We’ve all had that stomach-dropping moment when, looking maximally disgusting, we realize the person standing across from us went to the same high school as us. Terror sets in as it clicks that we cannot avoid the ‘summing up’ of our lives and what we have(n’t) made of ourselves. For me, this moment was proffered courtesy of an appointment with the cable company yesterday.
Now, the worst part wasn’t that I had failed to make it into the shower after my walk ... so it wasn’t my greasy face, the (likely) rank smell emanating from my body, the hideous workout garb, or my frizzy half-out ponytail. It wasn’t the blessing of a grotesque zit that had mysteriously appeared on my 31 year-old neck that morning (seriously, does it ever end?). I don’t even think it was the hundred additional pounds hanging from my once-cute little figure. Even the fact of living with my parents was not the most embarrassing aspect of the experience.
Although any one of the aforementioned circumstances was enough to humiliate the crap out of me, the worst part was something he didn’t know and couldn’t see. Totally internal.
As my mom proceeded to launch into her usual life-story-conversation-technique, he casually (or maybe braggingly) mentioned that he banked $60-70k a year doing installations. This is the pinnacle of disgrace, I thought to myself:
Him: self described “little punk” in high school, goof-off always running his mouth and getting into trouble, short for a guy, glasses. Bottom of the class.
Me: nerdy little teacher’s pet, never speaking out of turn, pulling in straight A’s and not so much as touching a cigarette or a can of beer. Top of the class.
Him: glasses are gone, tall, cute, nice guy. Upper middle class, three kids. Doing well for himself.
Me: not a pretty sight, obese. No boyfriend/husband/kids, broke, unemployed. Nothing going for her.
Undoubtedly, I shudder to think of his perception of me, or the offhand remark, “You’ll never guess who I ran into the other day” potentially unloaded from his lips at some point, with description to follow. Frightening. A million times worse: what I think of myself. When I reflect on all the things I could have done-been-had, I just want to crawl in a hole and die.
Amazingly, there are things I can do to top this feeling: I can look up the other salutatorians on facebook and puke over their Ivy League educations, aerospace engineering degrees, and wedding photos. I don’t even think it’s about envy, it’s more this sense that they’ve won, and I have lost. Even the people who didn’t even try, THEY won, too! The cable guy rubbed that in for me.
It’s not a competition, you say? Ahhhh, but it was for me. Ever since 5th grade when the chubby quiet girl beat the “smart boy” on a test, I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do just as well (ok, usually better) than anybody else. Was it ego, or just a big “F you!” to all the little bastards who used to make fun of me? I think I thought that, one day, ONE day, I was going to show all of them. I was going to work super hard and make something of myself and they could all go F themselves.
Some people would say, “Karma’s a bitch.” Except I didn’t do anything to anyone. People were cruel to me as a kid, and they’ve been cruel to me as an adult. It’s only life that’s a bitch.