You may want to start with part one wherein I try to back out,
and please come back later in the week for part three wherein I almost pass out.
We headed out to find some dinner before the cocktail party, but just the mention of food made my stomach twist into painful knots. We headed to the nearby Royal Blue Grocery, that I normally love. Despite the fact that the only food I had eaten that day had been a few pieces of toast with brie and apricot over lunch, I could only manage to pick up a tiny pastry. I forced myself to eat half then threw the rest away.
When we returned to the hotel with little time for me to prepare, we walked to a line for the elevators which snaked all the way down the hall to the check-in desk. My anxiety spiked. I hate to be late for things. I was so mortified by late arrivals, that in college if I arrived mere moments after the classroom door had closed and the professor had begun to speak, I would turn around and leave. The thought of walking in and having all those eyes turned on me made me feel physically ill. Thankfully, a hotel employee walked up to my Eric (clearly because he looked so beardy, strapping, and capable of intense cardio) and told him how to find the stairwell on the second floor. We took the lobby stairs by twos, walked down the hall, and quickly turned the corner where I pulled up short. I froze with my mouth open, because right in front of me were our beloved hostesses: Jen and Hallie.
As I rounded the corner, the eyes of these two amazing women, registered recognition. I walked forward (probably with my mouth still hanging open) and drew up short in front of them, but they immediately reached out and pulled me the rest of the way into enormous hugs. Hallie also hugged Eric and effused, “I feel like I already know you.” Later he would remark on her kindness, warmth and how immediately welcomed and accepted he felt-- Amen, husband of mine! We shared just a few moments of conversation, as all of us were rushing back to get ready for the evening, but it put a warmth back in my shivering heart. I wasn’t an impostor. I wasn’t a tag along. These women, who meant so much to me, were glad I was here.
The next thing I knew I was nearly knocked off my feet by an enormous bear hug. Y’all have to know Heather as a brilliant writer and hilarious artist from Mama Knows, Honeychild, but I hope that each and every one of you experiences a Heather hug at some point in your life. That hug soothed a little of my fear and dialed back the volume of my critic, long enough for me to realize: This Texas girl could use a beer! As I headed towards the savior slinging Shiners, a gentleman’s voice asked, “Can I take a picture of your shoes?” Startled, I spun around and came face to face with Jen’s amazing uncle. He was the official Edel photographer and is such a delightful soul that I couldn’t help smiling every time I ran into him (plus, he gallantly rescued one of the flower bouquets that escaped from my ensemble during the night!) I did find my long-necked bottle, and a much of the rest of the night is a blur.
There were so. many. amazing. women. None of my fears of standing awkwardly alone even stood a chance of coming true. I relaxed, not completely, but more so than I have ever felt while in a crowd. I smiled happily through many conversations that started, “Are you Cate? Like, the “dainty” one?” A couple of people even came up to tell me that they liked my blog and enjoyed my “voice.” Honest to goodness, I barely managed a breathless “Thank you SO much.” My mind just couldn’t keep up: “I have a voice? Someone other than my sister reads my blog??”
To every single woman I had the pleasure of talking to that first night: Y’all are all amazing. It was such a thrill to talk to each and every one of you. It was like a dream to chat with so many bloggers whom I admire so incredibly much and so many women who enjoy other means of expressing their love for their faith and their family. I chastised myself later for not saying enough, not asking enough questions, not being as witty and delightful as everyone I met. Even when I am enjoying things, my anxiety can really put the whammy on me and give me The Dumb. Thank you so much for being patient and kind.
Just as the crowd, the heat, and my own nerves were starting to really take their toll, I stepped outside the doors with a newly made friend to take advantage of that lovely AC which was set to “meat locker” for the Texas summer. I spent a lot of time talking to Jenny, who had come as a vendor for Holy Heroes. “Holy what now?” Clearly, I was totally out of the Catholic mama loop, because every woman that walked up and heard the name, started singing the praises of their Glory Stories, a collection of saint stories on CD. I was so impressed with how many ladies were just enamored by these stories, so I resolved to be first in line at Jenny’s table the following afternoon.
To my utter amazement, the second name called was… “Dainty Cate!” I simultaneous laughed at being called by my “interweb handle” and quaked at the idea of walking through the crowd to stand in front of everyone. I think I was just one molecular reaction away from literally sinking into the floor through sheer force of will. But I was so happy and surprised, because everyone’s shoes were so astounding, hilarious, and (in some GLORIOUS cases) garishly over the top. There were SO MANY of y’all for whom I would have cast my vote if given half a chance. I was truly humbled to stand before such wonderful women with one arm around Kelly and one arm around Jen. (Hopefully, my trembling wasn’t too distracting.) By some providence, one of the prizes was a basket filled with the entire Glory Stories collection! After the recommendations of SO MANY women that night who clearly knew what’s what when furthering their children’s love of faith, it was of course the one I chose (much to my children’s delight when I returned home).
As the party wrapped up, I walked slowly down the main staircase to the lobby, feeling like I was in some amazing movie, as my husband sat waiting for me at the bar. Walking amongst the tables, a group of college aged girls stared openly at my feet and snickered loudly, but for once in my sensitive life, it didn’t phase me in the slightest, I just smiled bigger at the thought of these ridiculous shoes. I was filled with the love and acceptance of women whom I had both long admired or even just met. I was not alone against the world. I had a tribe.