by Kari Diane Pike
Embarrassing moments. Everyone's had a least one. Or a dozen. Writers live for them - particularly if they happen to someone else. While the distress during the moment may turn our faces red, bring tears to our eyes, or even send us scampering to hide under a blanket fort with our thumbs in our mouths, embarrassing situations often become the stuff that makes the greatest stories.
Some years ago I shared my "Great Fish Story". Yeah. That was awkward. Don't ever listen to random college students on spring break. You might end up throwing some poor fisherman's freshly caught dinner back into the ocean because of the mistaken impression you could save the marine ecology one fish at a time.
Coming in a close second is "The Night of the Invisible Fire". Our young family of seven had relocated from California to Flagstaff, Arizona about ten months earlier and had just moved into temporary housing for the third time since the big move. A poor local economy forced my husband to accept a job in another town across the state. He worked during the week and came home only on the weekends.
One Wednesday night, I dreamt that the house was on fire. I remember trying to open my eyes, but the smoke made them sting and I kept choking on the fumes. Our dog kept barking and barking and I couldn't find her anywhere. I started coughing and woke with a start when I realized something was actually wrong. The dog really was barking and my eyes and nose and throat burned. The smell...I couldn't figure it out. The nauseating odor reminded me of a time the neighbors had an electrical fire in their car.
I leaped off the bed, forgetting to grab my glasses and felt my way down the hall to wake up the kids and get them out of the house. But who to wake up first? How could I get them all out in time? Panic clouded my thinking. I hesitated at door to the girls' room. I needed to calm down so I didn't upset the kids. The idea of a fire would scare them enough. I tried to take a deep breath and slow down my racing heart. That's when I realized the smell wasn't as bad in the hallway. My tears had washed away the sting. I peered back down the hall - as well as my nearsightedness would allow anyway. I couldn't see any smoke.
The closer I got to my bedroom, the worse the fumes became. I grabbed my glasses from the bedside, turned around and walked through the kitchen and living room. No smoke. Just that nasty, burning smell. I opened the front door to see if something was burning outside. Nothing. Nada. Back in the house. I took a deep breath and coughed out the invisible, acrid stench that filled my throat. Something was definitely wrong. What should I do? I wanted to call the fire department, but what was I going to tell them? I decided to call my friend Stephanie who lived down the road. I knew she rarely went to bed before midnight and the clock on the wall read 11:55.
Stephanie answered on the second ring. "Hello?"
Hearing a my friend's voice slowed my heart from its marathon pace down to a 10K - pounding, but not heart attack mode. "Hi Steph. It's Kari. I'm sorry to call you so late."
"It's okay. What's wrong?"
"I had a dream that the house was on fire and woke up to a terrible burning smell and I can't find smoke anywhere, but the smell burns my eyes and throat and I almost called the fire department, but I don't see fire anywhere." I paused to catch my breath. "I don't want to waste their time. Can I bring the kids over to your house until I'm sure everything is okay?"
"Of course. You are always welcome. Do you want us to come help? Did you try calling the non-emergency number and see if they can send someone over to check things out?"
"Oh, good idea. I'll call right now. I'll call you back in a minute."
I called the non-emergency line and explained the situation. "Would it be possible to just send an officer over to quietly check things out?"
"I'll dispatch someone right now, Mrs. Pike."
A minute later, sirens echoed up the street. Oh dear. Now the whole neighborhood is going to get woke up. Not one, not two, but three fire trucks appeared around the corner, accompanied by two police cars. A tall fireman climbed out of the first truck that pulled up and approached me. I repeated my story and he ordered the others to search the house and yard and alley behind us.
I hurried back into the house to get the kids. I couldn't believe they were still sound asleep. The floor creaked behind me. I turned and the fire chief motioned for me to follow him outside.
I pointed to the girls' room and whispered. "I was just getting my children up to take them to a neighbor's house."
"I don't think you need to wake up your kids, Mrs. Pike. We don't see a fire anywhere. Let me show you something."
I followed the chief out the front door and around to the back of the house. He stopped and pushed aside a loose board, revealing access to the crawl space under the house and right below my bedroom window.
"We didn't find a fire, but we did find a skunk. I think your dog got in there and scared it good. I hope you have lots of tomato juice. They say it takes the smell off pets and people." The corner of his mouth twitched and I knew he was struggling to keep a straight face.
"Oh. Well, then. That's good! I'm so sorry I bothered you. Just write in your report 'Hysterical woman whose husband was out-of-town'. I'm sure y'all will get a chuckle out of this for a long time." I ducked my head and reached my hand out to shake his hand and thank him. One large, warm hand wrapped around my cold fingers. He placed his other hand over the top and held it for a moment. I peeked up, too mortified to look straight at him. The fire chief smiled.
"It's okay, Mrs. Pike. Better safe than sorry. We get calls like this all the time." Chief motioned for the rest of the rescue workers to load up. The police officers turned off the lights flashing on their vehicles, turned on their engines, and drove away.
Stephanie pulled up right as they left. She jumped out of her car and ran up to the door. "Are you okay? We heard the sirens and knew it had to be for you. What happened? Are the kids okay?" She stopped to take a deep breath. "Whoa. Ew. Did the dog get a skunk?"
Ummm. yeah. About that.
So...readers, how do you handle embarrassing moments? Have you ever noticed that some people are more prone to them? What about the people who have no idea they should be embarrassed? Or should they? What do you do to make it easier to laugh at yourself? When's the last time you let yourself enjoy an honest-to-goodness belly laugh? Do it. It's good for the soul.
Life is magnificent.