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Small tragedies

| Friday, October 8, 2021

I have a little theory about my life. Any of my close friends reading this know exactly where this column is going — I talk about this theory quite a lot and it’s become sort of an ordering force/running joke in my life. And believe it or not, this is my second inside column about a wacky personal theory — apologies for subjecting my many, many readers to the world according to Abby once again. 

The theory goes like this: my life is plagued by what I like to call small tragedies, quite literally a series of unfortunate events. Now, I’m not tone deaf. I am very aware that I have a wonderful, lovely, extraordinarily privileged life. BUT, I also was blessed with a combination of shyness, compulsory midwestern friendliness, clumsiness and innate awkward tendencies to make for a charmingly(?), sometimes ridiculously, tragic person.    

Your natural next question is: what constitutes a small tragedy? Never-you-fear, I have a list: 

Just the other day, I was running a touch late to class. It was a masked class so I had my mask primed and ready in my hand, for efficiency. As I’m walking through the Debart doors, with probably just enough time to get to class, I’m suddenly yanked back by an invisible force. The strap of my mask — in my hand for efficiency, mind you — had gotten caught around the door and would not come unstuck, as more and more people confusedly tried to get around me into the building. So I single handedly held up every other poor soul who was just as late as me, trying desperately to unhook my mask from the inner workings of the door.  Tell me that’s not tragic?  

My first semester freshman year I almost slept through my French exam. I woke up with two minutes to exam time in a blind panic. Launching myself out of bed, I threw on the nearest clothes, pulled on my rain boots — sans socks — and ran out of the room with acne spot treatment still all over my face. Now I don’t know if any of you have tried running in rain boots with no socks, but let me save you the curiosity: don’t. Not only will you get horrible blisters, you’ll have to squeak your way to the front of the classroom to get your exam, each sweaty footstep announcing how crazed and sleep deprived you look. But hey, at least I made it to the test. 

Another fun freshman year tragedy — I got a horrible case of pink eye coming back from fall break. I’ll spare you the details, but it was pretty gross. In particular, my eyes were prone to watering really substantially — I perpetually looked like I was crying. And because that’s just not bad enough, it also just so happened that during class that week one of my professors announced he had decided to retire at the end of the semester.  Having made this grand and personal pronouncement, he looked out into the sea of students, who knew him well, but not well enough, and happened to notice me trying to manage my watery eyes.  While I had been barely attending to what he’d been saying, simply trying to keep the leaking in my eyes to a minimum amount of gross, he took my tears and tissues to be an excess of emotion over the great career pronouncement he had just made. He then, rather uncomfortably, proceeded to try and console from afar, the little freshman whose name he thought was Annie, who barely spoke in class, and really had no business crying because (said very gruffly) “this was the best decision for him and he really hoped I’d understand eventually.” Mortified, I very seriously thought about dropping that class, because how could I ever show my leaky eyes in there again? 

I once half fell off the ladder of my loft in the background of my roommate’s Zoom. I managed to spectacularly, ungracefully catch myself, but it might have been better to commit to the fall. I’m pretty sure her professor asked if I was okay. That one still gives us a good laugh. 

There’s the Victorian ghost incident. I sent a really awful picture of myself in a white dress, wherein I looked like the distressed ghost of a Victorian child, to what I thought was my friend, you know, to double check that our outfit vibes matched for the evening. Turns out, I sent that lovely image straight to the Observer Editorial Board group chat.  All props to Ed-Board, they were very supportive, and in my defense, it’s a very pretty dress. 

Over the summer I got my bangs trimmed and made the grievous error of not being specific enough with what length I wanted them trimmed. Let’s just say they were a little short and a little blunt. I spent too much of my hot-girl summer, or more like books and movies summer, walking around looking like Coconut Head or an early Ringo Starr, take your pick. I’ve heard both (thanks Dad).  

Then there was the time the guy who ghosted me freshman year tried to sit at the same table outside of LaFun with me. He was pretty smooth about it too, until he realized who he was talking to. And he had the nerve to skitter off looking scared! (I actually felt quite powerful after that one).

There are, fortunately or unfortunately, innumerable others, some (taking place in high school swim-gym) significantly more tragic, that I don’t feel need to be shared in a public forum, but this lightly curated selection is enough to give you a sense of what I mean.  

Now please don’t construe this as self-deprecation — in reality it’s a miraculous form of self-preservation. It’s my way of coping with the otherwise awkward, terrible or unfortunate events in life: the say-hi-or-walk-by decisions gone horribly wrong, the “I’m going to hold the door for you but you are way too far away so I give up right before you get there and now we have to walk down the same hallway uncomfortably close togethers of life. Instead of letting such encounters, flops or foibles ruin my day, instead of having them flash through my mind in an oppressive montage right before I go to sleep, I shoot a quippy “small tragedy” update to my friends, laugh at the general “tragicness,” and, except for the occasional witty remembrance a-la-this column, generally move on. The point of the small tragedy is to note that it is exactly that — small. It’s a drop in the bucket, water off your back, every other cliché in one, of all the other miraculous experiences in life. One of those times you did say hi and it wasn’t a little weird, or maybe it was, but you made someone else’s day because you remembered them! And maybe I tripped up the stairs earlier today, but rather than wallowing in how clumsy or off-balance that makes me feel, I know that I can laugh over it with my friends. I spent too much of my life feeling conspicuously awkward and sorely out of place. The theory of small tragedies frees me of that, at least a little, giving me space to laugh at myself, to take a breath and remember that there’s a bigger picture, a life to enjoy outside of the unfortunateness. Life isn’t measured in the small tragedies, but is made in the moments where we are able to let the small tragedies go and really live as ourselves, tragicness and all. Take it, or leave it, it works pretty well for me.  

You can contact Abby at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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