I do not remember my sister’s wedding day as the day she got married. To me, it will forever be the day I had a random meltdown in front of two hundred family and friends. I remember wondering if anyone would actually notice as I stood at the top of the room trying to conceal the fact that I literally couldn’t breathe. Perhaps it was all exaggerated in my head and on the outside I was just reciting a poem. This unfortunately was not the case. In fact, my friend sitting in the very back row was ready to call an ambulance and my brother was about to start videoing but thought better of it. The evening that followed the ceremony was filled with avoided eye contact, arm pats and being told I did “beautifully”. Apparently some guests, those who don’t know me at all, really did think it was beautiful. They thought that I was getting emotional as I gasped some soppy lines to my sister and her new groom. It had not one thing to do with emotion. My ‘oh it’ll be fine’ mentality just finally caught up with me.
Suitcase a few pounds over the limit? Fine. Parking ticket was up an hour ago? Pfft. Not even my deathly allergy to nuts can prevent me from eating a treat with a “may contain” on the label. I don’t tend to get stressed nor do I worry about much, which is why it surprised me as much as it did my onlookers when I got very visibly, worryingly stressed over a poem. I had one job- to stand up at the front of the room and read the lines. When I was assigned the task a few weeks before-hand I thought nothing of it. In fact, I completely forgot it was even a thing until we were in the car en route. Had I actually given the task some thought, I probably could have prepared myself for the unusual feeling of an entire room staring at me. The last time I publicly spoke, I was eight years old and doing a reading at a funeral. I confused the pronunciation of incense and insects, one of which was being burned around Granny Rita. Fast forward fourteen years and I still haven’t learned that preparation is key to these things.
This leads me onto my second point of how preparation could have saved me. Had I so much glanced at the poem, just one look, I wouldn’t have been so shocked at the sheer length of the thing. I was expecting a limerick of some sort. A nice little five-liner. There in front of me were six paragraphs of non-stop wording. As I started on my venture to get through this tragedy in one piece, I began to notice that I should probably take a breath soon. But where? As I was reading, I couldn’t process where the breathing opportunities were. This was something that needed planning a long time ago. Perhaps a little asterisks here and there to mark the spot. However, it was too late for that. Here I was, a quarter of the way through with zero oxygen left in my lungs, hoping the word ‘incense’ wouldn’t pop up and with nobody to blame but myself. In a cruel vicious circle, my breathing difficulties made me hyper-aware of my audience, which in turn, added to my stress. I was juggling the panic of attempting to stay conscious, wondering how many opinions mattered to me in the crowd, and correctly pronouncing word after word of this neverending poem.
Once I reached the last word, I refilled my deprived lungs of air and felt a wave of relief wash over me and everyone else in the room. We were collectively grateful that the whole thing was over. However, as traumatic as the entire situation was, it was a very valuable lesson. There’s no better teaching than public humiliation. I had sailed through twenty two years of my life winging it and getting lucky. I’ll still chance a parking ticket and a suitcase fine, that will never change. However, I no longer underestimate the importance of spending time to prepare myself. No more figuring out the busses an hour before I’m supposed to be somewhere, googling the company the morning of a job interview, or agreeing to something without so much as a second thought. Look into things, do your research, and everything will go ten times smoother. Or you won’t be the running joke at the dinner table for the rest of your life, at least?