Sometimes I think of myself as a castle. The medieval kind you get in storybooks, with towers and crenellations, a drawbridge and portcullis, arrow slits and a moat. My foundation is my family: my parents and my sister give me the security and self-confidence I need to stay strong. And I am strong. My walls are impregnable. My defenses are formidable. An invading army couldn’t touch me.
I didn’t notice this in elementary school, because I didn’t need to. There were a few girls who made some fun of me in fourth grade, but I barely noticed. In middle school people were more openly obnoxious, and I finally saw the castle.
I made friends in middle school, about halfway through seventh grade, and that was when I noticed another wall. This one was outside my castle, and it was of glass. The castle protected me from harm; the glass wall protected me from everything. I was apart from the world, watching it with indifferent interest from behind my impermeable shield. These friends of mine – I wasn’t truly, totally part of their group, because they were outside my wall.
They were the reason I saw my wall, and they were such fun that I was saddened by its presence. I wondered if I could break the wall, or go around it. I wondered if I could bring them inside with me. Eventually I discovered the only thing I could do was thin it out.
So I did. Inexpertly and with constantly varying enthusiasm, as I wasn’t sure if it was safe to thin out my wall; but I did. It wasn’t easy. I was afraid, of course, of all the usual things – being unwanted, being let down, being abandoned. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me once they knew what I was like. And, like in all the stories, my fears were unfounded. My friends continued liking me no matter how thin my wall got – for all I know, they liked me more, but I’ve always been awful at understanding people so I can’t really say- and in the end, it was the beginning of the beginning.
There were two more steps. When I got to Denmark, I was placed in a class for foreigners. There were eight of us, and not one of them was the kind of person I would have spent time with in a larger school. But all of them were friendly and welcoming, and I was surprised to find myself one of them. Still different, still outside, but one of them, one of this group of people who had nothing to do with me. It was one of the things about moving that really opened my mind.
By the time I left this school my glass wall was little more than a soap bubble. My new class was larger, and instead of reading in a corner as I was used to, I listened to them. I admit this was only because I had to learn Danish, but that wasn’t all I learned. I even made friends, and the last of my glass wall vanished into thin air.
That left me with nothing but a castle. After much consideration, I decided to lower the drawbridge and fling the gates wide. So now people can check out the courtyard and, if they like what they see, they can stroll inside. They can wander the halls, admire the furniture, look at the paintings on the walls and know my past. Heck, they can slide down the banisters and swing from the rafters if they like. To my surprise, I’ve discovered that I don’t mind. I actually rather prefer to tell people what I’m like, so they’ll understand when I do something stupid or insensitive that it’s not done out of malice. And there’s nothing so nice as having friends.
I still have a last, secret inner keep that I show to no one, wherein I keep my most private heart. Sometimes I feel the glass wall come up again, protecting me, all the stronger for having been gone so long. It always falls, though. I think, in the long run, I’ll be fine.