I was recently back somewhere I had had a few tutorials as an undergraduate.
As I was approaching, I began to feel anxious and sweaty and sort of guilty, as though I was about to remember disgracing myself drunkenly at some sort of bop.
I remembered a “funny” story that I had used to tell from tutorials there, that I had forgotten over the years.
In this story, I turn up five minutes early, and the other two students in the tutorial aren’t there. The tutor shuts the door, which is weird because two other students are about to arrive. He says something to me. I’ve told this “funny” story too many times now to be sure if what I remember is what happened or what I’ve said, or some hybrid of the two. It is something how I look. Complimentary, quite specific. More than “you look nice today” less than “nice tits love.” I ask to talk about my essay. One of the other students arrives.
So far, so nothing. An awkward conversation between an awkward undergraduate and an awkward professor.
But as I was walking around this place, I was remembering other things. A year later I’d helped out with a conference. The tutor had asked me to do some photocopying, and then followed me to the copy room. It had been cramped. I’d felt awkward and self-conscious. Someone else had walked in.
After the conference, I mentioned to the other helpers that it was nice of him to have send us a card and a book voucher. None of the others had received anything.
I don’t know why this made me feel so bad, but I did. I was walking around all day anxious and sweaty afraid that I was going to run into this guy. Was it because it was an awkward situation and I had behaved awkwardly? Nothing happened. I mean, this wasn’t exactly Weinstein territory.
And now I’m left with doubt. I know what I would say to a friend if they told me the story, but I was in this situation. Nothing was implicitly offered or implicitly withdrawn. There was an uncomfortable power dynamic. A few awkward things that made me feel self-conscious happened, but people are awkward, and that’s life.
Even now, looking back, I just feel embarrassed like I was either socially awkward, or a deluded narcissist to think that someone much more senior would even bother to try it on with me. That no matter how unwelcome it would have been, I must be pretty up myself to imagine anyone would imagine something like that about me.
I can’t parse it. And I think that’s what’s strange about the past. So many of life’s odd encounters come to nothing. We second-guess ourselves. We doubt.
We know what’s right and wrong, but so many real-life scenarios are ambiguous and hard to read. It’s absolutely