making a fool of myself

(and making really great stories)

On my first day of middle school, I waited patiently at the end of my street for 10 minutes before a kindly neighbor informed me that the bus I was waiting for had come and gone before I even arrived at my stop. Frantic, I ran back up the street and begged a ride from my mom. It was not until after she finally dropped me off at school, just in the nick of time, that I realized I had forgotten my lunch, necessitating a call to my (already frustrated) mom, asking her to bring it to me. Middle school was clearly off to a great start.

Flash forward six years to my first full day at Brown. As I finished my first overwhelming meal in the Ratty (so many food options! and so many people I didn’t know, all of whom seemed like they knew exactly what they were doing!), I went to clear my tray and managed to accidentally drop my mostly full cup on the ground, spilling water everywhere. I was so flustered by this that, in my haste to escape before I did something else completely mortifying, I accidentally threw out all my silverware. Later that same day, I took my first shower in the dingy Keeney bathroom. Preoccupied with preparing myself for several more years of wearing flip-flops in the shower, and severely nearsighted with my glasses still on the windowsill outside the shower stall, I didn’t realize until I had completely wrapped a towel around myself that it was the towel of the girl showering next to me rather than my own. Somehow, nothing had changed, and all those middle school feelings came rushing back to me. College was clearly off to a great start, too…

These are just a few examples of the many embarrassing things I have done in my lifetime, and I could list many more. Like the time sophomore year I meant to send some supportive words to a friend via a private Facebook message and instead sent it to a group message, accidentally telling 50 people (including someone I had previously sort-of dated) that I loved them. Or the time I got norovirus my freshman year and threw up in front of 90 percent of the people I knew on campus at the time. Or the time this past summer when I spilled pudding all over myself and all my possessions right before I got on a train for six hours. Some of these things were out of my control—after all, I don’t really have much of a say in when my body is going to get sick—but that doesn’t stop me from feeling embarrassed about them. And all of these events have all taken place in the last three years since I’ve been at Brown, which means that there are countless stories from high school and middle school that I can’t even begin to recount. Not that that’s particularly unusual—I think most people have at least a few embarrassing stories about themselves in middle school, which tends to be universally acknowledged as an awkward time, a time when you thought you were really cool but in actuality, you were really, really not. But at this point, middle school was a long time ago. Why does it feel like (almost) nothing has changed? Shouldn’t I have, like, matured by now? When will I stop feeling like a clumsy teenager and become the cool, confident adult I thought I was supposed to grow up to be? (Maybe never.)

There are people who don’t get embarrassed easily, and I envy them, since I have never been one of them. I was always pretty shy growing up and I have a tendency to blush, hide my face, cry, or sometimes do all three at once when I get embarrassed. It’s one thing to feel embarrassment easily, and it’s another to have visible signs of that humiliation show up on your face or in your body language. Then, of course, because you know that other people can tell you’re uncomfortable, you feel even more self-conscious and begin to blush and/or cry even more. And so the cycle perpetuates. And it feels like it will never go away, like I could live to be 100 and still remember that awkward thing I said or did when I was 13 or 17 or 21 just as vividly as the day it happened.

I don’t know if this is how it’s supposed to be, if growing up should have just as many awkward interactions and cringe-worthy stories as all of my early teens. The Internet also makes it much easier to preserve these moments. I never used Tumblr or MySpace or livejournal when I was in middle or high school, but my Facebook has more than its fair share of awkward photos and weird comments (y did we all used 2 type lyk dis?). It’s easy enough to go back through my social media profiles and feel secondhand embarrassment about a younger me. But will I someday look back on the things I write or post now and feel the same embarrassment about them? I hope not, but it’s hard to tell.

As I approach my senior year at Brown, I think I’ve made a lot of progress in conquering my shyness, becoming more confident, and becoming (slightly) less prone to embarrassment. Maybe it’s that I’ve developed coping skills or gotten a little better at laughing things off than I used to be. But there are some positives to having embarrassing things continue to happen in my life as I get older. Once the initial mortification wears off, they make really good stories. Telling my friends about weird or awkward things that happen in my life often prompts them to share similar stories, and ultimately I end up feeling comforted that it’s not just me that feels this way. We’re all still figuring it out—sometimes feeling red-faced or awkward, sometimes unsure whether to laugh or cry—but at least we’re all in this growing up thing together.