Embarrassment. That tornado in the pit of your stomach, the involuntary turning of your lip to match the accuser’s disgust. The blood pulsing so forcefully through the channels in your skull that they squeeze it, sixty crushes per minute, until the pressure makes release valves of your ears. The baritone hum kicks up an octave and is gone, releasing you to the torment.
I think I’ve spent half my life embarrassed, chronic victim that I am. To believe what I’ve heard, I am everything that someone can be, all disparate adjectives at once, every awful thing, and every good thing made awful. I make a game now of playing critic before I do or say anything in public. I taunt myself with all insults a million assholes might try and say nothing and do nothing until I’m sure I have a retort for each one. Pressed for time, I’ll stutter and move like my joints are fused and get stuck, blushing and fumbling my words until I can escape, embarrassed of course.
They say embarrassment is a social emotion, not felt unless it’s seen. It’s solitary counterpart is shame, which is more instructive, far less petty, and hardly the same. If you trip in the hallway, for example, you’ll feel annoyed when you stand up, maybe angry at whoever left the shoe in the middle of the floor. You might feel a pang of embarrassment as you glance around to discover whether or not you’ve been seen, but upon finding that you’re alone, the whirring stops and that’s the end, you feel nothing else, and certainly not shame instead. If someone has been watching, the tornado spins, and won’t stop spinning until the witness seems to forget. If instead of forgetting, they swear in as judge, the storm won’t stop until your self esteem is wrecked and time pretends to forget. In the buried memory, it spins forever.
So when I see that someone else is embarrassed, I pretend I haven’t seen, or that I have not evaluated their mishap as such. I feel it building, see their lip curl in disgust, and then I interrupt with something cheerful and unrelated so they can tuck it away. Just a shoe in a hall, no one around. I know when their tension is soothed because mine is as well.
Embarrassment proper is always the work of an asshole. Sure, there’s the girl who accidentally pays a blunder too much attention because she’s desperate to make you feel better, but on the one hand, its an effective strategy to embarrass herself alongside you, and on the other, it would seem she has not been embarrassed enough. No one can deal sensitively with a pain they have rarely felt, and for that reason, I trust very little anyone with little pain.
Not that embarrassment is an instructive pain, it may be the only one that is not. What good does it do to lock a person’s body all up and keep their voices stuck in their throat? It is a reaction to being perceived as imperfect, but what use is perfection, and who gets to decide what it means? A thousand people have called me a thousand things, and to be perfect to them all I would have to cease to exist.
Just shut up and move on. It makes me sick to see a perfectly valid human torn apart for imaginary flaws, attacked for something out of their control or just for being who they are. The fault gets misplaced and they side with they abuse against themselves, cutting from their flesh all the thou shalt nots until there’s nothing left cut. Thou shalt not be.
I hate this fucking prompt and this is garbage and I can’t wrap it up gracefully because it’s garbage. But I’m posting it anyway cuz I said I would.
Do you feel uncomfortable when you see someone else being embarrassed? What’s most likely to make you squirm?