Clearly I don’t have a problem embarrassing myself. I’ve spent a long lifetime becoming familiar, even comfortable, with a vibe of humiliation. I’ve worn my Dork like a badge of honor.
But I like to control how it goes down.
I tell the stories like I want to tell them. I laugh at myself when I think it’s worth laughing about. I like to control the release of my Dork and the intensity of the embarrassment that follows. When I lose control of either or both, all the pretty sheen wears away and the world is left with the nasty, corrosive interior of a cold, dead soul.
Don’t mess with me. Just let me do it my way.
One spring Friday night in 1996, we arranged to meet our core group of friends at our favorite restaurant, Vallarta’s. None of us had kids. It was just adult friends who had been hanging out since college. We had a table for 8 and wandered in slowly, following the hombre with the menus. It took them a moment to set the menus out and put chips on the table. When everything was set, we all went to a place at the table and sat down. In our chairs.
Everyone but me.
I did something a little different with this mundane exercise. I don’t know what went wrong but something desperately, dreadfully did. I went to sit down in my chair, same as everyone else had. We all had chairs. We had all been sitting in chairs our whole lives. And like my friends, I committed to this action with grace and comfort and 100% of my energy.
But not on a chair. Because I had no chair. I don’t know where my chair was. Definitely not where it should have been. Not where I predicted it to be. So all of my commitment to this rote activity went straight to the floor. I fell down 100% onto my tailbone on one square foot of the indoor/outdoor carpeted floor of that Mexican restaurant. I did not fall halfway. I fell all the way down.
That was bad enough.
Nobody missed that it happened. It doesn’t escape general notice when a 26-year-old woman falls down flat on her butt in the middle of a Friday night crowd. What happened next is what has launched this incident into eternal infamy in our core group of friends. I did not just get up quickly and quietly, locate my chair, and sit in it.
And you know what you do when you assume.
From my spot on my butt on the floor, I shouted out in a voice the entire restaurant heard, in three syllables and three separate musical notes “TODD!” It was a one-word lawsuit. A straight-up accusation. Right there, from the floor, I could not accept that I was stupid. That I was blind. That I had, like a person with zero functioning faculties, missed my chair with gusto and fallen without breaking that fall with anything. And because it COULD NOT have been my own stupid fault, I jumped to the only logical conclusion that existed in my mind: Todd pulled my chair out from under me as a joke.
Who does that?
No one beyond the age of 19 would do such a thing. None of the friends I was with that night would have sunk so low. Certainly not my own husband.
So not only was I on the floor, I had shamelessly and falsely and loudly attacked my poor, dear husband in front of everyone. How do you recover from that?
The answer is, you don’t. Not ever. It rears its ugly head multiple times over the course of 23 years and you have to ” ha ha” choke your way through someone’s retelling of that story. Again.
Last night, due to complicated family schedules, we found ourselves eating a quick family dinner at Hibachi Express. As Todd scurried around getting us forks and napkins and the kids were getting their drinks, my mind rushed to that night in Vallarta’s in 1996. I don’t know what triggered it but the memory played back behind my eyelids like a movie.
“Hey, I’m sorry about that night in Vallarta’s,” I said to Todd, casually. Nonchalantly. He almost spit out his drink laughing. And then the kids wanted to know what we were referring to.
So I told the story. With some commentary from him. The kids could not have loved it more. They loved it too much. It’s my story now, people. I control the embarrassment and the guilt of an apology that was 23 years overdue. And I’ve since learned to control the way I sit down. Salsa goes down smoother in a chair. Who knew.