Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Crooked Truth

Kristen's Crooked Truth: A Crooked Embarassment

I wish this story had a better ending. I have a story where I encountered a bear while hiking alone in Alaska. And I have a story about how I saved a falcon from certain death in San Francisco. And I even have a funny story about deeply offending Charlton Heston during an arranged photo in Virginia. But the story I’m about to tell isn’t like those stories. Long story short, I ruined something.

I was in junior high and had Ms. Simon’s art class for my first period. From day one, during our pen and ink project, she’d told us repeatedly that we shouldn’t pick up our ink jars by the lid. I can remember the classroom clearly. I remember the random person I’d been assigned to sit next to: Martel Gilbert (not his real name). And I remember his pen and ink project, a barn surrounded by weedy vegetation and a pickup truck. 

I had never recognized the destructive property of ink until the second after I picked up that stupid jar by the lid. The whole thing happened with lightning speed. First, I was holding the jar by the lid. Then, I was holding just a lid. Then, I heard the sound of the glass jar toppling onto the workstation. It fell right next to Martel’s project. In a second, the dark wave had obliterated two weeks worth of cross-hatching and stippling. I was horrified. What’s worse, I didn’t react fast enough and the ink wave, traveling in all directions now, sloshed toward me and stained my crotch black—it was desk level. Before running from the room, I remember apologizing to Martel. My own project, a single blooming rose, hadn’t been darkened by the drama, because I hadn’t pulled it from the drawer yet. Did I feel like an idiot? Yes. Did Martel call me an idiot? He did.

The next memory I have of this event is standing in the attendance office, trying to call my mother. She wasn’t there. I ended up reaching my grandmother, a direct descendent of pioneers, who--even after I explained my situation in great detail--felt I should persevere in my ink-crotch pants. (School wasn’t supposed to be about fashion.) But I wouldn’t stop crying. So she came. Sitting on that towel on top of an old shower curtain felt like a real low point for me. At twelve, I wasn’t sure how I’d get past it.

This moment haunted me for years. I probably thought about it at least once a week. I could never put it down. I hated that clumsy part of myself. It made me feel vulnerable. It made me feel lame. I tried to tell myself that this moment didn’t matter. But what I really believed was that I had ruined something and it was the kind of thing you can’t ever fix. I was incredibly hard on myself.

Ten years later, I was home visiting my family. My grandmother was trying to place new renters in a property she owned near the Grand Teton Mall. She sent my father to give the prospective tenants a tour and he asked me to join him. Imagine my shock when one of the potential renters turned out to be Martel Gilbert. I felt twelve all over again. That ink spill flashed in my mind while my father walked him through the home. Should I bring it up? Would it be lame to mention it? Is he over it? Does he even recognize me? I mean, I looked totally different without a spiral perm.

I brought it up. I said something like, “Remember how we were art partners? Ms. Simon’s class. Remember that day with the pen and ink? You had such a great barn underway. You know I still feel bad about that. I never pick anything up by the lid.”

 And Martel said three words that I will never forget.

“I took art?”

It knocked me over. Here I was, beating myself up over this for an entire decade, and Martel doesn’t even remember seventh grade.

It was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe that the person forever linked to my most embarrassing moment had no memory of it. And so I set it down. I realized that it hadn’t mattered like I thought it had. Dwelling on that ink catastrophe for ten years had been a complete waste of time, and I promised myself that I would never waste time like that again.

And I’ve kept that promise.

Long story short, I learned to forgive myself.


  1. Thank you for a great laugh this morning!

  2. Funny, but also powerful. Thanks. The second lesson I take away from this story? Have courage. Imagine where you'd be if you hadn't had the courage to talk to Martel.

  3. How could someone not remember art class? Oh, my! People do not remember the same things, and if they do, they do not remember them in the same way. I am glad you did speak up. What a relief!