Throughout my life, the only thing I’ve been able to do with anything resembling consistency is embarrass myself. I essentially live in a state of perpetual soul-wrenching shame of my past conduct.
As time moves on, I repeatedly make the mistake of believing I’ve moved on from my awkward phase. I think I’ve risen above it, and have become a perceptive, level-headed individual who is incapable of such horrific social fuck-uppery ever again. “Holy shit,” I think upon reflection of the past, “I used to be a social retard! Thank GOD I’m not like that anymore and have become the beacon of social tact that I am today.”
And yet, without fail, time moves on, that present becomes the new, embarrassing past, and the cycle begins again. I delude myself into thinking that I’ve changed in some fundamental way this time. I’ve grown, gained new perspective, learned from experience. But no. It will happen again. I WILL do something mortifying. It is written in my DNA. At the ripe age of 22, I have finally come to grips with this fact.
However, at the age of 13, I had not yet amassed enough life experience to have recognized this pattern. I did not yet realize that I was doomed to fail, and had embarked on a mission to become a cool kid. This was around the onset of puberty, and I had become obsessively self-conscious. I made the mistake of trying to prevent further instances of social ineptitude by carefully analyzing every decision and attempting to monitor my second-to-second behavior.
The human brain is not capable of doing this. Something about the process of analyzing and judging oneself in real-time is fundamentally flawed. You become trapped in a feedback loop of self-consciousness and anxiety, and you find that by some sick twist of irony, your efforts to appear normal produce the exact opposite effect. You’re INTENSELY awkward. You’re visibly neurotic. Your desire to be tactful is so overwhelming of your mental faculties that you begin to spiral uncontrollably into a chaos of new and exotic embarrassing situations, which only serves to amplify your crippling self-consciousness and propel you ever-faster towards your next spectacular social failure.
The most painfully embarrassing event in my life occurred in early middle school, when I was in the depths of a particularly debilitating awkward-feedback-death-spiral. I had become so pointlessly ashamed of myself that I socially imploded. Out of desperation to protect my fragile ego, I had decided to just never ever let myself do ANYTHING. I would not talk. I would not move unnecessarily. I would not make eye contact. Only the biological processes necessary for cellular respiration were tolerable. I had been doing a fairly good job at maintaining this level of activity, when one of my very few friends mentioned the school dance.
Dances were an entirely new thing to me. My understanding of them was based solely on the Disney Channel, and, being incredibly naïve, I assumed that the Disney Channel’s portrayal of school dances was completely 100% accurate.
As fate would have it, my body was very busy puberty-ing at the time. Very. Busy. The sheer magnitude of my puberty may have single-handedly set off the puberties of every kid who touched a door handle after me. As a result, I had abruptly decided a few weeks earlier that boys and their opinions of me were now extremely fucking important.
I thought that if I could persuade a boy to take interest in me, his approval would single-handedly negate all of my insecurities and forever certify my every quality as acceptable and officially ’not weird’. If I could occupy the attention of a member of the opposite sex, it would mean that he hadn’t heard about how catastrophically embarrassing I was. If he hadn’t heard about how catastrophically embarrassing I was, it would mean that people weren’t discussing it. If people weren’t discussing it, it would mean that they hadn’t actually ostracized me yet. They hadn’t noticed any of the embarrassing stuff I’d already done. Which meant I still had a blank slate. I would still have a shot at becoming accepted by humanity. My social life was salvageable. Boys were the key to escaping the spiral. There was a way out, and it was important. By god, was it so epically important.
The dance occupied my every thought for the next few days. I indulged in extremely elaborate fantasies about a ‘secret admirer’ that would eventually use the dance as an opportunity to approach me. First, I would find an anonymous note in my locker from him. The note would say that he had been admiring me from afar, but was too shy to say anything to me.
I wanted that god damn note more than anything. Every time I made a trip to my locker, my heart would race as I pictured opening it and finding the note. I came up with word-for-word possibilities of what the note might say. I thought about how much fun I would have trying to guess who had left it. I picked out random kids in my classes and wondered if it would end up being them.
I thought about how the last in a series of anonymous notes would instruct me to go to the dance, where we would meet, like fated lovers.
Then, on the day of the dance, I would be so much hotter than any other girl there. The school gym would somehow have transformed into a royal ballroom, and there would totally be a chandelier. And then a slow song would come on, and from the crowd would step the boy.
Everybody would see that a real live actual male human had approached me, and they would all make a mental note that I was not weird, as the boy would take me in his arms and slow dance.
Then a spotlight would totally fall on us, and everybody would form a circle around us. It would be a magical circle of official social validation. I would absorb the power of the magic circle and never be embarrassing again. I would emerge from the dance like a butterfly from a cocoon, forever liberated from the realm of social retardation, and would from then on be incapable of ever doing anything embarrassing ever again. It was going to be awesome.
Time went on and I wasn’t getting a note from my secret admirer. The date of the dance was getting closer. I reluctantly decided that I had to go to the dance, even though my secret admirer had been too shy to leave me a locker note. He was out there somewhere, thinking about the dance as well, and working up the courage to finally confess his feelings.
I couldn’t deprive him of that chance. I bought my ticket. My friend bought hers. It was happening.
The day of the dance came. I spent hours trying to work up the courage to dress in something eye-catching, but I settled eventually on an oversized band shirt and baggy mom pants. My friend and I were two of the first few people there. We stood there motionless in the center of the dance floor, completely at a loss as to what was supposed to happen.
To avoid talking to any of the 6 other people there, we resigned ourselves to standing in the corner where the free food and drinks were. That way we could drink soda constantly to look busy.
As time passed, more people showed up. Some of the people started dancing in closed-circle groups. I watched them, envious of their ability to throw caution to the wind and dance in public. I wondered where my secret admirer was, as I downed my 7th giant cup of mountain dew.
It eventually became quite crowded. I started to feel safer. There were so many people there dancing, I slowly grew more comfortable with the idea that I might dance a little bit and nobody would notice it in a crowd this big. Nobody, that is, except my secret admirer. If I appeared more comfortable, he might work up the courage to finally approach me.
It escaped my notice that I had at this point single-handedly consumed close to an entire liter of mountain dew. The sugar and caffeine was accumulating in my tiny 6th grade body. Against my better judgment, I put my cup down and started to bounce a little to the rhythm of the music.
I was doing it! I was actually dancing at a dance, and nothing terrible was happening! Nobody was making fun of me! Nobody was even looking at me! I was encouraged. I started to dance more enthusiastically. I did things with my arms. I did things with my legs. Still, nobody was laughing at me.
I eventually built up the courage to turn away from my friend and seek eye contact with people I didn’t know. I was totally being social. I would meet so many people, and I was totally going to be popular after this.
It occurred to me then that I might be some kind of dance prodigy. I had never danced before, so how could I have known that it was my talent? Maybe on top of meeting my secret admirer, I would discover my one true passion in life. Dancing. Yes. My enthusiasm grew. I was going to be known as the best dancer in the school. I just had to really try.
I moved around more dramatically. I thought about those cheesy moments in Disney straight-to-TV movies where the underdog finally has his moment in the sun and shows everybody how talented he is. That was me. This was my moment. My enthusiasm rose exponentially, much in the way my blood sugar was. I started to incorporate jumping kicks and punches that I’d learned in suburb karate from a fat white guy. My god, I was awesome.
I decided to go and look for my friend. I found her on the exact opposite side of the room. I wanted to share my newly-found confidence with her. “WHY DON’T YOU DAAANCE?!” I screamed over the music as I flailed my limbs. “YOU JUST GO LIKE THIS!” I told her, as I showed her what you go like.
She was too embarrassed to dance. Poor thing, I thought. Maybe if I danced even harder, it’ll put her at ease. I started to involve hand-stands. I jumped aggressively into my first hand-stand and successfully balanced on my hands and got back on my feet. I was so super encouraged. From that point on, I included an aggressive hand-stand roughly every 30 seconds.
A circle was forming around me. Yes! I thought. It was working! The magical circle was happening! I thought of how amazing my dancing must look in order for the circle to have formed.
In reality, of course, it was a don’t-catch-the-weird circle. People were trying to get as far away from me as humanly possible so that nobody would make the mistake of thinking they knew me. I didn’t know that, though. In my mind, I was beginning my transformation into a cool kid.
My one actual friend was the farthest-away of them all.
Then, the most unexpected thing happened. During the apex of my spinning-kicky, punchy, pelvis-rotaty dance revolution, some random boy came up behind me and started doing that grind thing.
In reality, this was a joke. It was probably a super super hilarious joke.
But in my mind’s eye, this boy was doing the grind thing on me because he could no longer contain his overwhelming sexual desire for my incredible skills. Oh wow, I thought. I am changing lives tonight. Different boys did it. Two boys did it at once. I was on top of the fucking world. I had done it. I was now cool and could never ever do anything embarrassing ever again.
I became so ludicrously enthusiastic that I started jumping into my handstands so hard that I would lose balance and fall all the way over and land tail-bone first onto the ground. I did not become embarrassed. There was enough caffeine in me to kill a small horse. There was no stopping me now.
Imagine what would happen to a chimpanzee if you gave it LSD and cocaine. That was my dance. It became so intensely chaotic that I started accidentally hitting people as they tried to get near me to mock me. I was too into it to even stop and apologize to them. I even vigorously attempted to break dance at one point. At long last, I finally stopped after several hours when they finally turned the music off.
I was still out of breath by the time I got into my mom’s car. I told her how incredibly amazing I had been and how everybody there had been so jealous of me. I also told my little sister about it when I got home. She was super jealous and thought I was even cooler than she had thought I was before, which was already super cool. I didn’t even care that my secret admirer had been too intimidated to approach me. I had finally come out of my shell and I felt invincible.
The next day at school, some girl I kind of knew and her group of friends came up to me during lunch and asked me to show them my moves. I told them I needed music to get my jam on. I was thoroughly convinced that they were genuinely my fans. I. had fans.
Later that day, it abruptly, finally clicked.
I momentarily considered the possibility that what I had done was not, in fact, awesome, and was actually the most catastrophically mortifying thing that could have possibly been done.
And almost immediately I realized that yes. Yes it was.
(true photo documentation of me building up my courage)