One incident from my early teen years stands out as an example of my singular grossness. It was the last day of Spanish class before summer break. I had recently come back from a few days spent home sick due to an allergic reaction to jumbo shrimp. My eyes had swollen to the point where I looked like a bee-stung Benedict Cumberbatch, but my mom wasn’t about to let me miss more school, so I had returned before I was completely ready. I was sitting with my crush, Tobin Nadeau, as our Spanish teacher distributed the final test of the year. I remember the light in the room was gently suffused. I could see dust motes floating through the sunbeams of the late spring day (I just read a Donna Tart book, idk). As I gazed down at the paper, one of the motes found its way into my allergy-inflamed nasal passage, triggering an unexpected and thunderous sneeze. It came on so quickly that I didn’t have time to cover my face. Tobin looked at me in surprise, and then slowly his big brown eyes fell to the test paper in front of me, where a large pile of greenish-yellow snot had appeared.
I blacked out from embarrassment for a few seconds. (The mind does what it has to do to protect itself.) When I came to, I was fervently explaining to Tobin that I had recently recovered from a severe allergic reaction to ‘faulty shrimp’ and thus couldn’t be blamed for my gelatinous emission. Going back to school too soon after an allergic reaction was my first mistake, my second mistake was using the phrase ‘faulty shrimp’ and not realizing that it would stick as a nickname for the most important years of my life. Tobin and old Faulty Shrimp Hall never did get together. Weird, right?
Humans are inherently gross. Our orifices leak, weird crusts form, illness and disease cause decay and waste. We go through childbirth, potty training, puberty and old age. Each new month brings a host of issues: seasonal allergies, sunburnt skin which peels off in sheets, ingrown hairs on pant-covered winter legs. But I scarcely see or hear proof of this in public. In movies, women give birth and look like they’ve spent 30 minutes on the elliptical. Ryan Seacrest never hocked a loogie on-air. Is everyone else hiding it?
The sense of adolescent grossness pervades to this day. Every time I shampoo and condition, my hair comes out in huge wet clumps that I stick it to the walls of the shower so it won’t immediately clog the drain, resulting in a bizarre piece of artwork. As hard as I try, a lot of shed hair does make it down the drain, which is why at least quarterly my shower backs up and water spills out onto the floor of the bathroom.
I’m an independent woman and more than capable of cleaning up my own messes, so I recently decided to snake the shower drain myself. I straightened out a wire hanger, got down on my knees, threaded my homemade drain snake down into the black void, and came back up with a stinking incubus, the foulness of which I will never forget for as long as I live. It looked like an octopus in a fur coat had managed to crawl into the drain then got extremely drunk, worked up a sweat and died. I dragged the black, reeking flotsam and miasma out of the depths and knew with blinding certainty that I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life, because I would never ask someone else to share that disgusting burden with me.
Why do I feel so alone in my grossness? Why do I perceive that the flaws of my human body are so much worse than those of the people around me? Surely everyone accidentally shoots snot onto a surface from time to time. Surely everyone loses hair in the shower.
Maybe this anxiety is goes deeper. Maybe it’s not about physical grossness. Maybe I believe that if someone were to unfurl a wire coat hanger and plumb the depths of my soul, they would come up with a stinking black clump of something rotten. It’s probably this fear that has prevented me from ever getting close to anyone in my life.
If I can forgive myself for my “grossness,” maybe I can also open myself up to allowing someone to really know me. Because aren’t we all just walking around sneezing giant balls of emotional snot at each other? Isn’t that what human relationships are all about? And Tobin — seriously, call me. I use antihistamines now.