It’s a horrible predicament because you know if you talk about it, you’ll alienate almost everyone on the planet. Everyone just wants to have fun and talk about the next trending topic. But you know you have to. Now. Against the odds. No matter what consequences.
So you move into the crowd, knowing your motives are genuine, but will they listen? You stand there, breathless. Okay, it might just be the asthma. You feel the crushing weight of all eyes on you and you just say it.
“Chocolate can cause acne.”
“Aaargh! Not now,” they cry! “How could you do this to us this week? The week just before Easter. There’s billions of tons of chocolate sitting on every shelf of every store in every neighborhood and you have the nerve to tell us chocolate can cause acne?”
“Well, yeah,” you say meekly. “I know you’ve all heard ‘chocolate doesn’t cause acne,’ but they probably turn the microphone away as they finish the sentence and say, ‘except for people with an allergy to it.’’
“They’re only telling you part of the truth. Because they can. Because who would want to help people when they can make you spend even more money on drugs? Then you’ll keep buying chocolate because you ‘know’ that’s not what’s at fault because ‘they said so.’ So you have to keep taking drugs (We’re giving away a million free samples! See how nice we are!) month after month to get rid of it or feel miserable about yourself. Then what do you want? More chocolate. They’ve created the perfect loop of misery and desire.”
Now you’ve gone and done it. Now they know. Now they know that you’re not as perfect as everyone else who pretends to be perfect and everyone knows they’re not, but no one knows quite how imperfect everyone else is. Now they know that you’ve actually HAD acne. How could you even say the word in cyberspace? Are you done? Can we move on? “No,” you say to yourself in that constant internal dialogue, that continual battle of trying to decide what to say and when to stay silent. “People need to hear this.”
You stop arguing with yourself long enough to get out the basics.
“Acne is a kind of inflammation. Allergies are inflammatory responses to things your body doesn’t like. Some people, like me, can’t tolerate chocolate.”
You hear moans and exclamations. Some people sound like they might be near fainting, but you persevere.
“Other foods may be irritating your skin as well, but first, just try cutting out chocolate.”
“You’re ruining the holidays!”
“You’re ruining everything!”
You turn and walk away knowing there’s nothing more you can do. If you create you’re own breeze they might not see the sweat that’s starting to bead around the edges of your forehead.
You wonder as you head out the door, “Does it matter if people take drugs to solve their problems? Yes and no. Having to buy things to fix problems we can solve by changing our way of life takes money we could spend on other things like, well, we could actually save it. God. Did I just think that? Could I be any more of a dweeb? You’re talking to yourself again. Who gives a shit? Thank God, no one can read minds yet.
Then, from somewhere in the back, you hear, “I hear chocolate’s not sustainable. Maybe we should all reduce our consumption.” “Yeah, let’s do other things with our money for the holidays besides feed habits that are destroying the planet!”
And you head over to your session with your writer’s group, then pick out a spot toward the back of the room and get to work on a story you’ve been thinking about writing for a while, since, as usual, you’re early.
As she walked through the doors, horror, trepidation and frustration dogged her. How was she supposed to go through life like this? Would she ever find happiness?
She made her way down the brightly colored aisles, shelves stacked sky-high with chocolates wrapped in plastic, chocolates wrapped in foil, chocolate bunnies two feet high. There was no way she could miss them. She was sure she could smell it. Taunting her. Torturing her.
“Why me?” she thought as she passed by as quickly as possible. “How could this happen to me? What kind of fate is this to be cursed with friggin’ allergies?”
She noticed a couple wrapped up in each other, holding hands, putting one package after another into their basket. Of course, chocolate has to be the one edible symbol of romance and I can’t have it. As she turned the corner, past the shampoo and deodorant, she couldn’t help but notice as they kissed.
She hurried down the kleenex aisle and grabbed a couple of boxes, plus a couple of the travel packs for her purse. It was spring and pollen was a bitch this year. She walked quickly past the cereal aisle with all of it’s temptations and quickly crossed through oncoming traffic to pick up some decaffeinated tea. She couldn’t even have coffee. How was she supposed to go on a date? Everyone went for coffee. The first thing out of her mouth would be, “No, I can’t have it.” She felt like she’d never meet a guy because she dreaded saying those words.
She passed the potato chips and frozen foods and found her way to the “Health Food” section. She always had to wonder, “What is it that everyone else thinks they’re eating?” She grabbed some peppermint water and some calcium. You know, the one with magnesium and vitamin D? Then she headed to the fruit and vegetable department.
She looked across the preparation area and her stomach did a funny queasy flip, which it often did over things that were kind of ridiculous. Nolan Windsor was headed her way. She watched him walk past the bananas and head up the aisle by the fruit juice. As soon as he was out of sight, she went around to the organic fruit, grabbed a couple of apples and pears and headed toward the cash register.
As she walked past the frozen foods, Nolan appeared in her path, eyes focused on the ground, as always. She was sure he wasn’t going to notice her when he looked up and their eyes met.
“Nolan. How’s it going?”
Nolan stood there for a minute, his shaggy blonde hair falling into his face. He didn’t seem to know how to respond.
“You didn’t hear?”
“No. Sorry. What?”
“Cammie was in a accident over Spring break. She didn’t make it.”
“Oh, my God. Wow. I don’t know what to say. Wow. I’m so sorry.”
“I’ve got class tonight. Don’t know how I’m going to get through it.”
“It’ll help you keep your mind off things for a while, I hear. I don’t know.”
Lexi knew that Nolan and Cammie had been inseparable. She’d never seen him hanging around with anyone else.
“This may sound really stupid, but do you want company? I don’t have class this evening.”
Nolan was staring at her basket. She wanted to dump it, act like it didn’t belong to her.
“What class is it?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
They ambled toward the checkout counter and Nolan let Lexi go first. As she set the two kleenex boxes and the travel packs on the conveyor belt, Nolan asked somewhat absently, “Allergies?”
Lexi felt like she was going to die, but nodded.
“Me, too,” he said, as he picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages.
They both finished paying and walked out into the cool evening.
“What time’s your class?”
“About an hour.”
“Okay. I’m going to run to my room to put these away. Pick me up in 30 minutes?”
Nolan arrived at 6:40 and they headed across campus to Bellarmine Hall. The lecture hall held 500, but it was about half full. Lexi wasn’t sure who was going to decide where to sit, but given it was Nolan’s class, she fell back. He walked about a third of the way down the aisle and sat a few seats in. Lexi sat down beside him. It felt strange to be sitting alone with a guy. It had been a long time. She tried not to think of it being any more than just being supportive when the lecture started.
The professor scribbled on the whiteboard, “What is the meaning of life?”
OMG, Lexi thought. That’s totally not what Nolan needs.
She could hear the usual comments in back of her. Someone said, “Cheese,” loud enough for her to hear. Then she heard a bunch of people pop off with other random words. Senseless garbage.
“Shit,” Lexi said. “Maybe we should move closer.”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter.”
“Sure it does. Those jerks don’t need to ruin it for everybody. Well. Okay. Whatever.”
Nolan pulled out a pack of Xylitol gum and offered a piece to her.
The professor cleared his throat and said, “We’ll start with Socrates. Our knowledge of Socrates’ philosophy is based entirely on the writing of his students and contemporaries. One of the phrases ascribed to him is, ‘I know that I know nothing.’ That allowed him to ask questions, to continually pursue his belief that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Lexi wondered what Nolan was thinking. She wondered if Cammie ever “examined her life” or if she just enjoyed the time she had and didn’t worry about it. She listened in a way where she just let the information flow and didn’t try to think about what she was hearing. She was more visual and often found she couldn’t concentrate long when people talked non-stop. Her brain always wandered at the just the wrong time. Like noticing that Nolan’s jacket sleeves were fraying at the edges and the fact that he had sideburns, which she always thought were kind of weird, but somehow, on him, they seemed right. Once again, she tried focusing on the lecture because she knew she didn’t have a chance with a guy as smart as he was. Not that this was even the right time to be thinking about it.
The lecture ended and Nolan walked Lexi back to her dorm. The sky was still a deep navy blue and she could see a couple of stars even with the streetlights.
“Thanks for hanging out.”
Lexi hadn’t realized how awkward it was going to be to walk with Nolan such long distances, feeling like she had to make sure she didn’t look like she was coming on to him or that she was prying. She tried to act like it was normal to walk along saying nothing. Even though she kept searching her mind like crazy trying to come up with some kind of small talk, she couldn’t think of much of anything.
“I’m not much of a conversationalist. Sorry,” Nolan offered. “Cammie used to fill up every minute. Guess I got too used to it.”
“No problem. Obviously, I’m not doing very well myself.”
“Thanks for coming.”
Nolan turned to her, looked her in the eyes, then looked away quickly.
“You available Friday?”
“Just so you know, I don’t do coffee. How’s JungaJuice sound for starters?
It’s all so sickeningly sweet. Everything perfectly imperfect is still too perfect.
Why write about something that’s never going to happen? The odds of meeting someone like this is probably six billion to one. It’s been more than five years now since the end of my terrible marriage. Certainly not what I expected when I looked into the future and envisioned my life.
But I’ve discovered a different kind of sweetness. The feeling that maybe something I say will be heard by someone and they might take a step toward trying something that could make them feel better.
At least the odds seem to be more in my favor.
For those of you who don’t have allergies, there was some information about candy posted yesterday that you might want to know. Some of them are apparently made “from preservatives derived from petroleum or have coatings made from the excretions of insects.” I know. You didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to either.
UPDATE: I didn’t want to post information about long-term effects of taking drugs because I’m not in the medical profession and don’t feel comfortable offering that kind of advice, but I came across a physician who does have concerns about people taking anti-inflammatory drugs for long periods of time. Check out his take on Inflammation.