Cringing: The Space Between Memories and Shuddering

In 1978, when I was 15 years old, I was introduced to my high school boyfriend’s aunt and uncle for the first time.

It was summer. I wore shorts and a tube top with an open shirt over the tube top. I remember it well. They had just arrived and we were walking from his house. We met midway through the garage. 

One side of my tube top had rolled down. I met his aunt and uncle with one of my boobies exposed.

I remember that sometimes and I always cringe. Always.

Next month, I’m going to be 60. His aunt and uncle were kinda old then. I’m sure they’ve been dead for years.

I’m cringing over dead people. 

I discussed this with a random person on social media.

Random Person on Social Media: These things have us muttering “oh god”

Me: I usually start with “no no no no no no”. As if I can will away something that happened over forty years ago. 

RPOSM: Oh, I’ll give it a shot. Does it work? 

Me: Oh god no. Nothing works.

Of course it doesn’t work. It’s not supposed to work. This is the way of my people.

We cringe and cringe long after the events are over and the people involved are dead.

This is what I do.

This is what my mother does.

This is what my mother’s mother did.

I guess. I’m not entirely sure if my grandmother did or not. I have no memories of her obsessing over cringey things like my mother and I do. I’m just saying, if I had to guess, it would be my mother’s mother for sure.

My dad’s mom wasn’t the cringing type. Not really. She was more…I don’t know, I guess she was more drunk. Yeah, That’s it. She was drunk.

My dad’s mom was the worst grandma ever. She got sloppy drunk every day, then she would either yell or cry. She was also fond of whacking whatever grandchild was closest with a fly swatter. Super charming woman.

My other grandmother made really good fudge.

I have no idea what the point is. Other than, I guess one of the perks of being a truly horrible person, is you really don’t worry much about embarrassing moments? I guess?

For instance, I’m quite certain if my bad grandma had inadvertently exposed her boobies, she would have told the story many times.

  • It would have been right there with the story about getting bit on her bare ass by a bat that got into their house. The story was, just as she was about to sit on the toilet, a bat swooped down and bit her on the ass.
  • She also claimed to have a mouse that would walk to the middle of the living room at exactly noon every day, then turn around and go back in it’s mouse hole.

I mean, I truly doubt these things actually happened, pretty sure her decades long habits caused at least a little cognitive decline.

But I digress.

I’ve spent a lot of hours in my life replaying cringing incidents.

Like the underwear incident in Kindergarten (1968) or the spelling book incident (1973).  Or the time I sounded like the elephant man in a meeting because I was so anxious to speak in front of a room of people that I couldn’t catch my breath. (1987).

Okay, maybe this can be the last time I cringe over the boobie incident. I don’t even remember the names of the aunt and uncle. But I do remember the tube top was yellow.

I think his name might have been Walter. The uncle. Not the tube top.

20 Thoughts.

  1. I peed on myself in kindergarten because I couldn’t get my saw out of the wooden block I was cutting out without breaking it (we had been warned about breakage). The teacher naturally thought it was the boy next to me. Except he was dry and I wasn’t. Still can’t get past the embarrassment whenever I think about it 67 years later. Fortunately, I don’t know any of those kids anymore. It’s also not a story I share face to face. Too many questions.

  2. When you were 15, you may have thought someone over 40 was old. So those folks might still be alive. You could try to find them and the learn that they didn’t notice. Or have totally forgotten you and any wardrobes mishaps. So as you already know, you are only torturing yourself. In other words, you are perfectly human.

  3. Yeah. In 1993 I went through a cash register at my university cafeteria. The guy had a hair net on and over his finger he had a little rubber finger condom (I guess to make it easier to grip the bills?) When he handed me my change, the condom slipped off. I didn’t know what to do. I looked up at him and stared him in the eye for like 20 minutes as I slowly put it into my wallet with my change because OH MY GAWD WHAT AN AWKWARD MOMENT TO REMEMBER. Cringe.

    Thanks for the memory. Good times.

  4. Oh how I feel this.
    I am hypervigilant and expect to be perfect every day. I am still waiting for the day I actually hit that expectation.
    As a recovering Catholic, I attach this hypervigilance and the need to beat myself up about things that have been in the rear view for eons, to being Catholic. Nothing better in the Catholic religion than a martyr right?
    Hang in there.

  5. As much as I hear about the legal statute of limitations it never seems to kick in as far as memories are concerned. Especially with things that aren’t technically illegal.
    Also I kind of believe your grandmother was bitten by a bat. Bats are notorious for carrying rabies, and that would explain a few things.

  6. My friend Jack used to say “The ritual strangulation of poultry. It’s the way of my people.” Which is a little cringey, I guess, but still worth a laugh after all of these years. I still sometimes remember the awkwardness of the pastor’s son hitting on me while I was changing into dry clothes after my baptism when I was 12. That probably sounds worse than it was, and had the pastor’s child been a daughter, my reaction would have been much different…

  7. The thing I remember most clearly from my dad’s funeral last year was when I was called up to read my eulogy, and started up toward the pulpit. No, the pastor told me; I was supposed to stand at the little lectern on the floor. I’m sure nobody cared except me, but I will probably be cringing over that moment until my own funeral comes — and afterward.

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