Forum — From the December 2014 issue

At First Blush

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It must have been sometime in the early fall, I was thirteen and had just moved to a new school. It must have been during science class, because I remember the teacher who pointed at me and told me, with some irritation, to spit out my chewing gum. “Your gum, Karl,” he said.

I was sitting at the back of the class and stood up to walk to the wastebasket in the far corner of the room. That’s when it happened. I was walking between the rows of desks where all my new classmates were sitting, and I started to blush. I had never blushed before, I had hardly ever felt ashamed about anything. On the contrary, I was a child who enjoyed attention, who loved taking up space, who chatted constantly to everyone I met about almost anything. To me, the classroom was an arena where I could compete and show off.

“Addie Mae (Pouting). Pleasant Grove, UT,” by Brian Shumway, from his series Suburban Splendor

“Addie Mae (Pouting). Pleasant Grove, UT,” by Brian Shumway, from his series Suburban Splendor

Then, suddenly, I was blushing. My face was burning with shame. And the process was self-reinforcing, for my burning face, my red cheeks, were visible to everyone, and that made me feel even more ashamed and made me blush even more deeply. It was like an avalanche. From one moment to the next everything became impossible. Just walking across the classroom, which I had always felt perfectly at ease doing, and did without thinking about it, often joyfully, as when I rushed outside during recess, suddenly became a nightmare. I became conscious that there was something odd about the way I was walking, and that made me walk even more clumsily; I was aware of every step, and there was something stiff and mechanical about the way I moved across the room.

I reached the wastebasket, took out my gum, and threw it away. I saw myself from the outside, with the eyes of my classmates, and I realized that I was an idiot. I understood that I was ugly and stupid.

With my gaze fixed on the floor, I turned to go back to my seat.

“Karl Ove’s face is all red!” someone said.

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Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 3 (Archipelago) was published in May.

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