To the amazement of people who know me now, I was shy in high school. No, really. And those of you who know me, well, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop rolling your eyes.
I think my shyness was a combination of general teenaged low self-esteem, a few factors better left for a therapist with a good sense of humor to hear about, and most of all, being the brand-new kid in school. Suffice it to say, I had just one goal in life—to blend into the woodwork, drawing as little attention to myself as possible.
Let me tell you how well that worked out.
One day, in freshman biology, the class was watching a movie. I was sitting in the very back row of the room, when I began to feel a sneeze coming on. It was one of those comes-from-a-far-away-place kind of sneezes, building very slowly, taking its own sweet time in getting there.
Now, normally, I would have done everything within my power to have squelched it. I mean, God Forbid anybody should hear me sneeze and possibly look my direction. What could be more mortifying than that? Well, I’m glad you asked…
At first, I tried to fight the damn off, but then I thought, “Wait a minute… the room is dark. Everybody is busy watching the movie. When better to sneeze? Nobody will even pay any attention to me.”
So, instead of fighting it, I surrendered to the impulse. A tingling sensation took hold in my nostrils. My eyes half-closed. I did that involuntary intake-of-breath that accompanies a sneeze. I opened my mouth.
“Aaaaa…” I said softly. “”AaaaAAAAHHH…” I repeated, a little bit louder. “AaaaaaaaHHHHHHHHH…!” I said in a low, sustained groan. And then…
The sneeze went away. I was left with nothing to show for all that build-up.
As one, the entire class of thirty students and the teacher turned around in the semi-darkness to stare at me, sitting in the back of the room, making what sounded for all the world like little orgasmic noises.
And I stared back at them, at a complete loss for what to do or say. How do you explain something like that, especially when you are a pimply-faced sixteen year-old newcomer?
So I said nothing. I’m sure my mouth flapped open two or three times, but no words came out. Gradually, everyone turned around once again, ostensibly to resume watching the movie, although I am willing to bet not a one of them paid even the slightest attention to anything happening on the screen. Instead, they were trying to imagine—or not imagine—what had been happening ten feet behind them for the past few minutes.
I try hard not to have many regrets in this life. But even now, I do wish I could go back and explain to that teacher and those kids just what was happening that day.
Also, I haven’t been able to enjoy a good sneeze ever since.