In my past life, I was prone to mishaps, clumsy, and consistently surrounded by a cloud of chaos. All around terribly uncool.
I grew up in a very small town – Berlin, New Hampshire, which for those of you who don’t know, is basically Canada. Since it was a small town, my middle school was pretty small – the 5th and 6th grade wing on one side, and on the other – 7th and 8th grade. Since it was such a small school – it’s not like the wings of the school were miles apart, but the two wings of the school were connected by our gym.
In my head now, not having been there in probably 20 years, it was ginormous. I’m sure it is actually a TEEENY TINY gym. The 5th and 6th graders were still in the world of having an entire day with one teacher, but the 7th and 8th graders were in the world of seven periods. The world of periods was a big deal. Just BEING in 7th or 8th was a big deal too. They were super mature. They had much cooler clothes, they got to go to dances at the rec, and they had RELATIONSHIPS. Sure, I was most likely in my first relationship at the time, but we didn’t have a RELATIONSHIP like the 7th and 8th graders did. It was like they were adults.
Anyway, I can’t remember much of the day outside of what was to happen in the 10 minute period I describe below, but I’m sure it was just a regular day. I was walking down the stairs with gal pal Crystal Kearns, and we were at the very top. There were – are – about 15 to 20 steps that open up into the gym.
There they were.
The 8th grade boys.
Gathered at the bottom of the stairs, joking around, because it was the end of one of their fancy periods and they were about to part ways to jaunt off to the next class. In my head, they were all really good looking and smart, possibly soon to be George Clooney types, or Brad Pitt? At the time, I’m sure my comparison was more like Kirk Cameron or Jordan Knight, but whatever, roughly the same rugged good looks, no? Anyway, I turned to Crystal to tell her something, in an attempt to look cool.
When I did – I believe I lost the ability to measure where the next step was. The steps are all the same distance apart, but in my attempt to look cool, I lost myself in the moment. And the next moment, my head was hitting the step two steps down. And then my head was hitting the step 5 steps down. In between that, I *think* some part of the lower half of my body may have hit the step 3 or 4 steps down. Because I was somersaulting. Somersaulting down the steps, very loudly, in the middle of the gym. I landed in a HEAP, at the bottom, at the VERY SPOT that allowed me to look up at the incredibly hot group of 8th grade boys, while Ms. Lawton, the gym teacher, LEAPED across the gym yelling ARE YOU OKAY ERIN???
Sometimes, when I try to think of my earliest memory – this is what I think of. Not because it is, in fact, my earliest memory – but because it’s the first time I remember being mortified, and because it was the beginning of a long career of mortification.
When I was 11 – I started my period for the first time – wearing white shorts and only realizing it had happened when one of the boys, after soaking me with a water gun, asked why my shorts were pink.
When I was 13, the junior high principal walked into my classroom holding a beautiful suede coat with a super long maxi pad with wings hanging out of it and asking whose it might be, and I couldn’t crouch down quickly enough before one of the boys pointed to me.
When I was 14, having just begun my freshman year of high school, my parents announced we were leaving the small town I grew up in and moving to Dover New Hampshire – which, when you grow up in a small town that far north – well, they may as well have announced that we were moving to New York City.
When I showed up on the first day of school, I was wearing an off-white leotard, skin-tight light green jeans, and a vest with a country scene on it – like, a fence and some birds or something – and to top it off, ankle boots that had the shape of a horseshoe on the bottom. Like, mini cowboy boots.
Looking back, I can see clearly that I looked really, really bad. At the time, though – I thought I was ON POINT. Solid. Best. Outfit. Ever. The entire thing had cost a total of like $11.50 at Macy’s – a fact I didn’t shy away from telling anyone who would listen.
In addition to being new (and incredibly uncool), what was new to me, at the time – was band. I’d grown up playing piano and flute – and loved being in the band in Berlin. Everyone was in band. You just did it. It had no social connotation. In Dover though, it immediately put you in geek status. I didn’t have a choice though – in addition to the lack of choice I had in the move in general, being part of the band wasn’t something my parents would budge on. I played the flute – and since you couldn’t play the flute and march, I had to play the piccolo – which I hated. So instead of switching to an instrument that was perhaps easy to carry – being inclined to disaster – I switched to bass drum.
In case anyone is unclear, bass drum doesn’t instantly shoot you to prom queen.
And as much as I’d like to believe I was completely fine being a total geek – I wasn’t. Like every other high school person – or at least, those of us that were not prom queens – it was tough. I felt uncomfortable in my body. My skin was horrible – it was either oily or flaking off from overdosing on Clearasil. I sweat in places I didn’t know how to combat – and to top it all off, I got braces – when everyone else was getting theirs off.
But bass drum.
It was marching band – so wool uniforms, feathers out of our hats – everything. With a bass drum.
When I initially took on the bass drum, though – I wasn’t all that good at it. Or rather – I wasn’t that good at walking with it. I don’t know if I was ever good at it, but especially in the beginning.
Also – being the classic geek – I had a classic crush on one of the football players.
I’m here, and I’m pretty sure he’s finishing up a sentence in the Dover prison, so you could say it worked out okay for me, but at the time I would have died to talk to him. I would have died if he just acknowledged my existence on the planet, of course. He did, though – when he drove by the parking lot we were practicing our moves in at the EXACT time that I was tripping in my roll step, landing on stop of my bass drum, and slowly rolling over. I know he was driving by, because he and the rest of the football players in the car yelled out ALRIGHT LAPLANTE! and beeped the horn as it happened.
There were more bass drum incidents – three, maybe four – to the point that when I passed out during the memorial day tribute at the cemetary in Dover, my mother – perhaps 500 feet away, watching, knew it was me that went down.
It continued, for most of my adult life.
One time, deciding to clean out my car one summery Saturday morning at the gas station, I accidentally caught my skirt in the vacuum – exposing my heart covered underwear to the entire parking lot – and the employees at Mr. Mike’s Mobile ON THE RUN had to come out and turn the machine off to get it out.
I have been bruised up one side and down the other. I have shown my naked ass to more people – without purpose – than I can count because of a gust of wind on a spring day, or shoes that were too small for me tripping me up, the result of which was my face hitting the pavement and the contents of my purse being flung out for the entire city to see.
Had all of these things happened to anyone other than me, they would have been the same as what they were for me – embarrassing. But what I did with them was build my life around this girl – this clumsy, not totally aware, always caught in some kind of mishap girl – because I told and retold these stories enough so that even when I was prepping for this evening, they came back to me easily.
And one day – after I’d done one of these things – one of these embarrassing things – or something a little notsosmart – a friend of a friend – a woman who had never even met me, upon hearing one of these stories, commented, “Typical Erin” with a roll of her eyes. And that’s what it became. Each one of these little stories – between my friends and me – was that – typical.
And although – through the chaos – I’ve managed to create a life that’s (seemingly) successful, whenever something like this would happen – I’d add another chapter into my long life of embarrassing moments. Tell another story over cocktails to coworkers. Use one of these moments to make a close friend laugh after she had a bad day. But it morphed into something else – my overall reputation of being clumsy, or not so put together – or a little chaotic in general.
And eventually – one of these friends, that happened to continually be on the opposite end of my stories, told me to start writing them down. All the time actually. She never let up. So I did. And I started a blog, and began sharing them with other people.
And what I found, was therapy I never knew I needed – support I didn’t know I had – an outlet that has been unbelievably fulfilling. Because although initially – I wrote about these stories to make people laugh – what ended up happening is that I could let it go. And once I had gotten through all of the stories of my past, I started writing down what was happening every day. And it wasn’t always embarrassing, or chaotic, it was just life. And most of the time – when I was writing something, I’d be nervous to hit ‘publish’ because I’m honest, and open – and that is a very vulnerable place to be. Like – telling people about my daughter finding my vibrator under my pillow last week, and asking if it was a wine stopper. Or telling people about yelling at the top of my lungs at that same daughter – cursing her very existence, in the same moment I was wondering how I would live without her. And falling in love and breaking up and moving and fights with my lover and struggles with my friends. And love and love and love. And each time I told a story – I connected with someone over it. Because – it turns out – we are all the same! I know you all probably know that, but that’s what I get out of telling stories – a reminder that no matter what horrible or lovely or amazing or totally sucky or completely horrifying thing you are experiencing – or you have done – or you want to do – someone else out there is going through the same thing. (Even if they don’t admit it to you out loud.)
You are not alone, ever, ever ever ever. And in our heavily disconnected world – I find that incredibly comforting. That in this room – someone has had a moment like I told you about. Someone tripped over themselves and landed at Ryan McKay’s feet. Someone walked into a wall. Someone’s daughter found their vibrator. (maybe not?)
And I’m not clumsy anymore, or prone to mishaps, or chaos. Or at least, I’m not just that. I’m imperfect, yes – of course, but what I’ve learned to take from these moments is just that, it’s a moment to learn from – it doesn’t define me, anymore. It’s just a story to be told.