Sore Thumb

This was a Patreon early release months ago. I hope that even in its unfinished state, it makes you laugh.


When I was a kid, I was self-conscious. Not a great revelation, I realize. We were all kids, and to some extent, we were all self-conscious. But my sensitivity was different. How?

Let me tell you a story.

One frigid February morning, the ground was slick with crunchy ice in our tiny Indiana town. Kids everywhere were reluctantly pushed out their front doors encased in layers of mismatched nineties knitwear. Any scene from a horror movie where zombies emerge from tombs comes to mind. In this case, picture the zombies as tiny, grumpy, and inconvenienced instead of starving for human flesh. Cartoon puffs of winter breath dotted the still, snowless air. 

I was a "walker". I lived six blocks away from school and normally I braved the cold. 

Our kind fireman neighbor emerged from his front door across the street, his two youngest daughters in tow. He was tough. Like the Brawny paper towel man. He had a blonde moustache. Also like the Brawny paper towel man. He saw me ambling in the general direction of the school, a slow-moving pile of barely animated scarves, and wordlessly gestured to me that I should come catch a ride in his pickup truck. 

I Stay-Puft Marshmallowed my was across the street. It was too cold for words. Cowboy head nods would have to do. 

He got into the driver's side. His two youngest daughters climbed into the middle of the front seat. 
These girls were everything I wanted to be. They were stylish, pretty, and popular. They were good at sports and they smelled like Jean Nate, the fanciest childhood perfume of the nineties. Their family was comprised of five beautiful sisters with blonde, silky hair, a perfect collection of living Barbies. Whether I was wrong or right to think this, I felt like Igor anytime they were around. 

Because I was this:  

Not a Klingon. A nerd. Professional grade. All-star.

I hopped, as much as one could hop in a spacesuit, into the truck last. Then, I closed the passenger door behind me—on my right thumb. 
That’s not the weird part.

What’s weird is that I looked at it and decided not to say anything. It’s only a few blocks to school. It won’t be that bad. I turned to face front and when I did, in my peripheral vision, I saw our neighbor and his daughters staring at me, open-mouthed and horrified.

“Is that your thumb in the door?” the middle daughter asked, her side ponytail jostled just a bit as she talked.

I tried to play it cool, “Huh? Look at that. Whoops!” I opened the door, calmly removed my thumb, which was happily housed in a thick knitted mitten, and shut the door again. I looked back at them and laughed a little, shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes like, what are you gonna do? The old body part slammed shut in a car door problem, as though this were a common pitfall. 

When I got to school and removed my mitten, my thumb was red and bleeding. I still didn’t say anything. That is the kind of self-consciousness I mean. 

You’re probably wondering why I so desperately needed to fly under the radar. That’s a question I still ask myself, but it’s at least partially because I faced a rising tide of social anxiety. I don’t mean run-of-the-mill self-awareness, like, “Oh, do I have something in my teeth?”

My social anxiety back then certainly didn’t fit the current definition of geek or nerd. Words that now make you imagine Tina Fey, Rivers Cuomo, or the latest Silicon Valley billionaire. I want to tell you what it was like to be a nerd before it was cool.

Picture it, small-town Indiana, 1992ish. I’m ten. It’s fourth grade. I’m so painfully uncool, that each day at school, I do my very best to implode into nothingness. Each day, I pray that a Wrinkle-In-Time-esque dimension will open up and whisk me away. In fact, I am so devoted to this idea that I watch movies about alternate dimensions on a regular basis, like Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland and then Labyrinth again. 

I was the kind of nerd who was so out of touch, I didn’t know how to use a curling iron. The situation was Jan Brady invents a boyfriend bad. I was so out of step with 95% of my classmates, that when a new boy moved to town, the rest of the boys hazed him by convincing him I was the coolest girl in school.

But as you now know, I was not.

His name was Brad. (His name was not Brad. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. But his name was Brad-ish.)

In my memory, Brad arrived at our school wearing brand new Air Jordans, looking like an extra from the Disney channel. He had the requisite butt cut, which was THE LOOK at the time. Brad acted self-assured, but he also arrived asking everyone questions about what was cool at this school. I overheard them telling him about me as I was picking persimmons off the ground near the basketball court at recess. 

Yes. That’s how I spent my recess. Why? Because I heard they made good jam, that’s why. Okay, fine. Back then I hated jam, but any excuse to mill around in less populous areas was fine by me. Try to look very busy and distracted is the premiere technique of We, the "Please God, don't bother me." Children. I can't fully explain myself, but I somehow blame Laura Dern's character from Jurassic Park. She was always busy looking at leaves and poop and who bothered her? Nobody. That's who. Not people anyhow.

By this time, I was accustomed to the old hazing gag in one form or another. The new guy never believed it, but the laugh they all shared about how absurd the notion was that I was cool bonded them as a group, you see. The first time it happened was in third grade after I got my first pair of glasses. A boy named Carl (his name wasn't Carl) moved to town. That time it happened sitting in class. 


“She’s the coolest girl here?” he asked. I didn’t know if anyone was pointing at me because I was too annoyed to turn around, but I assumed.

In fact, I frequently pretended I didn’t hear what people said. Another handy trick. Bullies are also desperately impatient, so it's relatively easy to wait them out. Mean kids are like dogs in that they smell fear. And sadness. And off-brand body spray. They do not, however, have gifted attention spans. Thank God. 

Anyway, forget "Carl". Let's get back to Brad. Brad believed the story. He was the only kid to ever actually believe it. I still don’t understand how that happened. We didn't even had the word Himbo back then, but by God, there he was. The more he believed it, the more the other guys egged him on to try to become my boyfriend. A prospect that sent adrenaline pumping through my body.

As luck would have it, the teacher sat him at my desk clump. So, every day, for about a week, Brad drew doodles in my art box. He talked to me. We laughed. We got along great. He even tried to braid my hair once. It was the first time a boy I wasn’t related to ever touched my hair.

Every day when I came home from school and watched reruns of Full House and Family Matters, (after a two-hour block of cartoons called the Disney Afternoon and before Entertainment Tonight and Night Court) the shows felt different to me. Because now I could imagine myself in the place of DJ or, God help me, even Stephanie instead of always relating to Kimmy or Urkel. 

I began to allow myself to enjoy Heavy D songs on the radio instead of listening to my "Best of Fred Astaire" cassette. I was actually talking to people at the bus stop. My whole life felt different.


One day, smack in the middle of class, Brad asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes. I overheard him go to the basketball boys to report his victory and get this, I was thrilled. Nay, excited. I was ecstatic to hear him stand up to them when they revealed it had all been a joke. It was gonna be just like the end of Can’t Buy Me Love, only I was the Patrick Dempsey and he was the whoever that girl was. Just like all the best movies, what started as a cruel joke became real.  

When they told him, everyone laughed and he said things like, “Are you guys serious?” and poured out all the reasons he suspected maybe it had been a joke all along and, you guessed it, they bonded. They pointed out the actual cool girl, one of the many beautiful and outstanding Michelles in my class. He looked visibly relieved. Michelle had long, straight, blonde hair and straight teeth, and new clothes, and she was nice to me so I couldn’t even be mad at her.

He asked the teacher to move desk clumps. She let him. We didn’t talk again. Ever. Not in junior high, not in high school…like not ever, ever, ever again. 


Aaaaaand I'm saving the ending for a book someday. Because it's kind of dark, but also kind of victorious, and ALSO I am afraid people I know will find this. Until then, enjoy the mystery.