Six Near-Death Experiences

1. “I think we should talk to other people.” No, these words were not coming from an evasive lover but a good friend with whom I went to a writers’ conference. “It’s good for networking!” I will die, I thought and maybe even said out loud. Talk to strangers? I certainly have nothing in common with this room full of people who are all fiction writers trying to get published. I only write because I love being alone for extended periods of time. Just like that, my friend mosied over to the far end of the room, and I was left to my own devices. “Hi, my name is Ellen,” a woman said, presumably to me, in line waiting for coffee. “Hi, I’m Christin,” I countered. Time was running out. If the conversation had an awkward pause that ran too long, I would spontaneously combust. I was sure of it. “So, what do you write?” And just like that, I once again stared death in the eye and valliantly conquered.

2. We get to the lake. Who’s crazy idea was this? Yes, I was on board for skinny dipping under the stars, but no one warned me that we would have to cross a death trap to get there. I mean, I was already brave enough for agreeing to trespass on private property (the university golf course, closed up at night) to get to said lake. The one floating dock is on the other side. With a steep seawall and uninviting bushes surrounding, there was no other good place to jump inside. So we have to cross the dam, just to the left of which is a not-insignificant drop into brambles and to the right of which is a significant drop that would lead to certain death. In this group of friends, I am always the overly-cautious one, and it was beginning to show. The adrenaline rush blurs my memory, but by the time we get to the other side, disrobing in front of my platonic friends and jumping into freezing water proved no longer to be the scary part of the trip as I had originally predicted.

3. One morning, when I was in college ( . . . ) I woke up to the glorious smell of freshly baked bread. Sure enough, in my black-out state, I had baked the only loaf of bread that ever rose correctly in my kitchen, and it was divine. Fluffy honey-oat bread. Never to be replicated. It was the magic of the drunken bread, and I am too smart to ever do that again. (I hope.)

4. I sat crying, shaking my head as the roller coaster kept going up. Why did I come to Cedar Point with my brothers and dad? Didn’t I realize that would involve roller coasters bigger than the ones at the Aurora Farmer’s Fair? I wasn’t brave enough for those, why would I be brave enough for The Gemini? Earlier in the day, I had almost gotten on a roller coaster, but as I stood in a line that went five flights of stairs up, I looked down and saw a girl about my age (11) get off the ride and immediately start puking everywhere. I did not alert my elders of this. That was her cross to bear. She did not need witnesses. At the front of the line, my family boarded, and before they could contest, I yelped out that I would wait for them at the end and bolted away. But The Gemini was another story. I said I would get on a roller coaster that day, and I was running out of options. Surely if I rode next to my brother Bob, my entire family’s 16 year-old sage and caretaker, I would be protected. But it kept going up! We sat in the first car because Bob had learned in his first physics semester that it was the cars in the back that actually got whipped around the worst. My sobbing could not have been comforting to everyone else behind us. And then the sobbing turned to screaming. When all was said and done, I didn’t stop shaking for the rest of the day, and that was the last roller coaster I rode.

5. The last two months of my teaching career, I spent every Sunday night tossing and turning, convinced the next day would finally be the day they finally decide to gang up on me and pull me apart limb by limb. They didn’t. They just picked at my reserve of self-esteem crumb by crumb until all that was left was an anxious mass under a squishy comforter. Death thwarted. Again, narrowly.

6. Like death by forced social interaction, death by embarrassment also involves spontaneous human combustion. This occurs most-often during the teenage years, and I, myself, only just survived this social phenomenon. Here I was, sitting in a classroom of my peers and teachers, laughing with them when everyone else was unknowingly laughing at me. Allow me to explain. During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, at the age of 17, I went to stay with a host family in France for seven weeks. I went with a program full of other kids from my state. We took French classes on the weekdays. Prior to my departure, my mother went over all the proper etiquette rules I would need to follow in order to prove to my host family (and therefore all of France and the rest of the world) that Americans weren’t barbarians. There was a lot resting on my shoulders. For example, when eating breakfast, I shouldn’t slurp the milk out by drinking directly from the bowl, but rather, I should tip the bowl toward me, spoon it away from me, and eventually into my mouth–as if I were eating the fanciest pea soup at the fanciest restaurant that ever existed. (The French family drank the milk from the bowls, but I stuck to my weird fancy ways to show how fancy I truly was.) The most important etiquette rule was to do my own laundry. Which I never did at home in Indianapolis. And if the mother in the host family were so gracious as to offer to do my laundry (which of course she did), then I could aquiesce but under no circumstances was I to give her my dirty underwear. How improper! Someone besides me or my own mother putting my dirty underwear in a washing machine! Inconceivable! So during my stay, I stockpiled my dirty underwear in a very gross plastic bag with the intention of one day discreetly washing them in the sink with shampoo and finding a secret hiding place to air dry them. After a few weeks of this (I brought a lot of underwear with me), my host mother asked if I had given her all the clothes I needed washed. Knowing by all the clothes, she really meant “underwear,” I turned bright red and said yes. Because I’d wash my own underwear. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. All the efforts of my mother were going to waste. This surely led my French host family to believe that I was so dirty I never washed my underwear.

But no story of embarrassment would be complete without public humiliation! One day at school, the teachers gathered all three groups together to talk to the 30-some kids about some of the concerns the host families had expressed to the teachers about their guests. They were all quite funny. Ha–taking long showers? Who in their right mind would take a long shower? How rude! Sending long emails–gasp, in English–to family members in Indianapolis. Well, I never! And then one teacher, the one I secretly had a crush on because the other options (kids my age) were too realistic, presented the funniest complaint of all. Apparently, one of the students was not giving his or her underwear to his or her host mother to wash! Hilarious! Everyone was laughing! The teachers all knew who this student was! That’s even funnier! Let’s spend the rest of the day laughing about that smelly kid! How gross! Ha ha ha! What a loser! Ha, no, it’s not me, who would do such a thing, etc.

By some miracle, all the fake laughing I did helped get out some of the heat building up inside of me–because spontaneous human combustion was nigh.


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