Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Underwear: Why my Characters are a Little Clumsy

The year was 1996. The Macarena was catching on like an unstoppable dance virus, there were empire waist dresses as far as the eye could see, and I was sitting in my sixth grade math class with a set of gleaming purple braces and an overstuffed zippered binder.

I felt something brush against my shoe and peeked under the desk to investigate. At first glance, it appeared to be a dingy rag.

I gave it a kick.

The object moved slightly, and I could see it wasn't a rag, but a pair of underwear; an old, holey pair of underwear with a thick Jockey waistband.

I stifled a giggle. What was a pair of dingy underwear doing on the floor of my middle school classroom?

This was too weird. I couldn't keep it to myself. Our desks were arranged in pairs, so I elbowed the boy next to me and pointed out the underwear on the floor. He laughed. I laughed. It was an all-around humorous discovery, and a welcome distraction from the morning's rigorous set of word problems.

I was still chuckling to myself about it several minutes later when it hit me: There was something strangely familiar about that pair of underwear.

My pencil dropped to the floor as the sickening realization set in.

It was my underwear.

I was sure of it.

This was the part where I woke up and realized it was all a dream.



Wrong. I was not waking up. This was actually happening to me. My underwear was on the floor of my math class. It had gotten stuck in the leg of my jeans while in the dryer, and had just now decided to rear its ugly head.

And I, in a moment of pure naive oblivion, had pointed it out to the boy sitting next to me.

For a while, I considered leaving it there. But this was sixth grade. This kind of thing wouldn't go unnoticed. I imagined there would be some sort of investigation to determine the owner of the underwear, so the guilty party could be tortured for the duration of their middle school career. Maybe even the duration of their life.

I couldn't let that happen. The awkward preteen years were unkind enough to me. I couldn't risk adding the label of "Underwear Girl" to my already feeble resume.

I waited until the class was packing up to leave. Then, with the stealth of a cat burglar I snatched the underwear, stuffing it deep into my binder and yanking the zipper closed, all the while making forced small talk with my desk partner in an effort to distract him.

It worked! I made it out of math class alive, with the underwear tucked out of sight. That was first period. I went the rest of the day without opening my binder, even going so far as to tell my English teacher I had forgotten to do my homework. I couldn't open the binder and hand her my essay. It was too risky.

The underwear incident was the first in a long (ongoing) series of embarrassing mishaps for me. I'm what my husband calls "endearingly clumsy" - which is just a nice way of saying it's only a matter of time before I back the car into something... again. It seems everyone has that one friend who is always stumbling herself into crazy situations. I don't have that friend, because I am that friend. Growing up, my mother would often console me after such an incident by placing a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and saying in her sweet southern voice, "Well... I guess God just wants you to be a writer."

She was right; the awkward mishaps make for great character inspirations. They say you write what you know, and I find myself writing main characters whose clumsy tendencies get them into trouble. Perhaps one day, I'll branch out and write a graceful main character who is the picture of poise. But not for a while, because I have far too many ungraceful stories to tell.


  1. The embarrassing and goofy things define our characters. Silly experiences are fun to write about, too, and can be a nice break from seriousness.

    Great title.