Raise Your Hand if You Feel Awkward Right Now

They tell me that experience is the most brutal of teachers.

I agree, but I don’t want to talk about that today. Today I want to talk about experience being that teacher that is awkward and makes you slightly uncomfortable, but is also hilarious in an understated way. You know, like the male teacher who freezes and turns crimson whenever someone yells “tampon!” (Maybe this didn’t take place as often for most people as it did for me, but I digress…) Today I want to share some of the weirdest, most uncomfortable experiences that have turned out to serve as great pearls of wisdom in my life.

Why Confidence Wins Every Time: When the neighbouring community built an indoor leisure centre, friends and I would spend most of our free time hanging out there. “Romance” would bloom over greasy french fries and sweaty hand holding at local hockey games. The pool had a water slide, and if you put all of these components together, you have a twelve-year-old kid’s Shangri-la. I remember one particular afternoon after swimming, sitting in the change room waiting for my friends to finish stuffing their bras and applying the mascara I wasn’t allowed to wear yet. I was feeling ugly, jealous and petty. I heard a grunt and looked over to find a middle-aged woman completely nude on the bench next to me. I had no idea what to do or say, so I just did the awkward turtle and moved my shoulders around a lot. I kept thinking “Should I leave? Does she want privacy? Am I creepy for sitting here? I should leave. No, wait. That seems rude. That might make her think that she is making me uncomfortable.” I settled on staring at the ground, watching her out of my peripherals. She was a large woman, covered in stretch marks and sporting undergarments that would make a nun chuckle. She did not look up even one time; she didn’t seem to notice my presence at all. Out of nowhere, two tall, beautiful twenty-somethings in a bikinis floated (yes, floated, beautiful people seemed to defy gravity in my adolescent mind) past, one muttering “Take that shit somewhere else.” A wave of pity and embarrassment for the woman washed over me then, and I stared at the ground even harder. I couldn’t believe it when I heard her call “Do you have something you’d like to say to me?” Fuck looking down, this was an invitation to a party where shit was about to get real! The two women stopped and gave each other a shockingly ugly expression of what I can only assume was horror. The beautiful blonde replied “Um, no.” and they continued to float. Nude Lady wasn’t having it, though. She stormed up to the duo and said “Listen, perky tits, when you get to be my age and realize what’s truly important, you’ll be sad that you didn’t have it in you to let those perky tits of yours hang out while you still had ’em. Take your friend and your tramp stamp and get out of my face.” Perky Tits and her friend walked away defeated, and Nude Lady went back to putting on her bra. That’s the day I stopped seeing beautiful people floating above ground in my head. I left that change room hoping that I had the balls to be half the woman Nude Lady was.

Why Being Kind Matters: One day in what I believe was fourth grade, I was walking through the halls of my elementary school, about to go stand in the washroom and pretend that I was peeing to avoid math. I had learned that if I dragged my hand along the railing and pretended to walk like I was a piece of spaghetti there and back, I could shave a solid 15 minutes off of that horrendous class. So, there I was, walking like spaghetti and minding my own business when I was abruptly pulled into a hug by a crying woman who I did not know. In between sobs, she told me that she was so thankful for her daughter having a friend at this new school and that she’d heard all about me. When she pulled away and saw my confused expression, she asked if my name was Alyssa. I awkwardly informed her that it was not. She ruffled my hair and walked away looking horrified. Although I was shaken, I was sort of wishing that I was Alyssa, because I hadn’t ever been so warmly embraced for doing nothing before. I wanted adults to weep over my kind gestures, too. Later on I saw this in a less narcissistic light, of course, and I finally understood that small expressions of love may not feel like much effort in the making, but could be the band-aid on the wounded heart of somebody else. Important stuff. Kudos to you, Alyssa, whoever you are!

Why Patience is a Virtue: This is a two-in-one. I was in my doctor’s office recently, and I was not having a fantastic time. The waiting room was jam-packed, every seat filled by a rump. I think it’s a general rule that people feel more comfortable ripping a fart when there’s that many other people in the room that could be blamed for it, so there was a lot of that going on, as well as incessant chatter from the two women on either side of me. One was very upset, and the other was trying to comfort her. The only problem here is that they would put their arms around each other sort of over top of me. I asked numerous times if they’d like me to move so that they could sit side by side, they said no and looked annoyed that I would interrupt or eavesdrop on a conversation that I was literally in the middle of. Farts. Coffee breath. Crying. NO. I stood up and told them that I wanted one of their seats because they were driving me crazy. They looked hurt, and everyone in the room became quiet and looked at me like I was an asshole, which I did not understand. That same day I went into the grocery store, looking for something that I can’t recall now. Apparently I couldn’t recall then, either, because when I asked one of the young stock boys about it, I had totally forgotten what I was looking for. The voices got really, really loud and then I started crying. While I was crying, I picked up a  honeydew melon and shook it out of frustration. When it still wouldn’t come to me and the discomfort of the situation became too much, I left the store. Later on, I remembered the two women I had raised my voice to, and remembered that they, too, were struggling with something that I didn’t know anything about. I remembered the stock boy, and how even though I was crying and grunting and shaking that melon, he didn’t become edgy or irritated. He didn’t ask me if I was crazy, and didn’t interrupt me at all except to ask what I can only assume was “Are you alright?” I learned (and I’m still learning) that I don’t have to understand everything. What I must do is understand that if I want people to be patient on my way to figuring it out, I have to do the same for them, even if I DO find them insufferable.

So there it is: Experience, the most awkward of teachers.The most wise and weird and beautiful and awful of teachers. I suppose, if we must shake melons and walk like spaghetti and see other people naked, we must at least be able to tell a great tale as a result.

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