A cool breeze had set upon me as I starred down at the lightly greyed pages of my book. A shiver made its way up my back, and with my free hand, I pulled my jacket closer around my sundress. I did my best not to stand out as much as I felt I was. Sitting alone on a little bench next to a chicken coop, I was the only person not hustling and bustling around me. As the plus one of a groomsman at a wedding for no one I knew, I felt like a sore thumb, and hoped that the strong words of Jane Austin might be able to sooth some of the nerves that where turning inside me.
It had been years since I had last been to a wedding. I was just about 14 at the last one, the wedding for my aunt, and it was a similar anxiety I felt then too. A preteen at a wedding is always an odd sight; not old enough to be allowed to fully enjoy the festivities, but also not young enough to be dotted over like the kids and babies. I felt then like a lanky mess in a dress, and little had changed in the 10 years since as I sat on my bench with my book. I still felt like a lanky mess, except this time I had dressed myself, so that was another anxious point to consider.
I felt like I should do something; help the caterers set up or maybe direct the cars where to park? I couldn’t figure it out. No one seemed to mind my reading though, out of the way of the pictures and prep. I decided it best to just stay there until the time came to find myself a chair in the aisle.
Don’t get me wrong; I was honored to be there, that my boyfriend wanted me to be around for the party and to meet everyone he knew. But as a groomsman, he had a million things to get ready for, and so I had my bench and my book and my time to reconsider every choice I had made that morning.
I’ve been trying my best to fight this social anxiety of mine for years now. I remember when I was really little the opinions of others didn’t affect me at all. I could talk to whoever, and befriend whoever, and not worry later if they actually meant what they said. My mom used to say I was the friendliest girl, and I was. I would make friends with the first kid my age I saw, even for just an hour. There was no shyness or anxiety; I was fully at the disposal of my own whims and shrugged off any poor encounter with ease. I couldn’t even imagine doing that these days. Everything has so much implication towards the future; one bad perception now could snowball, would snowball, or at least that is what always goes through my mind.
The sun had gotten stronger during the time I had spent on the bench with my book. I am not entirely sure I had even processed the last 30 pages I had read as I slyly looked at every passerby to see if I could gain any cues on how I might better spend my time. I began to sweat a little but the cool breeze was still there, so I pulled my arms from my jacket and set it on my shoulders instead. I tried to tip my mind back into my book. Mr. Darcy had done something. He gave Elizabeth a letter I think. I think I was reading that letter.
The sound of footsteps came near, and I did my best not to sigh out a breath of relief. It must be my boyfriend coming to grab me. But when I looked up, a grey beard greeted me instead, poised behind a camera lense.
“Don’t mind me. Go back to reading.” The photographer chimed as he slowly paced my side and took a few shots before going on his way.
I was shocked. I could’ve sworn I looked as much of a mess as I felt, but thinking about it then, I imagine it was a bit picturesque even. A girl on a bench, out in a field, in a sundress and a jacket draped on her shoulders, reading Jane Austin. I had no clue just how perfect that picture might be, I was so stuck in my head. To others, I imagine I looked serene, put together; the girl reading in the field, not the girl reconsidering every life choice as she sweat through her dress. They had no clue what was in my mind, and yet here I was trying desperately to get into theirs. It was silly, and honestly a waste of time even. And like that, I was okay. Maybe not entirely okay, but I was better.
The wedding was lovely, made even better by the people I did my best to introduce myself to. I was still a bit flimsy and felt like a fool, but I did my best and that was what people saw; a girl doing her best. By the time my boyfriend had finished all his obligations and could join me again for the party, I had a made a friend or two who were looking for companionship like me, and the night moved on. I could’ve been on that bench forever, in my head forever, but I wasn’t. I moved on and I am proud of that. It is one step forward, and I guess one step back, towards the little girl I had been and the person I want to be.