Everybody has a few painfully awkward memories. You know what I’m talking about. They’re those times you think about and feel a little flush in your cheeks. The kind of stuff you hope no one saw, or at least that no one remembers.
Looking back on my childhood, I can’t help but feel like the universe heaped a few extra on me. I was always an awkward kid–the tallest one in every class from Kindergarten to high school. When other kids were shedding their baby fat I seemed to pick up a little more every year until I was the tallest and the widest kid in every class picture. But wait, it gets better. Mix that combo of fat and tall with a love of Star Wars novels and you get yourself a real winner. Sad sight, right? From there, all you need is a sprinkle of puberty pimples to build yourself a real-life nerd.
Yep. Welcome to the best years of my life.
There’s one gem in particular from those years that stands out in my memory like no other. Actually, I just lied. There are a lot of memories that are equally bad, but I can’t stand the shame of spilling more than one at a time.
It was the summer between freshman and sophomore years and I was working on the campus of my Jesuit prep school to help cover tuition. Dave the groundskeeper had just sent all of us po’ students off for lunch, and being a socially awkward teen I needed to find somewhere private where I could munch on the P B & J my mom had packed for me. With only half an hour to eat I knew I had to be fast else I suffer the stinging wrath of Dave. I hoofed it across campus looking everywhere for a place to be alone, until I spotted a shady nook under the awning of the science building. Perfect, I thought. Save for a few lonely orange cones, the place was totally deserted. I broke into a trot, aiming to claim this new hiding place before anybody else showed up.
As I got about ten paces from the spot a very strange thing happened. I sunk. No, I don’t mean that I fell or anything like that. I mean I literally sunk. You see, someone had recently been doing a bit of concrete work near the shadowy spot I had my eye on. Unfortunately for me, whoever had laid the concrete had neglected to put any sort of barrier around their work. Apparently they’d thought that a trio or orange traffic cones was enough to deter people from stepping into three feet of wet cement. No one must have warned them that I’d be on campus that day.
Here’s where you’d think it couldn’t get any worse, and here’s where you’d be wrong.
Just as I stepped in the cement–I mean the very moment that my foot hit that pool of grey muck–the foreman of the concrete crew came back from his lunch. It should be easy for you to imagine his irritation at finding a giant teen stomping around in his fresh work. Dave showed up soon after and immediately assumed that I had done it on purpose. Really, Dave? Who would do that on purpose? Nevertheless, the school shot out an angry call to my mom, who I’m sure explained the problem with her son.
“No,” I imagine her saying. “He actually does this sort of thing all the time.”
Man, what a bummer that was.
But alas, it’s not all bad. Even though the stepping-in-wet-cement story didn’t come up until I we were already married–whew! dodged that bullet!–my other adventures in embarrassment actually paid off in the long run. On one of our first dates, my wife was actually impressed by my extensive knowledge of all the goings on in a galaxy far far away (everything post-Return of the Jedi, of course). She actually thought it was cool that I knew so much about a made-up place full of made-up people. Plus, without all those shameful moments of adolescent shenanigans I wouldn’t be able to write my characters into painfully embarrassing scenes–something I enjoy doing quite a bit. And who knows? Maybe stepping in wet cement will pay off one day. We are planning to have kids, and if they’re anything like I was then I know there is going to be some cheek-flushing experiences in their futures as well.