My husband David and I recently visited the East Coast. We walked around Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, spent hours at various museums in Washington D.C., visited friends in different parts of Maryland, and took a day trip to Philadelphia.
(c) Darlene P. Campos. Old City Philadelphia, PA. June 3, 2023.
While Philadelphia is known for its historical sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, it is also famous for the Rocky movie franchise. There is a statue of Rocky next to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. David and I went to the statue and steps first because according to the research I did, these areas receive high traffic for photo opportunities by mid-morning. When we reached the statue at 8:30 a.m., there was already a crowd eager to snap a photo with Rocky. Adults and children rushed up and down the steps, reciting lines from the franchise, like "Yo Adrian! I did it!"
After writing, I have other passions, including boxing. I've been boxing on and off since I was a teenager. I have never boxed a person, just the air or a punching bag. When COVID hit, boxing was a safe, indoor activity I could pick up again, so I did. When I box, I sweat, pant, and occasionally bleed from my knuckles if my gloves aren't correctly fitted. But during the "fight" with my bag or the air, all the frustrations and pain I've experienced in life disappear. Despite dealing with next-day soreness, muscle aches, or cuts on my hands, boxing always makes me feel strong and courageous, which are emotions I don't feel on a daily basis.
Being tourists in Philly, David and I snapped photos of the Rocky statue and ran up and down the museum's steps with everyone else. Later that day, when we were back in our vacation suite, I looked up Rocky and Rocky II clips. Surprisingly, though I've watched many boxing-related movies, I had never watched the Rocky series until after our Philadelphia visit. As I watched clip after clip, I came to a realization.
(c) Darlene P. Campos, 2023.
When I was a kid, I was generally quiet. There were many situations when I wanted to be loud or express my thoughts. However, I remember being shot down by adults and I would shut up. Not long ago, David and I had a conversation about how we were both told the notorious phrase: "Children should be seen, not heard." I carried this phrase for years. Remaining silent was safe. Expressing myself was dangerous. In high school, I had a small circle of friends, but beyond that circle, I struggled. Going to parties made me nervous because I had no idea what I'd talk about. If I didn't have the same lunch period as someone in my circle, I would eat in the busy cafeteria alone. I remember one of my friends asking "Why don't you just find a table with an empty seat and talk to the people there?" The idea of that sounded terrifying.
In college, my inability to talk expanded to the point where I could not ask someone for directions when I was lost. Whenever I went to a store and couldn't find what I needed, I would leave instead of asking for help. Since my silent nature was getting worse, I sought therapy. The first sessions went miserably. I was unable to share my feelings and wanted to quit. But at the same time, I was very lonely. I told my friends I wanted to start dating and meet my potential soulmate and they said "Well, you need to talk to new people!" After many more hopeless sessions, I pleaded with the therapist.
"I want to talk," I whispered with tears rolling down my eyes. "But I can't."
The therapist gave me a set of challenges. Some were easy, like saying "good morning" to a stranger and asking a classmate how they were doing. As I completed the challenges, they became more difficult. Ask someone for directions to the library. Go to a grocery store you don't normally visit and ask an employee where the milk is. Compliment a stranger's outfit and ask where they bought it. Have a two-minute conversation with a classmate about their favorite food. Slowly, I made new friends and attended social gatherings without wanting to run away. If I couldn't find something at a store, I would actively look for an employee for assistance. Around this time, I had a class with David's brother. One day, after class, I needed to complete another challenge. Find a classmate and tell them you like their shirt. Talk about it for one minute. I don't remember the shirt David's brother wore that day, but I complimented it and struck up a conversation with him for much longer than a minute. Within a couple of weeks, we became friends and then one day he said, "You should go on a date with my brother." At my next session, I told the therapist what happened. I had no idea how to take on this massive, daunting task. Go on a blind date was not on my set of challenges.
Coincidentally, David had the same thoughts. He was nervous about meeting a stranger and didn't know what to talk about on our blind date. Both of us almost canceled, but we stuck with the date out of curiosity. On December 11, 2012, we met at a Jewish deli for a quick lunch, but we ended up talking for over three hours. It was the longest I had ever spoken to a new person, yet it didn't feel long enough. Two weeks later, after a few more successful dates, David asked me to be his girlfriend and I, without hesitation, accepted. At my following session, the therapist nearly leaped out of her chair.
"When you first came here, you couldn't tell me what you needed," she said. "And now you have a boyfriend!"
Fast forward to today, David and I have been married for five years. We've been a couple for almost eleven years. But just because I overcame certain obstacles with social anxiety when we met, it does not mean my social skills are now absolutely perfect. I still rehearse conversations in my head, especially before I make a phone call or order food. Sometimes I have a shaky voice when speaking to a stranger. I can ask employees for help at stores, but not until after I've tried looking for the item at least half a dozen times. There are also times when being social drains my energy. I have caught myself becoming overstimulated or irritable among crowds of people and when this happens, I feel like such a failure. But when these moments happen, David knows without me telling him. He doesn't judge. He doesn't stare. He doesn't get angry. Instead, he whispers "I love you" in my ear.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the first movie of the Rocky series ends with a bloodied and sweaty Sylvester Stallone, who plays Rocky, surrounded by a sea of reporters. The reporters fire off questions regarding the match, but Rocky does not give them the lengthy answers they desire. Instead, he calls out "Adrian," the name of his love interest. He repeats her name as she powers through the mob and finally climbs into the boxing ring. She then throws her arms around him and exclaims, "I love you!" As a writer, one would expect that I have written a million romantic poems for David, but I haven't. It's not because I don't want to --- it's because I do not have the adequate words to express how much I love him. I can't compare him "to a summer's day" nor can I construct a "roses are red, violets are blue" creation. He is much more than either of those.
But as I watched the clip below, I realized I have been a bloodied and injured boxer for a long time. First, I fought to stay alive when I was born. Second, as a child, I fought to suppress my opinions, not knowing it would later damage my communication skills. As an adult, I fought and still fight social anxiety every day. Whenever I face social anxiety, I step into the boxing ring, ready to throw the first punch, but sometimes I lose. A second later, a swarm of reporters demands me to speak about the match. As they hurl questions, my voice can only call out for David. No matter where he is, he always runs to me. Then we embrace and he reminds me that he loves me, which is all the strength I need for my next fight. For almost eleven years, I have not had the perfect words to demonstrate my love for David, but Rocky did.
Happy fifth wedding anniversary, David. You are my "Adrian."