At writer’s camp one teacher was talking about shame, and how it is different from embarrassment and much different than guilt. A book could be written about these differences, it seemed. Probably one has. Anyway, they were talking deeply about some memoir or another, a form that doesn't grab me that much, though I know I can gain from it, and I daydreamed about lunch.
The next day I left writer’s camp and boarded a flight back to Chicago.
It was a good flight because the large man in front of me did not once try to recline and crush my legs. I was almost certain he would. He did some adjusting, and at one point he looked back at me to assess things. I think he saw my height, which is only inconvenient on airplanes, and as one tall man to another—although he was bigger than me, like a football player—he decided to let me keep my leg space. A significant gift, I think.
And then when we landed, while waiting to exit the plane, I tried to cut off the guy in front of me.
He caught me, put an elbow that stopped me in the gut, and he and his friend left ahead of me, rightly. In the jet bridge, he said to his friend, “I knew from when he stood up that kid was going to try that crap. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how it’s done.”
And then the speaker looked back at me. My armpits blasted sweat. I said a some Our Fathers and Hail Maries to raise the shame temperature and maximize this moment of self-loathing. Catholicism raised me to optimize these reminders of original sin but I forget what step two is.
When I was standing on the plane I was thinking to myself, sometimes you get hurried or upset, and you see there is the option you want, and then there is the right option. The latter is the one you will not be humiliated by. Choose rightly. Do not cut anyone off just because you’re anxious or excited. Everyone plane passenger feels that way after landing.
At least every other day I remind myself that I have a certain way of seeing myself—which is likely inaccurate—and I’m the only one who can make sure I live up to be that person each day. I’ve been thinking about this more often since November when a stranger gave me the middle finger as he passed me on the Webster Avenue bridge. I was at the side rail watching the leaves in the water, for whatever sentimental reason at 7:30 in the morning, and a cyclist glided past and lowered one hand to give me the finger. I think he had enough room to pass freely, but maybe I was wrong. You don't just give people the finger, you need a reason.
I had just come back from a good trip at writer’s camp where I learned much and felt proud of myself for learning and then, boom, I get on a plane and I try to cut off those guys. And two old people, too. Jesus. A couple that the guys let proceed before they stood. I wasn't sure if I was going to mention the old people, but I tried to cut them off, too.
Once I was off the plane I watched the two gentleman walk toward the baggage claim. I shifted my backpack and a button flew off my jean jacket. I walked away from it, then spun around, snatched it off the airport carpet and threw it in the trash.