I think this happens to us all. Someone will say something to us--something snarky and sharp that always cuts just right. In the moment, we sit there, stunned, mouth hanging, eyes hollow. We might stutter or spit a reply, but it's always crap. Just crap. For days, weeks, months, maybe years, the situation follows us around like an unresolved spirit, stuck to the walls of our mind like dried-up oatmeal to the sides of a bowl that just hangs there, unwashable. Then it happens. The perfect reply finally comes to us, and we practice it everywhere like it's our only line in a play and the whole show depends on this recitation. We spew it at the mirror while brushing our teeth. We mumble it in the car on the way to work. We whisper it into our pillow before bed. And all for nothing. The spirit never responds--just follows.
One of these things happened to me a few months ago. I was in a meeting at school and, of course, someone brought donuts. I knew it was going to happen the moment I saw them. I have public eating-induced anxiety. I don't really know how to explain the feeling and I don't especially want to explore it too deeply here. Sometimes I'm anxious when I eat in public and sometimes I'm not. It depends on the situation, people present, lighting, weather, temperature, what I'm wearing, what song I just listened to, how many people are facing me, how long someone holds my gaze, and all sorts of other things that I realize sound ridiculous. My breathing will become sparse. I'll get hot. The world sort of tilts and sways and the walls seem a lot closer and I'll close my eyes and with every ounce of self-control try not to start gasping for air. Luckily, I'm now typically able to recognize when it might happen and usually tuck away the food for later.
On that day, the thought of scarfing down a flaky, crumby, glazed donut in front of fifteen or so of my peers already had my stomach in knots, and I knew the anxiety would come full force if I actually tried to consume one. I'd much rather eat alone at home, where I can stuff my face to my stomach's content at 2 a.m. while basking in the light of my computer screen. (Wow, I really am Gollum.) But this entry is not about that problem.
The box was passed around the table and finally made its way to my end. I drew a breath, mumbled a no thanks, and hoped that would be the end of it. It wasn't.
"I think you can afford to eat a donut." It was the outspoken girl in the group. There's always one. A guy or girl who knows it all, says it all, and is easily forgiven for doing so, hiding under a guise of worthless phrases like, "I'm just speaking my mind," or, "Just saying what we're all thinking." Ah yes, I forgot you were hired to verbalize all of my thoughts.
Everyone turned to me as the outspoken one narrowed her eyes and flitted them down my broomstick handle neck, from toothpick arm to toothpick arm, halting at my twiggy torso.* Her implications were obvious.
What I said:
[with nervous voice] "Ahh, no. It's just that...I've been sick..?"
[Everyone continues to stare as Outspoken Girl narrows eyes more and more until they disappear completely and are never seen again, which is exactly what I wish would happen to me]
What I should have said:
[with sarcastic confidence] "Of course! I completely forgot--skinny people are required to eat whenever we are presented with food. Because we're skinny! Yes, the logic is flawless. I believe they even passed a law about it recently. Thank you for reminding me. Consuming this donut will not only make me an acceptable weight(??) but also keep me out of legal trouble."
[Outspoken Girl crawls into a corner and turns into a toad as room bursts into applause and I'm crowned King of Donuts]
And this is what has been sticking around in my mind for the past couple months. One of these days, someone is going to catch me practicing this ridiculous speech in some department store mirror or while I'm pumping gas and I'll have to calmly explain how I didn't eat a donut once and it's been haunting me ever since. Undoubtably, they'll narrow their eyes, flit them up and down once or twice and the whole cycle will begin again.
*I don't want to explain my weight in this entry. I've already said everything I want to say about it in this video.