What’s your most embarrassing moment? I never had an answer to this question… until recently.
Don’t worry. The embarrassing thing happened years ago, five years ago, to be exact. But for some reason, the memory surfaced last week after years living in the dark depths of my subconsciousness. Apparently, it took five years for it to morph from the mortifying to simply the embarrassing, and perhaps (you can let me know) the slightly humorous.
Let’s step back into that moment in time, shall we?
It’s a warm Friday in the summer 2007, and soon-to-be seniors at West Point all clad in white, assembling for Ring Weekend. The pomp and circumstance is appropriately showy for the United States Military Academy putting on the last major milestone before the class of 2008 graduates. You see, on Ring Weekend cadets finally get a “crass mass of brass and glass” — a class ring. There’s a dinner, a dance, and all kinds of merriment that accompanies the weekend, and I’m here as the date of a great childhood friend.
But there is something on my mind other than the “cool jewel he got from his school.” A year earlier, my heart was broken for the very first time by a different cadet, my friend’s classmate. I could tell you all the horrid details of the break up, but it suffices to say– I am not looking forward to running into the ex this weekend. And I know it’s going to happen. I know he’ll have a different date. I know his parents will be here too. I’ve played through this moment every second since the day he told me he wasn’t in love.
The night of the dinner and dance arrive, everyone looks beautiful. There are long dresses, short dresses, updos, curled hair, shiny rings, cadets in uniform, marble floors, bartenders, a jazz band. The massive old building fills with milling people, all here to celebrate the accomplishments of a thousand young men and women on their way to graduation. And all I could think of was whether or not I was going to run into him.
I’m smiling and meeting my friend’s classmates, but always am on the lookout. I wonder who his date is, if she’s pretty, or really, if she’s prettier than me. We grab a beer and begin to walk up the wide stairs, heading for the dance floor. Holding a beer with one hand, and my dress away from my feet with the other, I carefully walk my heels up the steps. That’s when I hear my name. I pause before turning, and notice my own breathing. I turn, and there they all stand. His date. His mother. His father. My past. The rejection. My limbs go numb, and I smile, though I’m losing feeling in my extremities. I move my heavy feet a few steps down to see him eye to eye, and my beer trembles slightly within the grasp of five manicured fingertips. Surely he can’t see that tremor. I’m desperate to look calm.
We exchange niceties. I smile, laugh, pretend he didn’t crush my heart with ease. I say something about wanting to get back to my friend, and lie about it being nice to see everyone. It happens so quickly. By habit, I lean in to hug him, just as he reaches out a hand to shake mine. Its too late to pull back. His hand and my beer collide, throwing booze and my cool all over the floor. Everyone on the stairs looks in our direction, while I look down at sudsy pale ale and a reflection of my embarrassment.
There are paper towels, a few nervous chuckles, and finally, I turn and make it upstairs to the ladies room. No one there knows what I’ve just lived through, but it was finally over. I saw him. I will never see him again.
Writing it in present tense makes me feel like I just lived it all over again. HORRIBLE! Embarrassing. Humiliating. After writing it, I’m pretty sure it’s not that funny. But maybe reading it has brought a memory to mind of your own.
But seriously, have you ever had an awkward run-in with an ex?