I know, given my charming personality, that it is difficult to believe that I had very few friends in elementary, middle, and the beginning of high school. I was very large, my hair was very permed, and I had severe acne. I had several pairs of pleated pants, which I often wore with polo shirts and high top tennis shoes. I also had crippling social anxiety and terrible social skills. I rarely spoke, and when I did speak, it was always to say something fairly strange. I also had a fierce temper. When provoked, I would retaliate, and I got into many fist fights as a result. It was all really very pleasant.
Given all of this, I wasn’t invited to many parties. But one day, Jennifer, a girl at my bus stop, invited me to her birthday party. She was fairly popular, at least in my opinion. By fairly popular, I mean that she had friends.
I thought very hard about what to buy her for her birthday. It had to be cool. Very cool. I thought Spencer’s was a very cool place to shop, and so I wandered the aisles of whoopie cushions and sexual innuendo and finally decided on a necklace that said, “Bitch.” It was edgy. It was gold-plated. It was definitely cool. I purchased this necklace with my babysitting money and confidently strode out of the mall.
When I got to the party, I was happy to discover that Doritos were present, but I also realized that at parties you have to talk to people. I started panicking, which, for me, is always accompanied by profuse sweating. I told her I had to get going, and I started for home. I remember the enormous relief of stepping outside alone, the pressure of coming up with something to say dissolving instantly. It may have briefly crossed my mind that she might take the gift the wrong way, but mostly, I still believed she would think the necklace, like me, was incredibly cool.
Things did not go well at the bus stop the next day, and, because I am dumb, it took me almost a year to figure out why. Jennifer believed that I was calling her a bitch. Because of course she would. I gave her a necklace that said “Bitch.” What else was she supposed to think? She did not think I was very cool.
I still think back on this event and cringe.
There are several other horrifying and embarrassing things I said and did in high school, but eventually I started making friends, stopped perming my hair, and ditched the pleated pants. I tried to learn from the people around me. The social skills started coming along, but there were still huge mistakes.
In college, I was a little drunk at a party, and someone made the mistake of asking me about my thesis. And I told him about it. Oh, did I tell him about it. For something like an hour, maybe two hours. Maybe more. Because he was too nice, he kept asking follow-up questions, and I kept right on talking. I was so silent in high school that the pendulum swung much too far in the other direction. Once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. (See also: this blog.) And I still think about that poor, kind guy and how I ruined this party for him. I had hoped I would never see him again, just like I have never seen Jennifer again.
I thought about sending him a message the other day, just to say, “Hey, I’m sorry I seemed so crazy all of those years ago. Really, I’m not crazy. See? Look, I’m super normal. And nice. And not weird at all. Well, a little weird, but not weird, weird.” But I thought the message might have the opposite effect, and I am guessing he has no interest in wasting more minutes on me talking at him.
Social media means that we can’t say and do horrifying, embarrassing things when we are young and never see those people again. I take comfort in the fact that social networks didn’t exist back then, not to the extent they do now. (Friendster doesn’t count.) And to those of you who see me embarrass myself now, and there are many of you, it used to be so much worse. Be glad you know me now. Yes, I still overshare and say strange, inappropriate things, but at least I’ve stopped perming my hair. That’s a start.