How She Gets When She Has Some Trouble
"My back hurts," she told me as we sat in a Chili's Bar and Grill eating our appetizer. "What if it goes up my spine and I become paralyzed?" She had just coughed up a nacho that had gone down the wrong tube, instantly killing most of the momentum she had when we arrived. Three consecutives meals out and no attacks. She dropped her nacho back onto the plate full of salsa and sour cream and jalapenos, turned her eyes up at me, and winced in pain. As irrational as it might have sounded, she was serious.
"Trust me, sweetheart. You're not going to be paralyzed. You're probably just sore from the gym." I looked down at the nacho she'd dropped, picked it up, broke it in half, ate my half, and handed the other half to her. "Here," I said. "Eat this. You really should."
She looked at me and considered the half-eaten nacho. "I can't right now. I'm in too much pain." She rubbed her back and moaned a little, careful not to let anyone around us hear. "What if I can't walk when we get up to leave?"
"Do you hear yourself?" I sighed, picked up the nacho, and finished it off myself. "Of course you'll be able to walk. You've been doing it for twenty years. Why would you think that all of a sudden you've forgotten how to walk?"
"I don't know," she said. "You know how I get when I have a little trouble." She pushed the huge appetizer platter to the edge of the table for our waitress to whisk away. "Give me a break, would you?"
I sipped some iced tea, looked down at my empty plate, and stacked it on top of the finished appetizer. She'd been doing so well, but all it takes is one little slip for her mind to start racing again, sabotaging the meal and any chance she thought she had of actually enjoying it. I looked across the table and watched her try to massage her own back. I grabbed her free hand and squeezed it. "Focus," I told her. "You know what to do in this situation." I looked her straight in the eyes until she could see how serious I meant to be. "You know it works so do it."
She dropped my hand, stopped rubbing her back, folded her hands together on the table in front of her, and closed her eyes. She focused better with her eyes closed, but it was like pulling teeth to get her to do it while we were out in public. "No one is looking at you," I'd told her several times before. "And if they are -- fuck them. Who cares?"
I watched her try to focus but could easily tell that it wasn't going to happen. Not here and not now. I wished I could take her place and try to fight this invisible fuck myself, but knew in reality that I was virtually powerless. It was all up to her.
She opened her eyes, looked over at me, and nodded a half-hearted smile just as our waitress came back with our entrees.
"Looks good," I told the waitress. "Thanks so much."
"Yeah," she said reluctantly as the waitress dropped the plates on the table and left. "Looks great."
I could see the nervousness in her face and she kept pulling at the back of her neck like someone had her tied in ropes and kept cranking them tighter and tighter. She looked down at the plate and tossed her quesadillas back and forth, searching for anything that might be trouble food; stringy cheese, a hard piece of tortilla, large chunks of chicken.
"I should have gotten the boneless buffalo wings."
"You can do this," I said knifing a piece of my honey-mustard doused chicken fingers into my mouth. "Focus. You've done this before."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and plunged into the quesadillas with reckless abandon until the cheesy, chicken-filled tortilla reached her mouth and reckless abandon turned into nervous hesitation.
I stopped eating and watched as she eased the quesadilla in between her barely open lips, bit off a small piece, and began chewing. The first few bites were clearly the hardest but she grudgingly finished two triangles of quesadilla and one of my chicken fingers.
I tore through my plate; knowing how badly she wanted to leave, to escape this temporary hell, relieve the pressure of the restaurant, lay in her bed and cry while I stroked her hair, rubbed her back, and told her how great she did, how everything will get easier, how goddamn proud I am of her, and how she'll beat this one day.
She pulled on her coat and zipped it up as the waitress came to the table to take away our plates and leave the check.
"Any dessert for you two?"
"No, thanks," she said quickly, looking up at the waitress and pointing down to her plate. "But would you mind wrapping this up for me?" She knew she'd have no problem finishing the dinner at home where everything and everyone she knew surrounded her.
I dug into my wallet, pulled out two twenties, and handed them to the waitress.
"I'll wrap this and be back with your change in just a minute," she said as she gathered everything together.
I looked across the table at her with her coat on and her purse held tightly in her hand and I wished there wasn't a table in between us. I wished there was something I could do to erase the table and the restaurant and the nacho that slipped down the wrong tube.
"My back really hurts," she told me.
"I know it does," I said and looked up at her and grabbed her hand. "Don't worry. I'll rub it when we get home."
"I know you will," she said and smiled for the first time since the nacho, since her back first started to hurt.
The waitress came back with our change and I dropped a generous tip on the table, pulled on my jacket, and slid out from the booth. She rose slowly to her feet, grabbed my outstretched hand, and started pulling me toward the exit. We waved to the hostess as we passed through the glass double-doors at the front of the restaurant and into the brisk chill of night.
"You see," I said and threw my arm around her shoulders. "You're walking just fine. Just like you have for the past twenty years."
"I guess you're right," she said and laughed at the irrationality of her paralytic notions. She tilted her head up and kissed me softly on the lips. "I'm starting to feel a little better."
"I know," I said, kissed her again, unlocked the passenger door, and held it open for her. "Imagine how good you'll feel when we get home and I give you that backrub."
"Perfect," she said and pulled the door shut. "Just like new."
About the author:
Scott Neumyer lives and writes in New Jersey. He has written reviews and commentary for DVD Angle. His fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Burning Word, the-phone-book, Word Riot, and Snow Monkey. He can be reached at http://scottwrites.blogspot.com/.