I’ve always been pathologically self-conscious. I don’t really know why – it’s not like I was born without a nose or anything – but I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I think maybe the neurosis stems from having looked so much like a boy when I was a baby that I’d be in my carriage wearing a pink dress and pink hair clips and people would STILL come over and ask, “Aww, how old is he?!” (This might have had something to do with the fact that my ‘hair’ consisted of three wispy strands of nothing, but I digress.)
The self-consciousness wasn’t SO bad when I was a kid, though I do remember being six years old and so deeply ashamed of a tiny mole on my left hand that I would hold it to my body in a palsy-ish kind of way. It only really got bad when I hit twelve years old – that’s when I first put on a knee-length, black, puffy winter coat, and I pretty much didn’t take the fucking thing off for the next six years.
You may think I’m exaggerating. I wish that were the case, but you could ask any one of the 120 kids I went to school with back then, and every single person would tell you, “Yeah, Caroline definitely did spend 6th grade through 12th grade comfortably swaddled in a crazy person puffer coat.” I’d break out Old Faithful as soon as the temperature dipped below 65 degrees in October, and I wouldn’t take it off until it was so hot outside that other people were wearing sundresses and shorts to school.
It was pretty nutty behavior, retrospectively, and GOOD GOD was it BOILING HOT in there. Multiple times a week, some other student, most likely clad only in a thin, short-sleeved shirt, would turn to me and say, “Hey, Caroline, it’s super hot in here, aren’t you hot in that coat?” And even though my hair would be plastered to my red, sweaty face and I’d be feeling like I could slump over from heat stroke at virtually any moment, I’d reply, “Oh, man, I’m FREEZING! I can’t believe you’re hot! I’m so glad I have my coat to keep me toasty!” Then I’d spend the rest of the class simultaneously fuming at their nerve and envying them for the fact that they weren’t totally insane like me.
I even had a math teacher, Doc, who would literally beg me to take the coat off in front of the whole class. “Caroline, you’re beautiful,” he’d say, “and for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, could you take the goddamn coat OFF?” I’d just smile knowingly and say, “Oh, Doc. You know that’ll never happen.” And it didn’t – not until after I’d graduated from high school. I’m surprised my superlative in the yearbook wasn’t, “Most Likely To End Up Wearing a Tin Foil Hat to Match Her Paranoid Schizophrenic’s Outfit.”
Finally, I got to college and decided that there wasn’t much of a point to schvitzing like a pudding at a picnic all the time. Don’t get me wrong, though – I still wear a long, black, puffy coat every winter, and the first time each season that I get to put it on, I think to myself, “Hello, old friend. We meet again.”