I thought that I would write about my most embarrassing moment in life and then decided against it. That specific moment included the realization that I have an intense fear of heights when I’m hanging from a suspended pole hundreds of feet in the air. I’ll tell that story publicly when I can be honest; more authentic.
This story, however, happens on the ground. I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old. Patty was my best friend. We did everything together. We were in band, drama club, and clown ministry together. We finished homework together, went to church together, curled each other’s hair – big bangs! We shared clothes and make up and had so many sleepovers. We learned all the lyrics and dance moves to NKOTB (90’s reference) and fantasized about Mark and Joey. We knew how to have a good time together. I mean a really good time. We once spent an afternoon playing kiddie pool Frisbee. We would take a kiddie pool with about a half gallon of water in it and then sling that thing across the backyard towards each other. The goal was to catch the kiddie pool Frisbee without getting wet as the water sloshed around after the catch. What made it even funnier was her three dogs would chase the “Frisbee” as well. This silliness was our pastime and it was awesome.
Patty’s father was a Colonel in the Navy and worked at the Army base hospital. He was a drunk and verbally abusive to her. This made it even easier for us to find reasons to be silly together and escape. One of our escapes was shopping (no surprise there). Living in Hinesville, Georgia provided very little opportunity to do the appropriate teenage shopping every sixteen year old deserves, but we made the best of it. We incorporated guy watching by going to the Army base and perusing whatever might be in store for us at the Post Exchange (PX), including the young government issued guys (GI Joes). Yummy!
So, on this particular day in the middle of a hot Georgia summer, we decided to make ourselves look good (big bangs) and head on over to the PX. We parked and began to walk into the store. I knew I looked good and smelled good and felt good. There’s this theory I learned about years later in college psych class about teenage invincibility. I was proving that theory on this day. I. WAS. A. SUPERSTAR.
We walked towards the door; Patty and me, me and Patty.
The next sequencing of events was choreographed like a Janet Jackson music video minus the finesse. It went something like this:
Step 1 – Tango with big blob of gum. Without looking, as I was too busy worried about who was looking at me, I stepped on a large piece of Hubba Bubba, nasty, sticky, hot lump of gum. It stuck.
Step 2 – Tap dance with the large welcome mat at the front door. This is the choreographed sequence where I met my dance partner – the mat. Somehow the gum was the perfect consistency to attach to my shoe, which was attached to my body with perfect cohesion to the corner of the large plastic rectangular “WELCOME” mat. We were the perfect couple, “Mat” and me with a love bond of stringy, sticky gum.
Step 3 – “Mat” tried to lead me through a step ball change, but instead he brought me to my knees. I fell to the floor. This was not rehearsed. As I fell, another dance partner entered the scene. The corner of the mat was right next to the small cylinder trash can.
Step 4 – Cylinder can enters into a graceful free spin as it rolls out passed the sidewalk, passed quite a few people and into the parking lot. I watched while I was still on my knees. The base of the can rolled to the right and littered pieces of trash as it gently rolled away. The top of the can holding kitty litter and cigarette butts rolled to the left, leaving a trail of gray pebbles and used up cancer sticks.
I looked up and made eye contact with a few folks. Superstar status depleted.
Patty..? Where was Patty? Patty was watching the entire time and with uncontrollable laughter from a safe distance. She walked over to me and helped me up. She made it okay for me to laugh at myself and we proceeded to walk in to the PX to implement more silliness.
I think this moment will always stand out for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, in just mere seconds, I went from total invincibility to hanging out with some already been chewed gum on the ground. It was a humbling life lesson. It is also one of the few memories I still have of Patty. After graduation, she joined the Navy and was very disappointed to be medically discharged. Three years after high school and before any of us had really experienced adult life hers was taken away due to complications from Epilepsy. It was too soon. She left me with so many humorous memories and most importantly the reminder to not take things so seriously, including tap dancing with a cigarette butt can as well as myself.