When I was about 16, my mother and I left Massachusetts, where we'd lived for three years, and drove across Canada with a car load of our stuff and our surly cat back to California where we plopped back down with a sigh of relief. Well, I did anyway. I'm a Californian girl at heart and always have been, although now as an adult I have an appreciation for Massachusetts.
For some reason, my new high school in California wouldn't let me start on the first day of school even though we arrived in town a month before. They made me start on the second or third day, which meant that I had to enter every class as the new girl and disrupt everything while I handed my pass to the teacher and she or he wrote me into their book and then directed me to one of the last empty seats. In other words: a ton of attention drawn to me.
I hated this because a few years earlier we had arrived back in the US from our time living in Greece. We landed in West Virginia of all places (my mother had family there and it was easy), and let me tell you: the West Virginian kids were not at all pleased to see this little flashy girl come in from Athens. The teachers all thought it was great of course and asked me allllll about Greece in front of the class, no doubt hoping to use it as a teaching lesson, but the only thing I got was daily threats to be beaten up for being "preppy." (Because, as everyone knows, arriving from Athens means you're preppy. Or something.) It wasn't a good time.
Then, as years later in California in my junior year of high school, I quaked with fear having to draw so much attention to myself. So imagine my surprise when in that Californian school I entered my US History class and a girl named Anita invited me to work on a project with her. I said yes. I said that I'd been really nervous having to come into class a few days late. She said, "Really? Cause you looked totally confident and together."
This was huge news to me. Apparently, I had some kind of sangfroid outer shell. It means coolness or composure, especially under strain or stress. At first I thought that this unknown sangfroid ability was just a fluke, that maybe Anita hadn't seen me shaking or anything because she was sitting too far back. But as time went on (and we became very good friends), I came to believe her-- that I had some kind of confidence or coolness that I could exude. I mean, hey, it's better than sweat-stains in your arm pits, isn't it? And it wasn't all good, this ability. Sometimes it left me looking cold and uppity.
I don't actually know if I've been sangfroid in other stressful periods of my life. I do know that I didn't quite manage it on my wedding day when I walked down the aisle. My lips were quivering because I knew all eyes were on me, and let me tell you--I was not sangfroid about it. I pursed my lips and clamped them shut so no one could see me shaking, but that didn't look so cool-- as you can see in the picture. Also, a family friend told me that he spoke to me right outside the church before we went in to walk down the aisle and all I did was stare at him like a deer in the headlights, but I have absolutely no recollection of that.
(In the picture, yes, it looks like a coy little expression doesn't it, but it is not, NO it is not, it is me pursing my lips to keep them from trembling from nerves!)
Even so, I don't know whether Anita, who is still a dear friend today, knows what effect her words had on me back then on my first day in a new school in a new town when she extended kindness and friendship to me, allowing me to think I'd been sangfroid even if I'd been a mass of nerves inside.
Bonus: In contrast to walking down the aisle, here I am being accosted by a lion on my wedding day and I'm totally sangfroid about it. (Yes I have blurred out Mr. Sierra and covered his head with an arrow
because I didn't ask him if he would like to be put on the web to protect his privacy.)
Did you know this word? Tell me about it in the comments.