In third grade, I was a little runt. Truly. You wouldn't believe it to look at me now, but back then I was young for my grade, short and thin. These qualities sometimes got me in trouble. One day in early fall, just after recess, our class was lined up outside the third grade room waiting for Mrs. Epperson to come back from lunch, and one of the girls standing beside me decided to show everyone else just how small I was.
"I bet I could pick you up," she said.
"Don't do that," I said. I wasn't comfortable with being picked up by acquaintances.
Unfazed, my classmate bent over, grabbed me around the waist and lifted me high in the air. And I still don't know why I did what I did next, because as she held me up I instinctively leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.
"Eww!" she shrieked, and immediately put me down. The other kids laughed and a few taunted me for liking other girls. Me, I was busy being dismayed. Wait, what just happened? What was I thinking?
"Why'd you kiss her?" my friend behind me asked. "That was gross."
I had to think fast. "Well, it made her put me down, didn't it?" I reasoned. "I told her not to pick me up."
This was a good enough explanation for a class of third graders, and nobody in my class tried to pick me up again. But long after everyone else had forgotten the incident, I continued to relive the experience over and over in my head, continually mortified at the kiss that seemed to come out of nowhere and the way the other kids had mocked me for it.
That same year I was playing at a friend's house and spontaneously decided we should be wilderness explorers. I led her up to the end of her street and down a steep hill into the city's nature park. We wandered around for hours, running across bridges, exploring creeks, skinning our knees and generally having a great old time together until her parents showed up. They'd been frantically looking for us for a long while, since we hadn't bothered to tell anyone where we were going. Her dad was a large, curly-haired man with a bull-like head, and by the time they found us his face had gone a dark red, his nostrils flaring white and his eyes narrowed to slits. I honestly thought for a minute that he was going to lower his head and charge at me. For weeks afterward I was afraid of going anywhere near him at our church meetings, thinking again and again of that fierce, glowing face staring me down.
A few years and a new school later, I bought a school lunch and got some change back from the purchase. The sound of the coins jingling in my pocket annoyed me for some obscure reason, and to get rid of the noise and the bother of carrying money around I just started handing out coins to people at recess. I hadn't been popular that year, and one of the other girls started running around telling people I was trying to buy some friends. Angry at her comments, I kicked a hole in the dirt of the exercise field and buried the rest of my coins. What were you thinking? my brain continued to ask me, long after it was over. Why couldn't you just leave the coins where they were?
I could provide so many more illustrations, because the hits just kept on a-comin', all through junior high and high school and right into college. I did all sorts of stupid, capricious things without thinking them through, and then repeatedly relived the shame and embarrassment of having done them. Why did you say that? Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut? What made you think kissing him would be a good idea? Don't you ever think of the consequences?
Frankly, impulsivity and introversion are a match made in hell. If you're an impulsive extravert, you can probably blithely shrug off your less-than-ideal choices. If you're a sensible introvert, you probably weigh the potential consequences of your actions a long time before deciding to act. But if you're both impulsive and introverted, you tend to act without thinking and then compulsively mentally replay the consequences of your poor decision-making, like a one-tune iPod set on endless repeat.
Honestly, these days I do try to think things through. I try to imagine the potential real-world consequences for my actions. I try not to open my mouth before I've considered the possible ways that an offhand comment could be incorrectly parsed. But I still end up putting myself into trouble now and then, saying and doing things that make me want to kick myself later. I'm sure I'm not alone, though. There have got to be at least a few people out there who are also impulsive introverts, getting tired of the taste of their own shoe leather. I wonder if they've learned to cope with it, how they silence the verbally abusive parts of their brains, what tricks they've discovered that keep them from speaking without thinking. Because I could sure use some help in that department.