“Welcome to our little engagement.” A middle-aged woman smiled up at me. She was dressed like a 50’s commercial of a housewife at an evening ball. “Please, find your name tag and join the group.” She gestured to the table in front of her with a well-veined hand ending in Avon-pink fingernails. Her smile was practiced and her actions just slightly exaggerated.
I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see a camera crew. But, no; there was just a normal wall, various potted artificial trees posted at two unobtrusive doors, and an empty, dark hallway beyond the open doors.
I turned back to the white tablecloth of name tags with their friendly hostess. She smiled graciously again, waiting. Looking down at the options, I was not certain which name was mine. What sort of party am I at? I wondered as I read over them.
“Perhaps,” the woman began, reaching forward and brushing slightly against her rose corsage, “This one, dear.” She picked up a sticker and proffered it to me in the light grip of those nails. I took it, read it, nodded slightly at her expectant look, and adhered it to my chest. She held out her hand for the backing, and smiled up at me as she disposed of it somewhere behind the rectangular table and her folding chair.
“Refreshments will be served in half an hour. Please enjoy yourself before then.” I had been dismissed. She stared at the doors behind me, where I could hear the sounds of more guests approaching. I took one last look at her vintage updo; large, starburst earrings; and rouged cheek. Then, I stepped around the table and into the room beyond.
Intentionally-dim lighting shadowed a small open area with more of those artificial ficus clumped artistically round the walls. A few other women were standing idly: one, drawing a drink near a white tableclothed food area; two chatting with feigned reactions of hilarity at the opposite end of the table; a final woman looking pensive as she meditated on the fine silk leaves of the east wall’s foliage.
I walked slowly toward the drink area as well, though I was not really thirsty. I tried to walk in a way that looked graceful and confident. I knew that I really looked barely-stable and uncertain. As if to make that point, my left toe caught on the floor and I stumbled somewhat. No one seemed to notice and I successfully drew closer.
I stopped and examined the table settings, using that as an excuse to also smooth down the cotton dress I seemed to be wearing. The punch and its drinker were to my left; the chatting women and plant-studier were to my right. A pile of clear plastic plates sat in front of me and various stratifications of empty cake plates, platters, and bowls led eventually to the conversing couple.
“Hi! I’m Confident in Public but Not in Intimate Relationships,” an unexpected voice to my left said. She was a perky and -yes- confident voice. I envied the self-assured tone and slight Southern drawl of her enunciations. Turning to see what face was associated with this introduction; I was greeted by a mid-length, auburn bob curling slightly around a friendly, open face. The hair and face were attached to a slender woman sporting a dress much like my own, in a bold shade of red instead of my pastel blue. The exact words she greeted me with were written boldly on the white square sticker attached above her left breast. She was the punch-drinking woman, and was standing next to me with a hand outstretched expectantly. Her other hand was holding a cup full of red drink.
Not having another obvious option, I took her hand. She applied just the right amount of pressure; a grip that was comfortably, confidently tight but also soft and gentle. “Ah,” she nodded, as I released her tight grip quickly, “I see.” She had read my name tag. I blushed and moved my eyes away from her direct gaze. I pretended interest in the laughing women, who took that exact moment to pause awkwardly in their falsely familiar exchange.
Confident took a sip from her cup, and studied the other women with me. She swallowed and nodded toward them. “That’s More Creative Than Logical and Talks Too Loud. They’re fun. You should go introduce yourself.” She studied my tag again, and generously added, “I’ll go with you.”
She started forward purposefully, and I trailed behind. I tried to imitate her gait without looking like the circus monkey I was certain I resembled.
“Hi, Creative. Hi, Loud,” Confident greeted the women. They smiled and turned to Confident expectantly. “Anything happen while I’ve been gone?” She teased. They laughed; Loud’s a noisy, irritating imitation of sincere gaiety.
“I’d like you to meet my new friend,” Confident gestured to me, standing hesitantly to her right. I saw their smiles fade a few levels as their focus turned on me, then a few more as they made out the words on my sticker.
“Hi,” I said, trying to sound like I hadn’t noticed the dimming effect I’d had. A bit too late, I held out my hand to shake theirs. They reciprocated, in turn. I knew my grip was not as perfect an act as my “friend’s,” but I attempted to imitate the feel of hers as I touched hands with silvery-clad Creative and orange-dressed Loud. Having completed this ritual, we all stood around idly wondering what to do next.
“Well,” Confident supplied finally, “Don’t let me interrupt you two.” She smiled and winked at them. “I know you were having a great chat just now.” The others looked relieved, smiled back at her, and nodded in agreement.
“Oh, yes,” Loud answered emphatically. I saw Creative step back very slightly though she still looked at her companion with pretended pleasure. “Creative here was just telling me about a very funny friend she met back on her first day of college.” She laughed annoyingly again; Creative joined in, more quietly and less annoyingly.
“Sounds great!” Confident responded, adding an assured giggle of her own. I smiled weakly. “We’ll go pop over to see Introvert. Then maybe you can tell us all about it when we come back.” They nodded agreeably (“Sounds good!” Loud exclaimed.) and we continued on to the artificial plant and a quiet brunette still appearing to examine it.
“Hello, again, Innie,” Confident said as we approached the last woman’s area. A petite, long-haired woman of some mid-age turned slowly to blink at us through round eyeglasses. She smiled slightly and intelligently at the space between us.
Confident failed to catch Introvert’s eye. Shrugging, she laid her punch-free hand on my shoulder in a friendly manner. “My friend here just arrived so I brought her over to meet you.”
The small woman turned her body to me, and I was able to read her label: Introverted Intellectual. I smiled. This was always a sort I could speak with, at least somewhat. The conversation depended on whether I had any experience with the topics she had, and how conversant she felt at the time.
As I mused, Introverted frowned and studied my name. I felt a compulsion to turn or hide it, and she was only the fourth person to be introduced to me.
Introverted’s small frame stayed slightly hunched forward, almost seeming to give to the weight of her hanging hairstyle. Her head and glasses pointed upwards to meet my eyes. “I’m pleased to meet you,” she told me softly, sincerely.
“Pleased to meet you,” I replied, pleasantly surprised but also cautious. I knew no one was actually pleased to meet me.
I caught an action from my peripheral vision: Confident taking another casual drink to fill the silence. “Ah,” she began. Introverted and I politely turned her direction. “I see some more ladies have arrived.” Confident nodded toward the door and we looked as well. A party of four or five newcomers was clumped around the hostess’ table, plus two more just through the door. The green, pink, gray, turquoise, brown, white, and yellow movement was a garden of blowing flower tops.
“I’ll just pop over and settle these folks in,” Confident continued. She smiled at me; I timidly returned it. She smiled at Introverted; she was still studying the entranceway. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll be back again to introduce y’all later.” Confident walked off confidently, ready to bring her necessary order to those tangled weeds.
Introverted and I relaxed in the brief silence and shared solitude. I wondered how many more people I’d have to meet, and who would have to meet me, before the distraction of food.