Most of the time, I consider myself to be reasonably well-spoken. I don’t just mean that I tend to use a broad vocabulary and feel comfortable that I’ll be able to express myself accurately – though I do – but also that I rarely stutter or misspeak. I haven’t done much public speaking, so I can’t say how much the nerves would kick up if I was in front of a larger crowd. But in a one-on-one conversation, small groups or even a classroom of peers, I can speak up, articulate my thoughts, and follow the flow of conversation, without many ums and uhs and likes and ya knows.
If I’m tired, I do start to stutter, especially if I’m trying to quote something from memory or read aloud; it’s harder for me to express other people’s thoughts than to express my own, I guess. I’ll stumble over phrases, misread sentences, mispronounce common words, and generally go from a confident speaker to a jittery mess with fairly little warning.
This is when Freudian slips sneak along and fall right out of my face and into the lap of the person – or, if I’m really lucky, the many, many people – to whom I am speaking. Usually, it’s a quick little thing, briefly embarrassing and quickly forgotten: saying “sex” instead of “success,” maybe, or a random F-bomb.
Oh, once. It was horrifying and memorable, and took a good long while before it started to seem funny. Now it’s hilarious, of course, but at the time? Monumentally disturbing.
It happened in the spring of 2004, in an Advanced Psychological Assessment course. I was a third-year grad student and had gravitated toward tests and assessments since the start; I had worked as a TA in two different testing classes for two years and was about to start a job as the assistant supervisor for the psychoeducational assessment program at the school’s mental health clinic. Which is all a wordy way of saying, I was in my element. I loved this stuff.
But at the same time, I was heavily pregnant with Jacob, and his was a difficult, high-risk pregnancy from the start. By the spring, I had reached the start of the third trimester and the end was in sight. This was a tremendous relief after the severe bleeding and anemia and bedrest of the first trimester and the exposure to Fifth Disease in the second trimester. I didn’t yet know that I would end up with preterm labor and pre-eclampsia, destined to spend another four weeks on bedrest in July. But still, I was stressed, and I was tired. All. The. Time.
One day, we were discussing the Rorschach inkblot test, and the professor handed out the transcript of a test he had administered some time prior. Rorschach transcripts are funny-looking critters, crammed into weird columns and filled with strange-looking abbreviations. It’s important to take down every word that the client says, verbatim, and so Rorschach examiners develop a shorthand. “LL” for “looks like,” “rly” for “really,” and so on.
So, that day, the stars had aligned against me. I was chronically exhausted, and this was the last class in a 10-hour day, so I was bordering on comatose. We were reading someone else’s words, and they weren’t even typed all the way out, so we had to decipher the shorthand and read aloud simultaneously.
Oh, this is not good, I thought. Sometimes you just know what’s coming.
In a pitiful attempt to stave off the inevitable, I counted the number of people ahead of me – did I mention that this was a very popular class, and nearly every member of my 20-some cohort was in the room at the time? – and figured out which entry would be mine to read. I ignored a few of the other entries and rehearsed mine in my head, hoping to have at least the main points internalized before it was my turn to speak.
Of course, I miscounted, and so when it was my turn, I was not only flying blind, but I was also flustered. I skimmed it over quickly, and breathed a short sigh of relief: it seemed like a fairly straightforward, simple response, without a lot of abbreviations mixed in.
That relief ended immediately, because the response said, “It looks like a big, beautiful organism.” But my mouth said, loud and clear, in front of my classmates and favorite-but-most-critical professor, and probably over the school’s loudspeaker and perhaps on the local radio station as well, “It looks like a big, beautiful orgasm.”
I blushed furiously, everyone collapsed in raucous laughter, and there was no nice, welcoming chasm of earth opening up for me to disappear into. So I decided to start over, once the giggles subsided (from everyone else… remember, it took a while for this to be amusing to me). And then, in case it hadn’t been bad enough – in case there was anyone in the county who hadn’t heard me the first time – I said it again.
“It looks like a big, beautiful orgasm.”
Most of the room was willing to chalk it up to the pregnancy or exhaustion or hormones, I’m sure, but I was appalled. It was just so unlike me, especially to have happened twice. I did finally get through it – never has the word “or-gan-is-m” been enunciated with quite that much clarity- but the humiliation of the moment burned itself upon my brain.
This is the first in an effort to bring a little bit of structure, to my blog and to anyone else who wants to play along: once a week, on Wednesdays because why not, we’ll share a topic and do some linking, and generally have a little mini-carnival. Lisa, Beverly, Baino and former classmate J (who was actually there, in the room, for my encounter with Freud) have agreed to play along this week. The more the merrier; if you decide to join in, let me know and I’ll link away.