Sometimes, at odd moments, I’ll remember something asinine that I said or did and I’ll feel embarrassed and/or horrified all over again. More than anything else, I hate looking like a fool in front of people, unless I’m doing it on purpose. To cover it, I’ll act like I did it on purpose, but it will bother me for decades. Just as a silly example, the boot heel story.

I’m too lazy to link to it (and I can’t find it), so I’ll recap it quickly. Missouri is a collection of strange accents – and if you listen, you might think you were in the south instead of the midwest. I hear things like “cain’t” and “window seal” all the time. When I was in grade school, one of my teachers referred to the southeastern corner of the state as the “boot hill.” It does look like a boot, but for some reason I never made the mental connection between “boot” and “heel” – so I repeated what I heard. And one day not long ago, I said something about the “boot hill” to my mother. Once she stopped laughing, she asked me if I meant boot heel. Um, yeah. Oops.

I read somewhere that E.B. White said he did the exact same thing; he remembered his mistakes forever and was still mortified by them years after they happened. It comes from an intense desire to be accepted, I think, along with an astonishing lack of self-esteem.

I never felt accepted. Long, long ago, I learned to pretend that it didn’t bother me. I’ve hardened to the point that I can keep doing my own thing, even if the entire world is against me. But somewhere, buried deep, it bothers me. That’s what makes it so hard for me to go with the flow – because I need to know what’s expected so that I know what to do so that I don’t stand out too much. Because if people notice me, then they’re going to see what a mess I am. And if they see that, then I will not only be unaccepted, I will be unacceptable.

Today I made a point of smiling at every person I saw.

My face hurts.