“I am like a rusty gate. Even if you find the key, you’ll have to work hard to open me up to find out what secrets are behind my door.” ~ 10-year-old me

When I was 10, my 5th grade teacher had our class write a poem. She wanted it to be titled “I Am.” We had the freedom to write whatever we wanted as long as each sentence started with “I Am.” I was excited to write this poem—to share my words on paper with my favorite teacher and let her know from my heart who I was. I loved writing and wanted to get it just right, erasing, writing, and erasing my words again. Then and now, words float around my head like butterflies, and when I want to share them, I have to capture them and arrange them just so.

A few days later, she asked me to read my poem to my class, and I flushed with embarrassment. The 10-year-old me was no different from who I am today: reserved to a fault. An introvert. And painfully shy. I remembered shuffling to the front of the classroom, never once looking at my classmates because that would have been too painful. As I read my poem, my eyes never left my paper. When I finished, I looked up and saw that Mrs. Ripley had tears in her eyes. And I knew—I knew—she understood my words. She understood me.

It was then, at 10 years old, I was given the first glimpse of my voice. But just as I noticed her tears of understanding, I heard a snicker from a classmate. And then a laugh from another while she teased: “A rusty gate? I don’t get it! Why would you call yourself a rusty gate?” And then more laughter.

At that moment, I heard something inside me yell:

Retreat.

Retreat.

Retreat.

And so I did.

I retreated back inside myself and forgot all about Mrs. Ripley’s tears as she shushed the class and looked at me apologetically. And I turned away from writing. I wouldn’t write like that again for a very long time.

I’m an observer. A listener. So soft-spoken that when I finally do decide to speak, people often don’t even hear my words. And although I’d like to repeat myself, I lose my courage to say it louder because that feels like shouting to my ears.

For a long time, I thought because of my quiet ways, it meant I had nothing of value to share. But what Mrs. Ripley’s tears taught me so many years ago was that I did. I do.

I have a voice.

It took what felt like a lifetime to find it. I started writing again after I became a mother, sharing pieces of my heart with the world. No longer able to contain those words that were like butterflies—catch and release. When I finally found my voice with writing, it felt like I was shouting but in a way that was comfortable for me. And when people would write back telling me they felt similarly, it was the most magical feeling of all—being heard and understood and connecting with people in a way I couldn’t in person with my wallflower ways.

I will never be the social butterfly. Instead, I’m the quiet butterfly catcher. 

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  • Boyd Lundrigan

    Hi Nicole,
    Thanks for sharing this powerful, yet candid, look at your early life and life in general. I can certainly relate to all the feelings you so beautifully expressed. Thanks again. 🙂

  • Rebecca

    Hi Nicole, now I’m interested to read the rest of your work! 🙂 Do you write in a blog?

  • GlassMask

    What a great story, Nicole! And, from many of the comments below, one that others here can relate to. I refer to myself sometimes as “the world’s loudest introvert,” since I love performing on stage in front of large crowds, though I’m pretty uncomfortable in smaller groups. Being an introvert doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer; we do, we just have to approach it differently than Type A folks… Thank you for sharing!

  • J Smith

    “…although I’d like to repeat myself, I lose my courage to say it louder because that feels like shouting to my ears.” Yes! I know exactly what you mean.

  • Mattias Marchese

    I loved this story. It reminds me of a small exercise we did once when I was in highschool. The teacher divided us into small groups and he gave us a bunch of small cards with different images like books, birds, all sorts of animals and different items. We had to pick a few of them that would somehow relate to ourselves and then we would explain why. Of a few things I picked, the most meaningful one was an open book. When the teacher asked me why did I pick a book while the rest picked animals they felt related to, or items they liked or used on their everyday lives, I told him that I was just like an open book, it´s just that people did not know how to read me. He was speechless and his eyes were glowing. But then it all became embarrassment when my classmates started mocking me for saying “such a cheesy thing”. Then I understood that such things could never been said aloud. Since then I really avoid saying things like that unless I really know the person I am talking to, like a really close friend. As a child I wanted to be understood. I wanted to feel close to people, but I never knew how. Eventually I became the opposite of an open book, and now I feel closer to the rusty gate. It´s better to let the right people in: those who deserve it.
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Marta

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I feel very much like you used to, I often think I don’t speak because I have nothing valuable to offer to others. Deeply in my heart I know it’s not true, but I so often forget about it…I’ve just started to be more conscious about my value and I really hope I’ll find peace and satisfaction as you seem to have done 🙂 Wish you much love and all the best!
    Marta.

  • Cari Klinghagen

    Wow, thank you for sharing your story. I completely feel your pain; that was me in school. I’m better at speaking my mind now, but still in smaller groups and on topics I know about. I still don’t like being the center of attention in front of large groups of people; not sure if I’ll ever get past that or not.

  • rrlsudha rrl

    Beautiful. Your story reminded me of all those occasions when I took my steps backward. It was difficult to understand the reason for that. Soo many years later. Its sooo comfortable to know that its very normal to be an introvert

  • Hamdhan Khalid

    Dear 10 year old Nicole, with your permission, I would like to write this powerful poem on my journal. Because these are a few words, arranged perfectly describing who I am. Thank you for this.

  • Anthony Narcisso

    It helps to be reminded that the world holds many like-minded souls.

  • bron

    What a beautiful story and I felt your every emotion as I read it. It is truly difficult for people to understand. I have been told over and over to speak up, to socialize more and also have been told that I am ‘strange’ even by my own mother. It has taken me 52 years to accept who I am as difficult as that is in this extrovert world.

  • Pam

    Love the story; love the poem! Wordsmithing is quite a gift and seeing it in such a young person is wonderful! Love knowing the people who have a talent for helping individuals become who they are, and who help slay the dragon-monster, ‘Be Who I Think You Should Be’!

  • Thank goodness for Mrs. Ripley’s in our lives. I had one in my young life named Mr. Sawyer. They saw and admired that vulnerable part of us. It’s taken me a similarly long while to find my way back to my younger self. Thanks for sharing your story, Nicole.

  • Elizabeth Westra

    I was just like you as a child and can empathize with how you felt having to get up in front of the class. I only did it when it was required, and then I was all trembley inside for hours before. I’m glad you found your voice and the courage to write again.

  • Terry

    Beautiful! So many things I wanted to do, but my shy, introverted spirit did not have the courage! Thank you.

  • Mac-king Thompson

    You made me reflect on who I am. Really, I am.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Chad Ruston

    I have found my voice as an adult, and it happens to be my singing voice. I sang in a school Christmas choir as a youth, but that was all about blending in. I went many years without singing a note in public, until I was encouraged to join up with a Christmas choir at work in my mid 30’s. I knew that I was in over my head, but everyone at rehearsals were so encouraging that it wasn’t long until I was catching on and learning my parts. After the first season’s performances, I was hooked on how good singing for people made me feel! Two more years with that group, and I found another choral group to sing with that focuses on Classical repertoire. Back into the learning curve, and then actually seeking out a voice coach, and really understanding how to use my voice, and loving the sounds I can produce. Last year, I actually worked with a couple of accompanists and sang a piece solo! That was the single most difficult thing that this introvert has ever done, but all of the preparation and encouragement gave me the courage to get through it. I was over the moon with how it turned out, and I’m finding that I’m seeking out more opportunities to sing.
    I would have loved to have had the courage to pursue this gift 20 years ago when I didn’t have to balance family and career, but I’m still happy that I have found my voice, and especially finding a community that has encouraged my pursuit.

  • Vivien

    The teacher, knowing you were an introvert, should’ve read it aloud to the class, but not revealed your name. Times like this happened to me and you never quite get over it, or the nerve to make yourself vulnerable again.

    • Patricia

      I’ve been an elementary teacher, and as an introvert myself, always asked students if they wanted to share their work, rather than making them do it. I wonder if the teacher did ask, and if she suspected that a part of Nicole might have really wanted or needed to reveal a bit of herself. I’m so sorry that there are always a few heartless, but really insecure, kids who have to put others down. And I’m so glad Nicole that you have found your voice. If I had been your classmate, I would have immediately wanted to be your best friend.

    • elmef

      Two school events immediately come to mind – one where I ‘what did you do in the holidays’ experience was ruined for me by having my writing about it read out in class (about 11 years old), and another where a teacher put a poem I wrote in class in the school magazine without consulting me, AND saw fit to alter the wording slightly. I write now, only in my head – NEVER committing to paper.

  • DL Renollet

    a precious story . thank you

  • Ian Street

    This a great! And you were a talented wordsmith so young. Impressive. Wish I had thought to start writing sooner than I did in life. It’s indeed helped me find my voice as an otherwise soft-spoken person.

    Cheers from a fellow rusty gate.