difficult to write because there is a lot of me in the main character. Maybe mine is the mask that I left on. I am glad to have Reedsy friends like you. You help me to see my blind spots and I’m a better writer for it.

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Karen Kinley
16:08 Jul 30, 2021

Sweet and sad at the same time. It bothers me that his wife doesn't who he really is. But I get that that's the point of this story. Other than that, I can really understand where he's coming from. And I love that he can let loose in the safety of his car. I like the use of the repeated line, but for some reason, I don't like that actual line. It feels forced in some way. I know you are trying to connect it to the prompt, but perhaps you don't have to be so literal? Could he say something like, "Such is my life" or something like that? I d...

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I.B. Dunn
16:52 Jul 30, 2021

I think there is a lot of most of us in this story. It was a little uncomfortable to write. I think you are right about the phrase although maybe it like the story is supposed to be uncomfortable. I'm going to ponder it. I really appreciate your time and feedback. I am a better writer because of you. I have but one favor to ask, write another story. I love to read you.

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I.B. Dunn
20:08 Jul 30, 2021

I went bold. I deleted the repetition. I left the only reference to being an extroverted introvert in the line about the support group. I think it flows better. I'm still contemplating. :-)

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Karen Kinley
20:27 Jul 30, 2021

Wow! Such a difference! At least to me. I don't think you need the repeated line. The narrative speaks for itself.

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Eric D.
18:10 Aug 06, 2021

So relatable I loved it so much, one of my favorite stories on this site.

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Annalisa D.
15:09 Aug 05, 2021

This was a very interesting story. I think for a lot of people the person they'd consider themselves to truly be is a bit different, sometimes very different, from the person others think them to be. I think this concept is very relatable and compelling for readers. I liked the parts about being in the car allowing freedom. Very well written.

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Beth Connor
20:43 Aug 02, 2021

Amazing story Thom. I related to this in so many ways (I worked at a call center, and I was damn good at it- and would categorize myself as an extroverted introvert/ambivert, leaning heavily towards the introvert side.) I am also not surprised so many relate to this story.

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Wirda Bibi
20:20 Aug 02, 2021

Your story is the one where I stopped to read And I am glad that I did That was really good. But was sad. I don't mostly like sad stories but I liked yours. That seems true with some people. They wear a mask of happiness but are scattered side. I like the way you describe 😊 Loved it❤❤ Liked it❤❤ #stay safe #stay happy 😊😊

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