Speaking of humiliation, my self-introspection was sparked today when one of my colleagues recounted his three Most Embarrassing Moments. This caused me to stop and wonder, “What would I consider my most embarrassing moments?” I suppose, with my compassionate and talkative nature, I was hoping to share some in return, but frankly, I could not think of a single one. Does this mean I never embarrass myself? Surely not. My first guess is that I might immediately erase all embarrassing mistakes from my working memory, so as to keep my ego intact. However, there is simply no way that every single thing I have ever done to humiliate myself has escaped the lock safe that is my mind. Therefore, I sat down and had myself a think. Or, rather, I went running.
Here is what I discovered: my Most Embarrassing Moments were not ones I brought upon myself (or at least not directly). They were not instances where I tripped and fell on my face or spilled some beautiful dessert down the front of my dress. In fact, none of them had anything to do with some action of mine. No, my top three instances of personal humiliation were caused by the actions of others. And they all involved flowers.
Time number one was at a swim meet. I was about twelve or thirteen years old, having just come out of seventh grade and all of the junior high insecurity that involves. Being the little genius I was—or at least that people believed me to be—I had taken the SAT’s for “practice” that year, as part of a Johns Hopkins program, “just to see how I’d do.” I scored a 1070 composite—this was waaaay back when the total possible score was still a meager 1600—and my verbal score was apparently high enough to warrant some sort of special reception, where each child received a paper award with our name on it, and a cookie afterwards. In any event, it was at this “hooray for the smart kids” ceremony that I met Tom1 (not to be confused with another Tom, Tom2, whom we will come to later). We ended up sitting next to one another during the ceremony, and both of us were so bored that we spent the entire time making jokes about the speakers and each kid that went up onstage (which of course made me wonder what someone in the audience was saying about me when I went up onstage…but that was another matter). Afterwards, when we were eating our cookies at the reception, Tom1 sought me out and enthusiastically suggested that we stay in touch. Ever the letter-writer, I cheered to the idea of having another pen pal and happily wrote my address on the back of his program. A week later, he called me. Even back then, the internet was stalker-friendly.
Flash forward to the day of the swim meet. By then, Tom1 and I had spoken on the phone several times. Most of these times consisted of him being bored and talking about his dog and me trying to think of plausible excuses for getting off of the phone. Meanwhile, though, I filled the excruciating gaps in conversation with things about myself, facts about my life. Somewhere along the line, I must have mentioned that I swam. And somewhere along the line, I must have mentioned this particular swim meet.
It’s a meet that happens once-a-summer, as the Championship meet for all of the local teams that compete against one another. In recent years, it had been held at my community’s pool. This particular summer, I was swimming two events. One of my events—the fourteen-and-under medley relay—had a chance to break the pool record, so my relay was really excited. We had gone out earlier that week and purchased matching swimming suits and caps, all in garish, florescent colors and a hideous fruit salad pattern. We were stoked.
I suppose this is why I had mentioned the meet to Tom1. After all, how could I help myself? I was supremely excited about it, and I was telling pretty much anyone who would listen about our potential to break a pool record. However, never in a million years did I think he was actually listening to me prattle on. We were thirteen (okay, he was fourteen, because he was one grade ahead of me, but still). Thirteen-year-olds don’t hear this sort of thing and think, “Okay, this means something to a person I barely know; I’m going to take action.” Even if they do have a crush on that person.
So there I was at the pool, dressed in my suit and cap, hunting in my swim bag for my goggles, preparing to go to the waiting area for my event, when my sister came charging out of nowhere and grabbed my arm.
“Alli!” she exclaimed. Her eyes looked like they were about to burst out of her head. “There’s someone here to see you!”
Honestly, I had no idea it was him. If I had known, I might not have gone to the entrance to meet him. But since I didn’t, I let her drag me up the steps, to the pool’s entrance gate. And there he was: round glasses shoved up against his slightly pudgy face, belt cinched over his tucked-in T-shirt, bouquet held out in front of him, with colors almost as bright as my bathing suit. My sister, meanwhile, in all of her nine-year-old-glory, was ogling the flowers, ogling me, and going back to ogling the flowers. Tom1 was sweating. He looked slightly out of breath.
I saw all this, and it was like we were on the phone again. If I could label the feeling, it would be a sense of apologetic dread. All I could immediately think was, “Oh no. How am I going to get rid of him?” And now I had these flowers that everyone was going to ask me about. . . .
Number two to come.