There’s something daunting when writing about yourself. Not that it is hard to crack open your chest cavity and expose your gross pulsating parts to the world. As a writer, I do that all the time. That’s what creating story is, taking what you’ve learned about the world through your experiences and wrapping it in the skins of fictional characters. But there’s this pressure when you’re not hiding behind the darling faces of the characters that you have the power to save or destroy.
When you’re writing plainly about yourself, the pressure to make the story good rises to a whole new level. You set yourself on the operating table and begin to dismember. How can I make this part look better? Would this look better here? Perhaps a little bit of the skin of my thigh would look better on my cheek? You feel compelled to make yourself look shinier or more tragic or more charming than you really are. Because this is you, so if someone hates it or thinks it’s boring, it’s like they’re saying they hate you or think you are boring. You have no characters to hide behind. But that’s just ego speaking. The truth is if you just quit striking poses that make you look more awkward than a newborn giraffe, your story would probably play out just fine. Assuming you’ve picked the correct story for the correct time.
Is this a now story?
A story that’s been traveling its way to your fingertips your entire life and is finally ready to be told right…
Let’s find out.
When I was eleven years old my father took my brother and I to a water park. Actually my entire family went, but my little brother and sister were off with my mom in some different part of the park, enjoying the more tame kiddie sections. They were cute and little like that then. Actually, they’re still cute and little like that to me, even though one is a foot taller than me and the other is a legal adult. But I digress.
Towards the middle of the day my father, brother and I approached a water slide with some name along the lines of “The Wet Wicked Wedgify-er!” It was yellow and had a steep decline that ended in a long runway, presumably because the momentum from the slide was so great it needed to give the rider extra space to slow down. A belly churn shook the frame of my preteen body. I looked over at my brother who was still wet from the last ride. He looked up at the slide in glee and then looked down at me. “Come on, let’s go,” he sneered, knowing I was probably afraid to board. I glared at his tan back as he trotted up to the long line. Instinctively, I reached up to touch my father’s forearm, in protest or for support, I didn’t know. “Come on, Lady,” he said with no malice in his voice. I let go of his arm and quite literally hitched up my britches, except they were swimming bottoms. I was Amazon warrior of the Florida Scrub. No banana looking thing was gonna scare me. I power-walked ahead of my father to catch up with my brother.
Thankfully, the line moved pretty quickly which gave little time for my Amazonian courage to wear off. When the long line finally snaked its way to the top I shivered at the top of the slide. There was a cool breeze chilling our wet bodies, but also I was still a little scared. My brother turned his ugly face around to grin at me before he pushed off and made his way down the steep slope. The person monitoring the slide made us stand so far behind the line that I wasn’t able to watch him go down. Of course, I’d been watching riders scream with glee as they fell the whole time we made our way up the steps anyway, but watching one more guinea pig plummet down would have been helpful.
Luckily it wasn’t a single rider so I would be able to ride with my father. The teenager at the slide handed us the mat we would be riding down on. Suddenly I was questioning the physics of it all. That flimsy thing is supposed to protect us? Was this slide really mechanically sound? What if the weight of my heavy father combined with the stick thin weight of myself created an aerodynamic anomaly and flipped us right off the slide into the soggy pavement below?
I felt my father nudge me forward. I almost glared at him as I thought, “Don’t rush me!” but I complied. Jets of water tickled my ankles as I stood at the top of the slide, taking in one more deep breath. We positioned ourselves on the mat, heavier person in back, lighter person in the front, which meant of course that I had no one to cling to. I promised myself to keep my eyes open as we inched our way to the edge of the precipice.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” I whispered. Maybe this was what people standing on the ledge of a building felt like. Before I had time to explore that thought further, my father pushed off.
I felt like the character Wiley Coyote when he realizes he’s been so preoccupied with chasing Roadrunner that he’s sprinted over a cliff. Maybe if I pump my legs fast enough I’ll get back on land, he thinks. Maybe if I hold my breath tight enough I’ll float back to the top of the slide, I thought.
It was over so much faster than the time it had taken to begin. The initial drop made me feel my stomach in my throat, but once we reached terminal velocity it was coasting all the way down. The way our feet scooped the water in front of us and jettisoned it into the air made it look like we were a fountain. The ride held true to its name. My bathing suit had been pushed all the way up my butt like someone had given me the wickedest wedgie. I practically felt it in my brain.
Aside from this poignant discomfort, my body was thrilled with the experience it had just been through. Adrenaline pumped through my body and trilled with bells of excitement.
“Let’s do it again!” I shouted. I jumped up from the foam mat and attempted to pull my father to a standing position. Of course, I wasn’t strong enough. “Come on, Daddy!”
I greeted my brother with a full-toothed smile as we approached where he stood in the waiting area. My eyes must have disappeared into the creases of my smile lines, the way they do when I am especially happy. To my surprise he was not wearing his usual sneer. He grinned back at me and, could it be?…He almost seemed proud.
“That was awesome!” I shouted.
“Let’s do it again,” he replied.
We must have ridden it at least three more times after that. Each time I had the same result. A rush of excitement in my stomach and an unwelcome sensation between my cheeks. When it came about maybe the fourth time, I decided to voice this information aloud.
“I have a humungous wedgie!” I chortled loud enough for everyone in the waiting area to hear. I looked back at my father expecting him to be chuckling along with me. Instead, he sported a peculiar look and avoided my eyes. This confused me.
“It’s like all the way up my butt hole!” I exclaimed, turning to my brother for confirmation that this was hilarious. He avoided my eyes too.
“Lady, shh. That’s not something you say out loud,” my father informed me.
I rolled that around in my head for a few seconds. I guessed it sort of made sense, but I didn’t see what the big deal was, considering the slide had the word wedgie in the title. A funny thing happened then. I noticed all the people close enough to have heard my exclamation. They were giving us furtive glances. Some were looking at me with eyebrows raised and some of them were giggling, but not in a friendly way.
“What?” I thought to myself. “What are they looking at?”
I was a bit perplexed.
Were people really that touchy about such a naturally silly phenomenon? I became self conscious. Even my father seemed embarrassed. He seemed to keep a measured distance from me for a while. My cheeks flushed with heat. In my head, it was just me and my family in our own little world. I hadn’t given much thought to what other people around me might think. It didn’t seem especially pertinent. It was strange to see that reaction from family. I said stuff like that around them all the time, but suddenly now that we were in public it was a big deal. I felt a little betrayed.
My brother kept shaking his head like he thought I was an idiot. I wanted to sock him in the mouth for looking so condescending. Instead I opted for a pointed question, having measured the fact that my fists had proven ineffectual on him before. Plus, I needed intel on this frustrating situation.
“What?” I glared at him, hopping in front of him so he had to stop in his tracks. “What’s the big deal?”
He maneuvered around me and mumbled something along the lines of “Seriously?”
I watched him and my father walk on ahead of me without having answered my question. I think what struck me the most was that my father actually seemed ashamed of me. I watched him as he looked surreptitiously around to see if anyone was still staring in our direction. I understood that what I had said had been a little uncouth, but I didn’t think it would have such a negative affect on the way my family felt about me. I think that was one of the first times I realized how differently I viewed the world from others. People seemed to get touchy and embarrassed about things I deemed inconsequential. And when I felt like it was a time they really should be embarrassed, like if they hadn’t tried their best at something or bothered to think about the obvious consequence of an action, they seemed to get around it with social maneuvering. This really annoyed me. Actually, it still does.
My brother and father didn’t ignore me the rest of the time we were at the park or anything dramatically harsh. But I had taken a step back inside myself, and was hyperaware of my interactions with people the rest of the day. Even if what they considered important I didn’t consider consequential myself, I still acutely felt the affects of their opinion. Opinions didn’t matter to me until it started to affect the opinions of people close to me, people I valued. Even if I still thought what they were thinking was stupid. I think I began to view the world a bit differently that day.