It’s the dreaded and inevitable question of Day 1 of the Corporate Team-Building Event.
Clad in your best rendition of “business-casual” (no one looks good in khakis), uncomfortably shifting in an equally uncomfortable chair, and pretending to be fascinated by the pastel artwork of the drab conference room, you’re surrounded by a group of humorless co-workers chowing down on stale bagels and tepid orange juice. It’s not exactly the ideal environment for revealing the worst day of your life. Besides, you already have a feeling that Herb in Accounting’s most humiliating moment will haunt your dreams.
A blog, on the other hand, is a perfect space for reminiscing about traumatizing memories. For most people, these shudder-inducing moments involved copious amounts of alcohol and the resulting shenanigans.
Sadly, I can’t blame anyone or anything but myself and gravity for the story I am about to relate. But this tale does prompt a variation of an age-old question: When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Or rather, can you be completely humiliated by an event that happens to you if no one is around to see it?
For most of my college years, I rocked knee-high boots with a 6-inch+ heel. I trekked all over campus in these beauties (which probably explains my current chronic knee injury more accurately than my classic excuse of “I run too much”). At 5’2 3/4″, these boots added a lot to my image, literally. Upon review, this look was rather vampy for a conservative Southern college, but all the ladies wore them. Maybe the boots compensated for my frumpy skirts – I hadn’t yet discovered the magic of tailoring, and my Herve Leger Bandage Dress Fund only contained $13.27. And let’s be honest, I needed some generosity in my garments to forgive
infrequent late-night carb binges.
One bright and sunny day, clad in an unflattering skirt and my sassy boots, I strode across campus confidently. Just like any other day. Or so I thought.
I had to make a quick stop at Student Accounts to pick up my meager student paycheck. The office was located at the bottom of a steep set of stairs. I wasn’t a stranger to stairs and neither were my boots. We always took the stairs between classes together.
To this day, I still don’t know what happened. If my life depended on it, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
I have a distinct memory of being at the top of the stairs.
And then I was completing a quick succession of somersaults down the stairs at a pace that would shame Gabby Douglas into giving me her gold medal. You know that cute little catch phrase “head over heels”? The literal version isn’t so sweet. I was a human slinky, desperately clawing at the handrail, the stairs, and the wall in a futile attempt to slow my rapid descent.
I eventually sprawled to a stop two stairs from the bottom. Completely upside down. Face to the ceiling. Except that I couldn’t see the ceiling because – my skirt was completely over my head. And this wasn’t “tights & leggings” season, if you get my drift. (Obviously, if I had been wearing a bandage dress, this never would have happened.)
I laid there, stunned like those adorable baby birds that fly into high-rise windows and knock themselves senseless. I may have blacked out.
After rousing myself, I tried to scramble to my feet, not an easy feat when upside.down.on.a.staircase.with.a.piece.of.cloth.over.your.head. Apparently gravity can be kind of a jerk. I could only flop awkwardly in a seal-like manner until I was lying sideways across the stairs and could frantically restore my skirt to its proper position.
At this moment I became aware of the sensation of pain. Everywhere. And an inexplicable yet strong desire to just give up and lie there indefinitely.
But, through the haze, I realized that a true miracle had happened. There were no witnesses. Somehow, in that notoriously congested stairwell, all foot traffic had ceased for a brief moment in time and not one soul had observed the (potentially) most mortifying moment of my life.
That’s an undeniable gift from heaven. Which quickly spurred me into action.
Through a series of crablike motions, I finally managed to prop myself up against the stairs. I was in the midst of attempting to stand up when a fellow co-ed burst through the doors and said “Oh my gosh, are you ok?” Oh honey. If you only knew.
I delivered an Oscar-worthy performance of nonchalance and sheepishness, acting as if I had just experienced a silly stumble UP the stairs. After she continued on her merry way, I took a deep breath and turned for my second attempt at navigating the evidently treacherous route. After all, I still needed my paycheck.
Every movement was excruciating. Apparently my legs had caught on fire within my flammable boots during my initial descent. Gotta love pleather.
I hobbled into the Student Accounts office, whimpering to myself. The grandmotherly woman at the front desk gave me such a kindly look that I nearly burst into full tears but I allowed myself only a half-sob disguised as awkward laughter.
Clutching my paycheck, I limped back to my dorm to nurse my wounds (clearly I would not be attending class). And wounds I had. It’s amazing what a staircase can do to you.
To return to the question I posited at the beginning of this already-too-lengthy story, I would answer “yes.”Yes, you can feel like an utter fool, even if no one else is around to make you feel that way. You can actually be embarrassed at yourself, by yourself. I’m sure that my therapist best friend could provide a thorough analysis (to clarify, she was my best friend and then became a therapist, it wasn’t that she was my therapist and therefore my
only best friend…).
If you haven’t yet experienced this phenomenon personally, I can assure you that your time will come. And I’d love to hear about it when it does.