I have not felt like a teenager in some time. I’m a man of a certain age and while I may carry around my own personal supply of self-doubt and self-consciousness, they both fit in a perfectly normal-sized backpack that does not in any way draw attention to me. It is the standard teen drama we all carry around, hidden safely, strapped to us to inform our sense of self.
So, as I stood there, cheeks reddening and heart racing, I was once again that same teenager who would walk to school, past the buses lined up dropping off all my peers. Dreading being seen and fearing not being noticed. Worried the eyes I could feel boring into my skin and my psyche were because a pimple or a stray booger had sprung forth unbeknownst to me. All this while not noticing I was completely naked from the waist down. Sure, this was a dream. I never, in fact, walked to school while naked down there. But I dreamed this a lot.
You can imagine how jarring it was to be feeling these feelings after not feeling them for so long. All because I was once again making a fool of myself, a thing done with such startling regularity when I was a teenager that it was a nightly job to process embarrassment in dreamland.
What can cause a 45-year-old man, fully self-aware and fairly unselfconscious to find himself once again blushing?
Could it be a physical reaction? In this case that couldn’t be ruled out. That said I have a sneaking suspicion that it was much the same thing as caused me to feel so unabashedly and unavoidably awkward those many many years ago. In this case, it was in fact the presence of a teenage girl.
Please know that she is, by all accounts, a perfectly kind, warm, thoughtful person whom I would have been embarrassed in front of in the same way were she a 45-year-old man like me. I simply note her “teen girlness” for the remarkable symmetry it provides with my earlier embarrassments.
This young woman was here to do her first of hopefully many future nights and days of babysitting for our kids. She had been here for a half-hour before to meet the kids, but this was still squarely in the “first impression” stage of our relationship. So, as so many parents do, we had spent the day cleaning. To put our best foot forward. For our high school babysitter. I mean, we worked for hours. OK, maybe I’m not entirely unselfconscious.
Anyway, there we were in our date night best. We hadn’t done date night in a while, so by our standards, we were looking sharp. All that was left was to show our young employee the wheres and whats and the whatnots. It was exhilarating.
Then, right before we were to leave, I stood in front of her and jabbed myself with an Epi-Pen. Right there. In our kitchen.
Sure, I was blushing. Yes, my wife and the teenager were laughing pretty hard. Yes, I did think, “Oh, no! What have I done!” I quickly realized I was in the clear. The needle barely touched my leg. I didn’t get injected with anything. I was safe. But the laughs became more nervous. More giddy. They even belied a fair bit of actual concern.
Why were my cheeks getting so hot? Why the heart racing? Why did I want to crawl into a ball and hide under the table?
Because I’m the knob that just played the cool guy and jabbed himself in the leg with an Epi-Pen. In front of his wife, who could only be half surprised at best at such behavior and our new babysitter.
“We’ll be texting to check in and please please please don’t hesitate to text us. We would love to know how it’s going,” my wife said as I hustled us out the door awash in shame and certain I was getting pimples, urging Karen to hurry it up in the clenched teeth, hushed tones of teen boys for millennia as I waved Karen to the door.
“Please text, we’ll definitely be checking in to see how you’re doing,” I added, trying to regain my composed adulthood.
“Perhaps I will have to be checking in to see how you are doing after that,” she added with a smirk.
It was funny. All of it. We were able to have a good laugh about it.
Then, for the first time in maybe 25 years, I dreamed I was walking to school again. I never looked down. Didn’t have to. I knew.
Originally published on the author’s blog.