Today’s guest poster lives in the Intermountain West. She would be lambasted on “What Not to Wear” for her love of unflattering long peasant skirts, but in spite of the title of the post, has never really embraced her inner deodorant-free and braless hippie.
To understand this story you must first know an embarrassing fact about me, which I will now reveal to the entire internet, as I am feeling a bit wild and exhibitionist: when I’m truly nervous, no power of Sure, Arid, or any other chemical formulation known to man can possibly hold back my sweat. (Note: please, in the comments, do not tell me about your prescription or overnight or magic rock deodorants, because I promise that in a high stress situation they don’t work for me. This post is not really about that anyway.)
So as a self-conscious and perpetually nervous high school debater, I was just beginning my lifelong quest to attempt a solution to my nervous sweat issues. I tried all manner of options: I safety-pinned sweat guards into the underarms of my debate clothes. I slathered on deodorant; I wore perfume (my apologies to anyone with perfume allergies who ever happened to be in the same building). I even, as a final resort, purchased a kind of underwear shrug with thick pads in the pits.
This proved to be my undoing. Because I was also chronically late (still am), and on the morning of my senior state debate tournament, I rushed into my clothes and out the door to the school, patting myself on the back for remembering my Sweat Shrug beneath my blouse. Only once I had arrived, and it was too late to do anything about it, did I realize that wearing the shrug that morning had given me the illusion of also having put on a bra.
It was only an illusion, though, and once I became aware I realized I felt no real chest-area support. Thankfully I was not well-endowed, and really the only person who noticed my bralessness that day was me. I hope.
Notice it I did, though, and along with my chest something in me also seemed to relax. I had spent the entire debate season competing erratically–winning one tournament, and then going all keyed up to the next one only to bomb. I was too tense, too intense, my coach told me, and of course she was right. But I had no idea how to loosen up, let go, speak the words I had practiced and prepared without coming across as a know-it-all.
Until that day, when the day began so badly, in my mind, that I had nothing to lose. I rocked that tournament. I acted confident but not cocky, I was witty, I cleverly used this sneaky part out of my debate case, the part no opponent noticed but which always won. I made it to the final round, which I lost, but I was so delighted to have gotten there in the first place that I didn’t really care. That weightless feeling got me far enough to let me relax into winning, something I had never done before. And I didn’t get to that zone until the very end of the year, the very last tournament, when it was too late to do anything about it except enjoy the one day I had.
It turns out my twenty-year high school reunion will be held this summer. Someone added me to the Facebook group, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Partly because of this article, on how you never really leave high school. Who you are as a teen defines you, it says. If you learn to fear something when you’re a teenager, you fear it always.
They did a study with mice about that, so it must be true. I’m a little flippant there, but in the end I think it is true: when I see someone I remember from high school, some weird gear twists in my brain and I’m not myself anymore. I remember how they must remember me, and I am transported back twenty years. Not to the braless day, though; that would be nice, but no one really cared about that odd triumph besides me. To other days: the days when I said stupid, arrogant, ignorant things. The days when people were kind to me and I was rude back. I wish I could change it all. I know why I was rude–I felt absolutely terrified to trust that kindness, because I had been burned before (junior high is truly the armpit of life, and no one makes a deodorant to mask its stench) and I did not believe them. But if you’d asked me to articulate rudeness back then, I would have blathered something ridiculous about no one understanding me. I am a rock, I am an island.
I don’t think I’m going to the reunion, for several reasons. It’s expensive enough that I’d blow my entire month’s entertainment budget on tickets. Looking through the list of invitees I remember an embarrassingly small number of them (I had a huge graduating class, in my defense). I weigh so much more now than I did then that I am pretty much unrecognizable, and this is embarrassing. But my ace in the hole reason for not going is that it will be held when I am still in a postpartum fog. I think it would be unwise to show up in a sleep-deprived state to such a nerve-wracking event. Between the inevitable sweat and my easily-triggered nursing letdown reflex, I could reach a new level of high school-related trauma. And as a nursing mother there is no way I will have the option of trying to liberate my nervousness by showing up sans bra.
Have you left high school? What memories do you carry with you?