Dear Friends, I want to tell you a story.
I know that you’ll find this hard to believe, but once upon a time I was painfully, terrifyingly awkward.
Now, I can guess what you’re thinking– what do you mean, Sara, once upon a time? Aren’t you still painfully, terrifyingly awkward?
And you are partially right, I am still very awkward.
However, compared to my younger self, I now have all the confidence of Grace Kelly at a state dinner in Monaco. To put it kindly, when I was younger I sometimes became overwhelmed in certain social situations.
So, big surprise, in high school I was not one of the popular kids. I’m not saying I was like an outcast by any means; I was acquainted with most everybody in my grade and I had a large group of friends. I just was not in the popular crowd. Now, I can’t speak for other places, but at almost every single high school in my state, the most important people at a school are the athletes. And generally, football players are the priority. For example, when I was in high school we put in a million dollar football field but didn’t have enough books for every classroom. Completely logical, right?
But anyway. So as you may know, I am an avid lover of soccer and I have played my whole life. This includes all four years in high school. It just so happens that after our million dollar football stadium was put in, the rule became that any time we played while it was raining, we played on the football field because it had turf. I was a sophomore the first year this rule came into effect. I won’t attempt to describe to you now just how awkward I was as a fifteen year old. Instead, I will let the following story speak for itself.
We had a home game, and I was incredibly excited because I got put on the varsity roster.
I don’t actually remember, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say I didn’t even get to play, or if I did it was only for a few minutes. But what I do remember is that we had to play on the football field, because it poured down rain the whole time. I also remember that we won the game. The boys’ soccer team played right after us, and they won their game, too. I don’t know how or who or why it happened, but the word went around that all the Varsity players (THAT INCLUDED MEEEEE) were allowed to go eat Mazzio’s Pizza buffet for FREE.
Now, I must admit I don’t even really like Mazzio’s Pizza. However, I was particularly excited on that occasion for a specific reason. About two weeks before that game, I had gone to Mazzio’s with my dear friend Kasey and her family, and I had stumbled across a little piece of heaven.
It was called cheesecake pizza.
Let me just lay this out for you, guys. When I really like a food, I am serious about it. Really, really serious. And when I rolled into Mazzio’s that rainy day of my sophomore year, all of my focus was directed on securing and consuming as much free cheesecake pizza as I could. The second I went through the door, I headed straight to the buffet, gleefully scanning it for the magical concoction I just knew was there waiting for me. But as my eyes ran through the offerings in front of me, I saw nothing that looked like the remembered cheesecakey-pizzaey delights of two weeks before.
Disappointed, but not defeated, I returned to my seat to keep a gimlet eye on the buffet, for surely they would be putting out the cheesecake pizza any minute now. Thus, I spent the first approximately fifteen minutes darting frenetically forward every time a new pizza was put out to eagerly check if it was cheesecake pizza.
Finally, my stakeout was rewarded when I saw a lanky teenager disinterestedly shove onto the buffet what my discerning eye recognized as my eagerly awaited prize, and my legs quivered as I leapt from my seat and charged forward towards the buffet.
But when the fevered haze of gluttony cleared from my eyes, I was frozen with confusion. For what I saw before me was not what I remembered from two weeks before. It sort of looked like my cheesecake pizza, but it wasn’t exactly the same.
Try to understand my dilemma here. I had built myself into such a state of anxious anticipation, that my mind just could not seem to comprehend that what I thought was cheesecake pizza, just might not be cheesecake pizza.
I stood there, staring at the pizza before me in bewildered contemplation. Was it cheesecake pizza? Was it not cheesecake pizza? I just could not seem to confirm either way. As I was frowning down at the pizza in this fog of confusion, I gained the vague awareness that someone was standing next to me.
Now, have you ever just known that you had a weird look on your face? Like, you could just feel that there was some bizarre, contorted expression firmly planted on your features? As I slowly turned my head to see who was standing next to me, I realized that I had one of those looks on my face:
I simultaneously became aware that I looked like a drowned rat, with my soaked hair straggling all around me and my too-big, bulky hoodie on, with all trace of makeup washed away and skin still clammy and pale from the cold. The other thing I became aware of was that the person standing next to me was none other than Hunter Smith.
Of course, this probably means nothing to you, but let me give you some background– remember how I said athletes took priority in our school? Well, Hunter Smith, although a sophomore like me, was already something of a celebrity at our school. He was a star on the football team, but he was one of the best players for the boys’ soccer team as well. He was also, naturally, one of the most popular kids at our school. Though we were around the same age, in the same grade, and played the same sport, I had never spoken a word to him, and I was fairly certain he had not the slightest idea who I was.
I could only stare at him in a sort of bewilderment. Much like my mind could not comprehend the discrepancies between the cheesecake pizza I remembered and the cheesecake pizza that I had found before me, I could not comprehend that Hunter Smith was standing next to me, looking at me. The most popular guy in school was standing next to me, and I could only stare at him in disbelief.
Into the dead silence, Hunter innocently asks, “Hey, what is that?”
All I can say in my defense was that I was already in a somewhat strange state due to the distressing situation with the cheesecake pizza. Then, you add to that the fact that someone I was in awe of (I’m not joking, I was outrageously and comprehensively intimidated by Hunter Smith and his athletic skills) was speaking to me, and I can only say that my brain simply shut down.
I took a deep breath, and then suddenly launched into this whole, long, stumbling explanation about how I thought it might be cheesecake pizza but I wasn’t sure it was cheesecake pizza because I’d been here two weeks ago with my best friend and got cheesecake pizza and this didn’t look the same as that pizza and blah blah blah blah blah. I honestly don’t even know all of what I said. Eventually, after who knows how much time, I came to my senses and realized I was rambling on to Hunter Smith about cheesecake pizza. Abruptly, right in the middle of a sentence about heaven only knows what mysterious existential examination of the nature of cheesecake pizza, I stopped speaking. And resumed staring at Hunter.
Into this void of discomfort, Hunter politely says, “That’s cool. Is it any good?”
This time I have no defense for what happened. I can only cringe.
In response, I scoop a piece of the much pondered pizza onto my plate, pick it up, and proceed to shove half of it into my mouth. Then I stood there, chewing. As I continued to stare at Hunter Smith.
After a good fifteen or twenty seconds of chewing to finally make it possible to swallow the half a piece of pizza I just ate, I finally manage to free my mouth to snap back this witty rejoinder: “It’s okay.” I then shoveled three more pieces of pizza onto my plate.
And then I stood there.
And continued to stare at Hunter Smith.
Into the absolute vacuum of awkwardness, Hunter replies, “Well, I think I’m going to get some.”
I nod dumbly back, and continue to stand there.
Hunter stands there.
We stare at each other.
At last it occurs to me. In my fervor to secure ALL the cheesecake pizza for myself, I had unconsciously placed my body squarely in front of it. I was essentially hunched over its spot on the buffet, completely blocking all access to it. There was no possible way for Hunter to get to the cheesecake pizza.
Slowly, slowly I uncurled myself from the space around the cheesecake pizza where I was crouched like a beast of prey over my hapless victim. Then, without speaking a word, I backed away, turned around, and walked off.
For the two remaining years of high school, I did everything in my power to avoid Hunter Smith, which thankfully was not that difficult. You may think that this story is now at an end, because it surely has to be, because it could not get worse.
Ahh, but Readers. If you thought that, you underestimate my mind-bogglingly vast affinity for awkward, embarrassing situations.
Senior year of high school rolls around, and somewhat to my pleasant surprise I found myself in the soccer Homecoming Court. My naive mind did not comprehend immediately the potential for unpleasantness here, because I was actually really excited to be in the Homecoming Court… yay! The exciting shine of that wore off instantly, however, when someone mentioned to me how we were going to be paired with an escort from the boys’ team.
And Readers, you already must have guessed that Hunter Smith was one of the candidates for the boys.
But I was optimistic. I staunchly reassured myself that I would not be paired with him! There were six candidates each, which meant I had an 5 in 6 chance of not getting paired with Hunter Smith. Those odds were practically unbeatable. I would be fine.
You know already, don’t you?
What I failed to learn was just how a boy and a girl candidate were paired up– alphabetically by last name. Aka they put us in alphabetical order and matched us with the corresponding boy.
Hunter Smith. Sara Rowe.
In the Soccer Homecoming Court of 2009, Smith and Rowe were the corresponding names.
Now, most all of the girls on my team had heard the great Cheesecake Pizza Story at one point or another over the years, and they were absolutely loving it that I was paired with Hunter. The story made the rounds again, and it just so happened that Hunter’s girlfriend at the time was the athletic trainer for the soccer team. I had to get my ankle wrapped every day for a while, and somehow I ended up telling her the story. She thought it was hilarious, and told me she was glad I was the one paired with her boyfriend and not someone else. I did not share the sentiment.
Fast forward to the day of homecoming, and as so many big schools insist on doing, we had to have a PEP RALLY. And this pep rally had to feature the Homecoming Court for soccer! And of course, it had to be a THEMED pep rally. Our theme? Black light. So we find out kind of last minute that our escort will, well… escort us down this aisle set up in the gym, through a sword arch made by the ROTC, and then we will sit in chairs in front of everyone for the duration of the pep assembly. Awesome. Fantastic.
So we gather outside the gym, waiting our turn to be called. Hunter is, thankfully, off talking to the boys. A minute or so before its time for the first pair to walk, they line us up just inside the doors to the gym with our partners. This is the first time I will have spoken to Hunter Smith in two years. Let’s just say I was slightly anxious. Luckily, he says very little, merely a hello and a how are you. I think, hey, maybe I can survive this. The pair in front of us takes off. We’re next. It’s totally dark in the gym, may I remind you, except for black lights everywhere. I realize it’s much easier to face Hunter when I don’t really have to see him. He takes my arm. We step forward. And then we are walking the tarp aisle laid out.
Oh. Oh I got this.
I throw my shoulders back and I STRUT. I am a senior. I am in the Homecoming Court. I am escorted by the school’s athletic champion. And my fervent wishes have come true, and he clearly doesn’t remember that time two years ago I made a fool out of myself. I start smiling so big that I know my pearly whites have got to be absolutely GLOWING in all the black lights around us. We reach the ROTC members lined up on either side of the aisle, and they make a freaking SWORD ARCH over our heads as we go by. I am ON. TOP. OF. THE. WORLD.
Then, Hunter casually leans towards me and says, “So… had any cheesecake pizza lately?”
I am, as the last time I was near enough to Hunter Smith for conversation, struck speechless. He chuckles and says his girlfriend told him about it. Then suddenly we are at the chairs, and Hunter escorts me to mine before going to sit with the boys on the other side. I cannot tell you to this day what happened during that assembly, because my mind was frozen with horror.
When the evening rolled around and it was actually time for the actual Homecoming ceremony, I hid in the dressing room as long as I could, pretending to get ready. Someone finally had to come get me to tell me it was time to go take our places. Hunter– who let me stress was always kind and polite to me, except for the teasing during the assembly– very sweetly said how pretty I looked. And because I am the living embodiment of Socially Awkward Penguin, I told him, “You too.”
Then we were strolling, me trying to keep up in high heels, which I feel like I don’t even need to describe to you how that went. Luckily we didn’t really have time to say anything, and no more references to cheesecake pizza were made, and after Homecoming was over the Hunter Smith saga came to a thankful close.
But Sara, you are saying, now that I’ve finally stopped rambling about cheesecake pizza long enough for you to get a word in. That story was painfully humiliating, why on earth would you ever share it?
An excellent question, and I thank you for it, because you have created the perfect segue for me.
As I blogged about before, I am a big fan of CiCi’s pizza buffet. Unfortunately, the last time I was there someone thought I was a man, and I proceeded to eat half of a pizza to comfort myself. I went again to CiCi’s for lunch this week, and I am happy to report that nobody mistook me for a member of the opposite gender. But alas, who to my wandering eye should appear, but Hunter Smith, who I have not seen since I graduated high school.
Me. Hunter Smith. A pizza buffet.
It all came rushing back to me, and to ensure that a repeat of the infamous Cheesecake Pizza Incident did not occur, I pretended that I did not see Hunter Smith. To be honest, I’m not even sure that he recognized me, or knew who I was.
Ah Readers. Isn’t it funny how sometimes life comes full circle?