Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Don't Ask

There are some things you just can't come back from.

Take for example, speech class, in which I bravely stood up to give my extemporaneous speech only to panic and flee. I ran back to my seat after barely half a minute, with some random sputterings, and the only reason why I didn't fail my speech assignment was that I had some good eye contact in that first few seconds, which not many of the other students attempted. Or maybe it was just that my terror was so visible, I could not be punished. Or maybe it was that I love Nick Drake and my professor was thrilled that one of his students even knew who Nick Drake was (yeah, in hindsight, it was probably the Nick Drake thing).

From then on, whenever I gave a speech, I remembered the cold, naked eye of the video camera recording my every flaw. I still remember. I will never be able to give another speech without thinking about it, and about the tape, which I watched later, a cruel reflection of myself, grinning like an idiot with wild, terror-filled eyes.

Some things just get stuck in your brain. They're like a kind of mental tattoo. You know you've made a mistake, and you can try to get rid of it, but no matter what, there's always a mark left behind.

I think there are some questions people just shouldn't ask. In fact, in a book I just finished, my point was proved for me! The forty-something protagonist was pregnant, but she wasn't saying a word. Her friends waited and waited and waited, becoming rather obviously angry with her about the silence, but still she stayed quiet. But her friends never asked her if she was pregnant, even though they knew. Why? Because that's not a question you ask.

Just say the forty-something protagonist had enjoyed her amazing Australian cuisine a little too much. Just say she'd gained weight the way I do--in her belly region--and just say she WAS NOT PREGNANT. Now imagine what would have happened if her friends HAD asked her...she could kiss what was left of her self esteem goodbye.

Speaking of self esteem...

When my gallbladder stole away my love of food, I dropped three pants sizes. But that wasn't the only thing getting rid of my gallbladder did. I just feel better now. I'm less run down, I'm able to sleep at night (sometimes), and I've stopped getting carsick! Oh--and I can eat food from EVERY food group--not just bread!

All of those things have combined to make me feel a little better about being Laura. I wouldn't go so far as to say I feel like signing up for America's Next Top Model, but I feel like I CAN look good, which is more than I could say at this time last year.

One evening, I was working at the library.

A woman had brought in her three year-old granddaughter. They sat at a computer, and I helped them find games to play. Then they played, read books, and did all the other bookish things kids do when they come to the library. When the grandmother was about to leave, she brought up some books to check out. I started scanning and stamping, as I do, and after a while she thanked me.

But before I darted off to meet Paul for dinner, the woman smiled at me.

"I just have to ask," she said. "Boy or girl? When are you due?"

It was like an atomic bomb.

First the explosion, as the words dropped from her mouth...

Then the wave of destruction...

Finally, the devastating radiation, infecting everything, leaving me a walking ghost, my hair falling out, my skin changing to paper and flaking away, until all that was left of me was ash, ash and the shame of being the not-pregnant-but-still-pregnant-looking girl.

"I'm...not pregnant," I replied somehow, my mouth finding words my brain had forgotten.

She looked at me, but I couldn't see her anymore. She left.

I stayed.

"Please find me a hole," I said to one of our student assistants. "I need to crawl into a hole, so I can stay there and never see another person again."

The student made a sympathetic noise.

"I am mortified," I continued. "I am just...mortified. There is no other word for it."

I started to leave so I could meet Paul for dinner.

All day I had been planning on custard from Culver's. The flavor of the day was REALLY good, and I had been at work, starving, all day. Or at least, I'd thought I was starving. Apparently, though, I have a great pillow of fat I can use to feed myself during the long winter months. I'm like a bear that way. I can curl up in bed and sleep, living off stored fat, until the sun returns and I can grumble, stand, scratch my claws against the odd tree, and catch salmon right out of the river.

"You do not look pregnant," the children's librarian said. "You just lost 30 pounds! How could you look pregnant?"

Because I must have been a whale-shark before, or elephantine in some fashion, I wanted to reply. But my mouth wasn't working yet. It just kept saying the word "mortified" again and again.

"Besides," she continued. "I'm sure she was just confused. She thought you were someone else."

She was referring to another library worker, who works upstairs and who is, in fact, pregnant.

But all that meant to me was that I looked more pregnant than an actual pregnant woman.

I met Paul. I had the garden salad.

As I gnawed on my leaves and carrot pieces, I recounted my tale of woe.

"That woman is stupid," Paul said. "That is the one question YOU NEVER ASK."

"I know, right?!" I said. "It's a bad question! Yes might mean you're pregnant, but answering no just means you're acknowledging that you're fat in front of everyone!"

Paul could tell I was in distress. I texted Jennifer. If anyone could save me from this black hole of misery, it was Jennifer. She has skills.

"You have to be an idiot to ask that question," Paul continued. "You wait for people to tell YOU. Even if they are currently in labor, you wait until THEY TELL YOU. It doesn't matter how sure you are."

"I think you should wait until the woman in question is giving birth on the rug in front of you, and even then you should be nice about it," I said. "You shouldn't just say, "Oh my goodness, you're pregnant! You're giving birth!" You should say, "Gee, you appear to be in some kind of medical distress. What could be the problem?" And then you wait for the woman to tell you, or for the baby to be born all the way, and then you ask kindly, "Oh! You were pregnant? What a surprise!'"

Paul was nodding. "If you're right," he said. "Then everything might be okay. But if you're wrong, the damage is irreparable."

"I know," I replied. I felt pretty irreparable. I chewed the end of a pea pod. It tasted like pea pod and despair.

On the way back to work, I called my mother. "Mom," I said. "A woman in the library thought I was pregnant. And I'm not pregnant. Unless God sent some kind of angel I missed, but even then, I'm probably going to Hell because I ignored Gabriel."

"She had you confused," Mom replied. "Someone told her the girl at the library was having a baby, and she thought that meant you."

"But it isn't me," I said. Although I do look more pregnant than my co-worker does. "It isn't me at all."

"She shouldn't have asked," Mom continued.

"I'm never eating custard again," I replied.

Meanwhile, Jennifer had sent me a text. I forget exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of, "Is that person stupid?" Or maybe "Was that woman blind?" But it did make me feel better. Jennifer has skills.

I told Twitter what happened. "I know you can't see me, Twitter," I said. "But a woman at the library thought I was pregnant. Do I look pregnant, Twitter?" I needed Twitter to tell me the truth, so that I could decide whether or not I should spend my whole food budget for the year on a YMCA membership.

"What? That's laughably ridiculous. Who said that?" Bailey asked. I told her.

"There isn't a thing about you that looks pregnant. And, you know, that's like the one thing you're never supposed to ASK," Bailey continued. "It's is THE widely-accepted social rule! Don't ask women if they are pregnant. Wait for them to tell you. That's the rule."

And she is, of course, right. Because if you don't wait, THIS HAPPENS: I obsess, I decide the whole thing is funny, I laugh excessively, and I still think, "You look PREGNANT FAT LAURA because that lady at the library said you did" every time I get dressed or look at myself or put on pants. And the whole blasted thing reminds me of this. But those words are in my head now, and there is nothing I can do to get them out. They're just sitting there, hovering over my right ear, in the temporal lobe region, waiting to work their dark magic over me whenever I least expect it.


  1. You're not fat, you don't look pregnant and you're BEAUTIFUL! Don't let anyone else say otherwise :)

  2. Only you can make mortification so hilarious.

    I feel your pain, I do. This very thing has happened to me many times. Paul is so right. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!?!

    I think you should go have some custard right now.

  3. I don't really care what size I am. I just care if I am carrying whatever weight I have in such a way that I look pregnant. Or rather, the lady's voice inside my head indicates that maybe I care.

    But I agreem I do think think I need some custard. Maybe the voice of custard will silence Crazy Lady. Custard could even fill the void my self esteem left behind when it vanished...