I was blessed/cursed with a rather precarious combination of traits. Among them: fearfulness, innocence and a wild imagination. The result was an array of ridiculous beliefs I developed early in life, frequently followed by the harsh and/or hilarious process of learning just how misinformed I was.
To say that I’m a worrier would be an understatement. If speaking at birth were possible, I would have come out asking the doctor if he washed his hands before delivering me. Then I would have ordered the nurses to bring me a blanket and cover their eyes. I guess that last part is less about fear and more about my deep appreciation for warmth and modesty. Blankets are my everything!
Anyway, I was also very impressionable as a child. I placed great trust in adults, assuming everything I heard or saw was both true and critically important. As far as I was concerned, adults could do no wrong. Well, except for Tanya Harding and Cinderella’s evil stepmother- they wronged my heroes and were dead to me from the get-go.
And, ah yes…the imagination part. Inadvertently eavesdropping on adults was one of my favorite childhood activities. I didn’t discriminate as to whom I listened to, either. Whether it was my parents, my teachers or strangers in line at the grocery store, I soaked up conversation like a sponge. As soon as I could gain enough viable intel, I would scurry off like a little mouse and let my imagination go to town. Unfortunately, I kept my thoughts to myself so my parents never had a chance to intervene in my misinformed daydreaming.
So, why do I tell you all of this? Well, it’s important background information for a series of posts I’ll be writing titled “Things I worried about as a child,” the first of which follows.
Mrs. Schierling’s 6th grade class. We were studying one of my favorite subjects: Health. Guess what propels a subject to “favorite” status? Being allowed to eat a healthy snack during class. Mine was usually a very unhealthy-sized bag of goldfish crackers, which were both delicious and suitably distracting.
One day, while arranging the fish on my paper towel, my teacher introduced the topic for the day: AIDS.
She explained that it was an unprecedented disease that was quickly spreading all over the world, including our very own country.
How could you get it, I wondered? As it turns out, 6th grade health books don’t go into great detail on the ways in which AIDS can be contracted. But, we learned the basics, which was just enough information to scare me.
The worrying began and, for a moment, was relatively mild. But then the statistics started: “Kids, it’s estimated that 1 in 4 people will have AIDS within the next twenty years.” All I heard was “Kids, 1 in 4 people currently have AIDS and 12 year-olds are just as likely to have it as adults. And your little dog, too!”
I started scanning the room, convinced that 25% of my classmates were HIV positive. Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing who was infected. The plan was to continue playing with my friends in safe, non-disease passing ways.
Fast-forward to later that year. I decided to invite some friends over for a sleepover. For some reason, toward the end of the sleepover, one of the girls suggested we shave our legs together.
AIDS can be transmitted through shaving! Didn’t these girls know?! They were in the same class as I was, so I knew they knew! Were they willing to risk their lives for a shaven leg (or two)?! I quietly protested and declined to partake in the suicide shaving.
After they went home, I went all HAZMAT and carefully cleaned up the aftermath of their risky little brush with death. And then I sat on the edge of the tub dramatically pondering what the future held for these girls. Full House style.
It turns out none of us had AIDS.* The statistics provided were pretty inaccurate. Or, I was paying more attention to my goldfish crackers than to the teacher and misheard her.
So, the moral of this story is: don’t you dare touch my razor.
*This is an educated guess. I don’t even remember who was there.