I have an old friend who’s quite neurotic.
I realize that doesn’t narrow the category much, since most of my friends are pretty neurotic.
Actually, I’m pretty neurotic myself. And I’m not sure I’m interested in friends who aren’t neurotic. Who needs the aggravation of hanging out with people who are pulled-together, have high self-esteem, and never doubt themselves? What would we talk about? How great they are? What a mess I am?
That, as usual, is beside my original point. My original point was to tell a story about my highly neurotic friend, “Allison.” Allison and her husband invited my husband and me over for dinner one night a few years ago. We arrived at their house to find pots boiling, plates steaming, pandemonium brewing. Allison, her face frozen in hysteria, barked out orders to her husband. Salt! Do we have enough salt? No, we don’t! My God! Didn’t I tell you to get more salt? You need to go to the grocery store! Now!
Crisis begat more crises. The husband went to the grocery store. He got the wrong kind of salt. The pots boiled over, the sauce burned, the smoke alarm trilled. My husband and I got our own drinks, since we really needed to calm down by then. Allison’s face went into spasms of contortion. This dinner is going to be a disaster! You’ll never want to come back here again. My God!
We reassured her, we drank, we helped to set the table. We said, I feel sure, how nice it was to be part of such a lively atmosphere. Nothing like a dinner party with a little drama!
What was the food? I’m not sure. Probably something Middle Eastern. Everybody in our world had just discovered Middle Eastern food and everybody but my husband thought it was divine. I remember lots of white rice. The green dish may or may not have been tabbouleh. The meat was a secret, dark and inscrutable, bobbing in the sauce like a drowning swimmer.
But, oh, yes, everything was wonderful, really! my husband and I said over and over again, as we jammed food in our mouths to prove our point. Wonderful! Superb!
Whatever we said, however much we ate, Allison wasn’t buying it. She bolted from the table to the refrigerator to the spice rack, tragedy looming on her face. I didn’t put enough spice in it! The dish is ruined! It’s awful, isn’t it? I can tell you think it’s awful! My God!
Time passed. We ate and drank, she agonized loudly. Finally, the dishes were cleared. We moved to the living room to talk. Allison mentioned our getting together again in the near future. Perhaps she could cook again.
“But,” I said, trying to choose my words carefully, “it seems like it’s so much trouble for you … you know … to cook. We could just go out, instead.”
Allison looked stricken. “But I love to cook!” she said vehemently.
Too many years have passed, but I’m sure she never cooked for us again, thank God. My stomach could have taken it, but I’m not sure my nerves could have.
I think of Allison, though, when I grit my teeth and write, when I make faces at the computer, when I avoid starting to work, when I stall and skip over the Internet, when I do everything I can to avoid what I should be doing, which is writing.
Why do I have the profession I do? I’m sometimes asked.
“Because I love to write!” I announce loudly.
Then I think, oh, hell. It’s no wonder I have the friends I have. And it’s no wonder they have me.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about getting my verbal comeuppance