Tales of Humiliation from the Mixed-Up Files of Libba Bray

I loved all your suggestions for the dream casting of AGATB, the movie. Looks like we had some of the same people in mind, and you guys brought up some that I wished I had thought of–Olivia Williams, Toni Collette, Judi Dench–plus lots more I didn’t know about. Good stuff. It’s fun to cast movies in your head. I do it all the time. For instance, in the movie version of my life story, I am played by Bill Murray. This requires perhaps some explanation. My friend Brenda has a game she plays called, “Which actor and actress best personify you?” She likes to ask and then she likes to tell you the answer. You really aren’t needed to play the game, but it’s good to show up for the toast. She makes great toast.

Anyway, Brenda decided that the actor and actress who are most “me” are Bill Murray and Teri Garr. Seemed reasonable to me. (And the toast was delicious.) So if you’re having trouble sleeping some night, you can play that game in your head. But probably without toast as that might get icky.

I’m heading out to Rochester in about 45 minutes, but as A Tale of Personal Humiliation won the second viewer’s choice blog, I thought I’d get right on that before I go. Such fun. Ah yes, so many to choose from. Which will win…

Well, I should preface this by saying that the story had to be one that could be told in public. That narrowed down the field a bit. Then I had to separate the merely embarrassing from the truly humiliating. For instance, the time I cornered John Turturro on the subway and had to blab to him about how amazing he is until he looked like he wanted to find a security guard? Awkward, yes. Humiliating? Ehhh. Or the time I thought it would be super fun to go skinny dipping in a rain-swollen creek on the outskirts of a new Austin suburb at 7:00 in the morning, because who could be up at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday? And then, once I got about a half-mile downstream and realized that the only way back to my clothes was to GET OUT OF THE WATER and walk back buck nekkid, and along the way I ran into just the loveliest elderly couple out walking their dogs…at 7:00 in the morning? Well, not the most comfortable of moments to be sure, but not I-should-move-out-of-state-now cringe-worthy. There are pictures of me wearing a white eyelet dress my mother made and a pink ribbon around my neck for a 7th grade dance. All the other girls look cool and hot, and I look like I’ve lost my sheep. Pretty embarrassing. But not a harbinger of social death, either.

But I do have those stories. Oh, yes. I do.

Two stories come to mind. The first is a high school story. I had a crush on this boy in high school. Big, big crush. The kind of crush where you write your name and his in a heart on the very inside of your Piggly Wiggly paper book cover. The kind of crush where you break out into blushing splotches (sooo attractive) when he’s around. To protect the reputation of this boy, I will only give him initials which are Brian Coker of Denton, Texas. Brian was super cute. And funny. And slightly naughty. Cute, funny, naughty–what’s not to love? We ran cross-country together, and he used to pick me up early in the morning for practice before I was legal to drive. (He was a junior to my sophomore.) So, it’s spring, and guess what? There’s a Sadie Hawkins dance coming up! (Wait for it…) Who would I want to take with me to the dance? What a perfect opportunity to start the romance that had already been playing on a loop in my head for, oh, the better part of a school year. So, picture this: Brian and I and our friend Hunter (who, by the way, was gorgeous and a great guy. What the hell was wrong with me that I didn’t ask HIM out, huh?) stop to fill ‘er up at the Gas N Go. Hunter goes in to pay for the gas and I seize my chance. It comes out of me in a foaming lava of words: “HeyBrianIwasjustsortofwonderingif, you know, youmightwanttogowithmetothe (gulp) Sadie Hawkins Dance.” Imagine the most belabored silence you can possibly imagine. Now, add an expression of physical pain on Brian’s face, as if I had just asked him if he might like to disembowel a pig and wear its intestines as a festive scarf. You’re there? Okay. Just for good measure, let’s add a Journey soundtrack coming out of the speakers, because it’s 1981, and there needs to be a Journey ballad to bring it all home. “So now I’ll come…to you…with ooo-pen aa-rms…” But Brian does not come to me with open arms. Brian wears his disemboweling-the-pig expression and says, “Oh, Libba. Don’t ask me that.” (Why is it I can’t find my keys but I can remember those six words as if they were etched into my brain matter with a soldering iron in woodshop class?) To which I squeak out, “Oh, okay.” And then Brian makes a sort of disgusted, throat-clearing sound and SHAKES HIS HEAD at me. He shook his head! As if to rid its prettiness of the horror of my request! Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! Just then, Hunter gets into the car, and we drive to school and I feel like Steve Perry’s soaring stadium-pleasing vocals are just there to taunt me in my freakish, high school reject misery. But wait–it gets better! A few days later, I hear through the grapevine that the boy whose initials are Brian Coker has been making fun of me to the cross-country team, laughing about the fact that I asked him out. Quel horror! And who came to my defense? Hunter. Yes, the same boy I was too stupid to date (okay, he had a serious girlfriend whom he ended up marrying and, truthfully, I would have been nothing more than the dreaded “sister” to him anyway) told Brian he was a jerk and to cut it out. Ever after, I swear I would have taken a bullet for Hunter. As for Brian, I told him he was an asshole and after that, there were no hard feelings. We remained running team buddies, and he started dating a girl named Diane.

But that is only one story of humiliation. The next one is a real lulu. It also involves a boy I had a crush on. My first year at U.T. Austin, I went out to a club one night with a new gang of friends from my dorm–people I was getting to know. They had friends who joined them, one of whom was a guy I immediately developed a crush on. I’m sure by the end of the night I had a whole fantasy reel unspooling in my head in which we lived in a stone cottage in Ireland and busked on the streets by day (even though I don’t play anything but the tambourine and that, badly) and had four children with names like Liam and Maeve. You get the picture. I just thought he was dreamy. We go out two nights later–same scenario, dark club. So, the next week, I’m in the dorm cafeteria having lunch with my new friends. You know how that goes, right? Trying to fit in with the tribe? Being your best self and all that? So you’re with me. Who comes to sit with us but Dreamy Boy. I nearly choke on my taco and not just because it’s industrialized food. What will I say? How will I show him what a witty conversationalist I am? How will I find out if he likes the names Liam and Maeve or how he feels about busking as a profession? And then I notice what seems to be a terrible injury on the side of his face and neck. I know he rides motorcycles. Perhaps he has had a mishap? “Hey, what happened to your face?” I blurt out, in perhaps the least seductive opening line in recorded flirtation history.

You know that moment when the needle is ripped off the record? Hear that in your head. See every. Single. Head turned toward me with looks of shock and disgust. See dreamy boy staring at his food. He looks up and says, “It’s a birthmark. A port wine stain.”

Now, let’s just bear in mind that I am a girl who is still having surgeries to put her face back together. A girl who has a fake eye that does not move or blink very well. A girl with scars. A girl who is EXTREMELY sensitive to what it feels like to be “different.” Oh my god. To say I wanted to die is the understatement of the year. And in a misguided attempt to explain myself, to make it better, to make it all go away, I did the unthinkable. I KEPT TALKING. “No!” the studio audience screams. “Just slink off and live in a cave for the rest of your miserable life. But SHUT UP!” And I say, “Oh.Ohgosh. I nevernoticed. Um, I just thought maybe you’d been in a-a-a-a motorcycle accident or something because, um, you know, it-it-it looked like you got scraped up and um…”

Everyone at the table is shooting daggers at me and I cannot stop blabbering until, one by one, they pick up their trays and leave the cafeteria. Needless to say, I was not the most popular girl in the dorm after that. And I know you will be shocked to hear that Dreamy Boy had no urge to date me and make me the mother of his Irish children.

And there you have it–two tales of personal humiliation from the vaults.

I’m off to Rochester now. Fingers crossed that the prop plane makes it. You know how I LOVE to fly. If you’re in Rochester, I hope to see you at the Teen Book Festival tomorrow, where, hopefully, I will not embarrass myself further. But you never know.

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