I’ve always been shy around large groups of people. Put me in a crowd where I don’t know anyone or just one or two people and I immediately become part of the wallpaper.
I’ve always wanted to overcome my shyness but would chicken out at the last minute when invited to group events or in the case of writing conferences, no matter how much I wanted to go, I wouldn’t register out of fear of not knowing anyone and being placed at a table full of strangers that I’d have to make small talk with.
Then I met a fellow writer at a local writer’s group. Jane was a wonderful writer, easy to talk to, and made me feel comfortable within minutes of meeting her. A couple of years after we met, she talked me into attending New Jersey’s Put Your Heart In A Book conference. I agreed to go if she promised me one thing – not to leave me alone during the conference. She promised and I registered for the conference, booked the hotel room we’d share, and made travel arrangements. For the first time, I was going to attend a writer’s conference and I couldn’t wait.
Finally, it was time to go to the conference. During our trip to NJ, Jane must have picked up on my nervousness. She touched me on the shoulder and said, “I haven’t forgotten my promise. You’ll be okay.” Her words calmed me a bit, but I still felt like bats were playing ping pong in my stomach.
The evening we arrived, there was a meet and greet gathering for all of the conference attendees. We walked into the hotel ballroom and Jane began talking to everyone and anyone she came in contact with from the other attendees to the hotel staff. She seemed so comfortable with them; it was almost like she’d known them for years. Meanwhile, I hovered at her shoulder like a shadow, barely managing to utter a word.
An hour later, she pulled me aside and said, “I have to go to the lady’s room. I’ll be right back.” I instantly responded with, “I’ll go with you.” She looked me in the eye and said, “No, you mingle.” I opened my mouth to protest when she cut me off with, “I haven’t forgotten my promise. You’ll be okay.” I nodded but really wanted to throw my arms around her legs like a toddler and cry, “Don’t leave me.” She gave me a smile and headed toward the door without a second glance.
Not wanting her to come back and still find me standing in the corner, I gravitated toward the dessert table. It was loaded with different types of chocolate confections. One thing I did know was that chocolate always made me feel better. As I stood at the table, deciding which dessert to try, a woman walked up and stood beside me. “I hate these things,” she muttered. “You hate chocolate?” I asked, the thought unfathomable to me. She laughed, “God, no. I hate these ‘get to know you’ things. I never know what to say to a complete stranger.” I smiled, probably my first real smile of the night. “Me too.” We chatted for a few minutes before we were approached by a young woman who looked pale. Sweat beaded her upper lip. “Hi,” she said before we could utter a word. “I promised my critique partner I’d introduce myself to two people tonight. My name’s Amy.” Her words came out in jumbled rush. She pressed a hand to her stomach. “Oh, just saying that makes me feel like I’m going to pass out.”
My new friend scooped up a plate of chocolate truffles and handed it to me, took Amy by the arm, and said, “Chocolate will help.” She led the way to a small unoccupied table where we all sat down and ate the truffles.
A short time later, I glanced at my watch and realized a half hour had passed and Jane hadn’t come back from the restroom. I looked around the ballroom and found her chatting with a group of women. She gave me a thumbs up sign, but didn’t come join me. I was a little angry. She promised she wouldn’t leave me alone. It was the only reason I agreed to attend the conference.
I held onto my smile and prepared myself to endure the rest of the evening until I could politely leave and hide out in my hotel room. The funny thing was that the remainder of the evening wasn’t something to endure. I started feeling more comfortable, my nervousness melting away. I had fun. I met Amy’s critique partner and two of her friends. I met Carrie’s (the first woman to join me at the dessert table) roommate and found out most of us planned on attending the same seminars.
The rest of the conference passed in a blur of seminars, meals, and meeting more new people with Jane always at my side. Not wanting to make either of us feel uncomfortable I hadn’t mentioned how upset I’d been that first night that she’d left me to my own devices, thinking I would bring it up on our way home.
The funny thing was that as I sat there during our trip home, trying to figure out how to broach the subject without sounding accusatory, and ok, I didn’t want to sound like a spoiled brat either, I realized Jane had never really left me alone during the meet and greet gathering. She may have not been by my side but she was there in the room and if I needed her, I could have gone and joined her even if it was only to be her shadow. Instead, she’d given me space to meet new people while having the safety net of her presence in the room.
Unfortunately, our local RWA chapter disbanded a couple of years later. Though we tried to stay in contact, I lost touch with Jane not long after that. I never told her but I’m immensely grateful to her for talking me into attending that first conference. I’m still shy around large groups of people, but I know I can hold my own in a crowd. I’d still rather have a friend beside me though.
Katherine Grey's newest release, Impetuous,
is available now.
Blurb:Mateo de Montayas, an impoverished Spanish count, comes to