As I was walking the dogs today, a woman who was standing in front of her house called out to me. I pulled an earbud out and said, “Excuse me?”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said. “I was talking to him.” And she pointed past me at a man I hadn’t noticed across the street from her. He laughed. I scurried away.
Okay, not a big deal–slight misunderstanding, mild chagrin–but I’m still thinking about it. I don’t get past these things easily.
You know Sacha Baron-Cohen? The Borat guy? How he can say or do the most unbelievable things in public? He seems to have no self-consciousness, no concern about what people think, no discomfort with being disliked or ridiculed.
I am the opposite of Sacha Baron-Cohen.
I have no memory for people’s names, faces, details of their lives, etc. Ask me what a house looks like or where I saw a dress on sale or the names of my great-grandparents–nothing. But I can tell you every single time something happened during the course of my life that made me feel embarrassed or ashamed, starting with the time I was four and a woman yelled at me for walking out of a store with a book (I wasn’t stealing it–I just wanted to show it to my mother who was outside, to see if she’d buy it for me), continuing through the time my brother said, “Let’s get on the down escalator” and I did, and he didn’t, and I turned to run back up to him, and a security guard yelled at me for “fooling around” on the escalator, and the time my former friend got everyone to make fun of my stinky feet during an enrichment dance class, and the time I had a crush on my co-counselor at day camp and everyone knew it and I made a fool of myself, and the time I had a crush on a gay guy and I made a fool of myself (crushes, I think we can agree, are particularly fertile grounds for embarrassment) and the time I accused my friend of taking my sunglasses, only they were hers, not mine, as I discovered when I found mine later–on and on and on up through and including the time (sadly, not too long ago) that I lent someone I barely knew what I thought was a clean tissue and turned out not to be a clean tissue. (Sidenote: I was in therapy at the time that last one happened and I told my therapist the story and he LAUGHED. Are they allowed to do that?)
The fact that I can’t shake life’s embarrassing moments is, I think, a huge part of why I don’t like to be social. Social events, from my perspective, are just long hours of potential pitfalls, with infinite ways to put your foot in your mouth. I have never left a party without feeling like I’ve said or done a number of stupid things. And I have–I say and do stupid things all the time. The thing is–and I know this intellectually–so do other people. The difference is, it doesn’t seem to bother them the way it does me. I’ve seen other people call acquaintances by the wrong names, inquire after the health of dead parents, spill things, say mean things, say wrong things, mispronounce words, and so on–and they all seem to survive these moments with their self-esteem and confidence intact.
Me? I feel uncomfortable and insecure just watching that sort of thing. Like in some way it’s my fault.
I’d like to have a thicker skin but, let’s face it–if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s probably not going to happen. Maybe I’m slightly better than I was when I was younger. Like the thing today, when I thought the woman was talking to me? Eh, I’m over that one. Honest mistake. No biggie.
But I can still remember back in first grade, waving and calling to my brother who was wearing his fringed Davy Crockett leather jacket . . . and he turned around and it wasn’t my brother, it was another boy in a fringed Davy Crockett leather jacket. I wanted to sink into the ground. I wanted to die.
And look–forty years later, I can still remember that moment.
So I think that must mean I’ve gotten better. No way I’ll be remembering today’s little incident in forty years.
Unless I do.
I probably will.