First thing this morning, I’m driven to the Community Center where, before the onset of their annual Tsunahiki (Tug of War), I’m to greet all 1,000 middle school students whom I’ll be teaching this year.I knew I’d be expected to say something to the young crowd, but I’d been so preoccupied with coming up with a speech for my meeting with the mayor and an upcoming conference in Miyazaki, that I arrive at the center completely unprepared.
Being August in this sub-tropic region it is sweltering and because of my very strong desire to cover up my psoriasis, I’m completely overdressed. So, by the time I step foot into the packed gymnasium, I’m dripping with sweat.
I don’t mean perspiring.
I mean DRIPPING with sweat.
There are beads of perspiration pouring down my face. stinging my eyes, soaking my top and drenching my hair.
Leaving me longing for a handkerchief.
Or better yet, a very large bath towel.
As I stand to the side, trying desperately to pay attention to the speeches being given on my behalf, literally quivering with anxiety over what I’m going say, I look down to the shiny, polished wooden floor at my feet and am aghast to see an actual puddle of nerves.
I fidget with my damp shorts. I fuss with my wristwatch.
I feel the unrelenting urge to weep and long for a cool, dark place to hide.
Dizzy with heat, I hear my name. It sounds like it’s being spoken underwater.
Akiko-san (who’s been standing at my side, attempting to sooth my conspicuous distress with her sympathetic smile) gently nudges me forward.
Legs still wobbling, I step toward the microphone.
You can do it, Anne.
There’s nothing to be nervous about.
The next thing I know, the customary slipper I’ve been required to slip into before stepping onto the pristine gymnasium floor, is catapulting ahead of me into the first row of the surprised student crowd.
I cringe as I retrieve my footwear from the first row and turn back to the microphone. It feels like I’m walking in the shallow end of a pool.
I search desperately for the very first words I’d speak to my students.
“Ohaiyo gozaimasu,” I stutter into the microphone as the sound of my shaky voice reverberates off the gymnasium walls, mocking me.
“Atsui, desu ne? [Hot, isn’t it?].” I stammer, attempting to laugh.
Nothing but silence.And a lot of staring.
I introduce myself in Japanese, apologize for my poor grasp of the language and stand there before the hushed crowd, trembling.
Grasping for words.
Even my native tongue evades me.That is, until I hear myself say, “I expect to see you all in class with smiles on your faces.”
At which point I bring my index fingers to the corners of my mouth and actually pull up a smile.
A freaky, sad clown smile.
What an idiot.
What deafening silence.
I quickly thank everyone and as I’m returning to my place… I slip on my very own puddle of flop sweat, just barely averting an ass plant, yet propelling the very same slipper into the hushed and bewildered crowd of teachers and administrators standing behind me.
So much for first impressions.
As the students disperse and regather into their tug-of-war groups, I make my way back to Akiko’s friendly, forgiving smile and signal her to lead me to the nearest bathroom.
There, I stick my head beneath the sink and unsuccessfully attempt to drown myself.