Monday, December 9, 2013

The Wooly Mammoth Returns

Saturday night, after much vacillating, I stepped out of my comfort zone to attend a “holiday” function. 

I’d not been to one of these since Steve died. After a zillion years of marriage, he understood that these fiestas terrify me. Despite rumors to the contrary, I am painfully shy in crowds.  But this year I was going to be brave; I thought I could ask Andy if he wanted to go. “It's okay if you want to decline," I emailed since I could not bring myself to ask out loud. "I know how dreadful these things can be....”   And he replied, "Drinks and matching corsages.....what could be bad? Besides, I know you want to show me off." 

Which was true. I wanted my friends to meet the guy who pulled me outta da funk.

The venue was crowded beyond belief. I saw few people I knew. The friends I thought we were to sit with were unable to save seats for us. There were no empty seats at any table where there were people I knew. I could not breathe. 

I was 17 again, and not in a good way. I was at my most awkward, worrying that I wasn't cool enough, hippy enough, smart enough, all those enoughs that plagued everyone's high school years whether they were wallflowers or prom queens. The insecurity we work so hard to get past, put away, and suppress was all there just waiting for an opening. 

Humiliation. Embarrassment. Marginalization. Here, I’d invited someone to meet my friends and I couldn’t even manage to pull that off. I was out of place, out of time, out of space, and every social fear I ever had was coming to the surface like Old Feckless. I wanted to throw up.

Someone said, “So sit with someone you don’t know. Go make new friends.” I surprised myself. Out of my mouth came, “No, thanks. I don’t do that sort of thing.”

I could not get out of there fast enough. 

I needed to say something anything to Andy, but he got there first. “I get it. I know what you’re feeling. I know how this feels. But you said something. I would’ve just disappeared. You’re okay.” He sat me down on a chair in the lobby. "Breathe. We'll go do something fun."

Breathe? I was still working on not vomiting.

What is it that makes us all revisit those inadequacies...the ones when we were all at our worst at the moment we need to be at our best and most serene in the face of some ridiculous disappointment? Is there some built-in, genetic flaw that makes us relive the most painful memories at the drop of an unexpected humiliation?

There's gotta be something hardwired into our psyches that makes us retain stuff we'd rather forget. We never see ourselves as we are...we see the worst even when we don't admit it. In the corners, every single one of us goes through the charade. It's not unique. They constantly make movies about this, endless teenage triumphant books are written, but none of that ever changes that endless loop in our heads that says we're inadequate. 

And here's the really funny part....I think that might just be normal. Great. Just what I need. At 61 years old, I've been married, raised 2 kids, 4 parakeets, 3 dogs, 1 rabbit (who, Mom said, went to the bunny farm and I believed her) and a tank or two of assorted fish. Oh, yeah; I buried my husband. Surely that has to count as some sort of viable step toward maturity? Apparently not. 

Don't get me wrong here; I'm not living in the past. I'm just resenting like hell when that teenager shows know...the fossil that was frozen back in the very early 70s. That wooly mammoth who painted protest signs in the basement and marched on the UN. The one who painted flowers on her face and danced in Central Park to welcome Earth Day. The same one with Yardley white under the charcoal grey eyeliner and lashes clumped together to resemble Twiggy....the first of a long line of anorexic looking models whom no one could possibly replicate even with thigh high dresses from Paraphernalia at Roosevelt Field. 

Frankly, I didn't enjoy me all that much the first time. I schlepped around existential angst.  It wasn't that I was completely humorless...okay...I wasn't all that funny back then; I was full of lofty thoughts. So, I'm not all that crazy about having that other self show up at inopportune times. 

The oddest notion almost escaped me during the space between leaving the lobby and traversing the urban tundra back to the car. The guy holding my arm, my friend Andy, actually knew me when I was 15. And lofty. Here we are, finding ourselves in the same city a zillion years and two very separate lifetimes later. We remember each other at that age of angst. We know who we were... and we know who we are. We're friends. We get it. And it's okay. 

Of course, buying me my first Old Fashioned helped a lot Saturday night. I didn't know bourbon could taste that good. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Day
If you live in the Twins, try 7th Street Social for dinner. 
Excellent place. The blackberry Old Fashioned worth the trip.


  1. Susan, I would have never guessed many of these things about you. Just goes to show that you can't judge a book/person by the persona they 'emit' to the world.
    Glad that Andy was with you to 'help out!' I am guessing that many people feel the way you did .... thanks for writing about it!

  2. Yep, thanx for writing so eloquently about that crowd terror. Me Too-hate parties; either hide in kitchen or find kids to roll around with.

  3. I absolutely loved this. I get so anxious in situations like that and end up so awkward.

    This was just beautifully written