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2002-07-18 - 2:11 p.m.

Writing Assignment: Write about ten minutes in your life that still have the power to make you cringe.

There are too many, I suppose, hundreds and hundreds of cringe-inducing minutes that I burrow away into the recesses of my mind almost immediately. I don’t want to remember those times, and only years of therapy would ever force me to talk about them. So let’s narrow this down a little, shall we? Take this past weekend, for example. There’s a cringe-worthy moment right there.

Friday evening. An invitation to a birthday party that I decided I should accept. Not that I wanted to accept, mind you, but I felt it would be good for me to go to a party in which I knew absolutely no one but the host. Expand my horizons. Conquer my social anxiety. Actually meet some new people for a change. First, I went swimming – 10 laps at Deep Eddy, and awkward conversation initiated by my unknown lane partner Mike, who may or may not have been chatting me up. I hoped he didn’t notice how hard it was to lift myself out of the water, my arms shaky after swimming that far. I was worried I wouldn’t quite make it out, but I did, overly conscious of the way my shapeless dripping surf shorts clung to my thighs. I’m always shaky after swimming – an odd exhaustion that soon transforms into elation, the swimmer’s equivalent to my usual runner’s high. The elation lasted through Whole Foods Market (after shopping at my usual coop, I’d forgotten that vegetables could be that bright, or piled that high), and making a salad for dinner, and the giddy decision that it wasn’t always necessary for me to take a shower after swimming. It had started to fade by the time I dressed for the party, and the anxiety kicked in halfway through the ten-block bike ride to the party. I found the apartment complex – and kept on riding, down the street to the nearest convenience store to buy a six-pack of beer. The clerk asked if I planned on drinking the entire six pack by myself, and all of a sudden, that seemed so appealing – sitting on my front porch, swatting at mosquitoes, slowly working my way through six cold cans of Tecate, finishing the stale cigarettes in a pack of American Spirits bought on a whim on vacation. I worked the beer into my bag, slung it over my shoulder, and pedaled back to the apartment complex, the beer unwieldy upon my back. Rather, I biked around the complex at least twice, and at one point actually stopped the bike on a dark side street, weighing the pros and cons of attending the party in my head.

PRO: I wouldn’t have to bike home with a six-pack of beer digging into my spine.

CON: Awkward conversation with complete strangers.

PRO: Possibility of good conversation with as of yet unidentified cute and eligible boy, leading to flirtatious glances and an exchange of email addresses.

CON: Can you even remember the last time that happened?

CON: You never meet anyone you like at these things.

CON: And you probably have nothing in common with these people anyway.

CON: And they’ll all be younger than you. And beautiful. And hip. And you’ll be increasingly conscious of the small rip in your simple cotton dress that you’ve never mended. And how hairy your legs are. And how long it’s been since you’ve bleached the hair on your upper lip.

CON: And remember how it feels to actually walk into these things? All eyes are upon you, judging you, and no one recognizes you, and you walk forward, trying not to make eye contact, searching for someone, anyone that you might know, holding the six-pack of beer in front of you as an offering, a calling card, your admission to the party…

I took a few deep breaths, the strap of my beer-laden bag digging into my shoulder. I decide to case the joint – do a quick survey to see which apartment it is, the approximate noise level emanating from said apartment, amount of people lingering on the balcony. I bicycle into the parking lot of the apartment complex, and immediately run over a tack and get a flat tire. I lock up my bike and go to the party.

[Sometimes I think about going on anti-anxiety medication, but then I realized I would have nothing to write about.]

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