Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Pressures of Dinner . . .

I used to eat dinner at a one of my best friend's house about one night a week my senior year of high school. I would walk over to Melissa's house after work and would sit with her and her family and we would eat and chat and laugh before we would do a little bit of homework and then I'd head on home.

I used to really enjoy spending time with Mel and her family but, truth be told, I hated eating dinner at their house. Hated it. I never really felt like I could actually "eat" there. It was not so much that the Higgins family had very different types of dinners than my family had (the food, the conversation, the dynamic, etc.) but it was the pressure that I felt sitting at their table v. mine for the evening meal.

You see, for as close as Melissa and I were, and for as much as she seemed to accept me for who I was, I never felt "good enough" when I was at her house. There was always this feeling of dread i had because of my size or my weight or whatever. Now, in the interest of FULL disclosure, this was all based on my assumptions and my feelings (and my insecurities). Her NOR her parents ever said anything to me nor was I treated poorly or unfairly. Quite the contrary - her family was always very, very nice to me and still are, to this day, when I see them (about once a year or so) and both Melissa and her brother Chad are now married to larger people (so they are clearly not a family of sizists). I just always had this sinking feeling that if I was skinnier, it would have been better. I would have felt more comfortable. I would have been more at ease.

My own "gloom" over the experience had one very simple effect. I didn't really eat. I would take what was given to me and would push it around on the plate and have a fork or two of this or that but would not eat. I would always refuse dessert, naturally. I would take very small portions when we served ourself and I would try to be "smart" about what I did and did not take. I would always make a point to be the first one "done" at the table - to imply that I couldn't possibly be over eating. As many of my land-speed records for consuming double cheeseburgers in mere seconds later in life proved, speed has nothing to do with quantity eaten but, at the time, it seemed to make sense. As bad as it felt though - it could not have been THAT bad - I continued to go back . . . week after week.

I recall this experience because dinner last night had a similar feel to it. Fast forward 14 years and put me in Topeka and replace the Higgins family with my co-workers and 1,300 super-conservative Kansas businesspeople, Senator Pat Roberts and political-commentator George Will (ah, I'm always outnumbered it seems (smile).

The food was DELICIOUS. I didn't eat the salad, the rolls, the mashed potatoes, the green beans or the dessert (key lime pie, I'm told) but I did whoop up the entree. They served each of us a huge, HUGE slab of Cargill Prime Rib (I put an uppercase P and R to show my respect for the meat) and I took down a good three (perhaps FOUR) ounces of it and I don't even LIKE Prime Rib (or most red meats, for that matter).

I did, however, get a wee bit self concious about it when I glanced over at a co-worker (who was about ten ounces in to his beef and had eaten two salads before dinner, three rolls, most of his potatoes and green beans and half of his pie already) and happened to see him watching me eat and he cooly asked . . . "So, how much can you really 'eat' at an occassion like this following your surgery, Sean?"

Now I KNOW that I was not over-eating. No Ten Commandment of Post-GB Life had been broken. I was under my calorie count for the day (between you and me, I skimped on breakfast and lunch because I was HOPING there would be some cheese trays or something during cocktail hour). Why was I suddenly freaking out? I know my co-worker meant no disrespect. He asked very casually and with a geniune interest. He seemed to feel bad that I was not eating everything and was implying that maybe it sucked to be me in the situation accordingly. He was certainly not trying to make me feel uncomfortable but . . .

Suddenly I'm 17 again. I'm gaining weight. I use a cordless, electric shaver again that gnaws my face off every time I shave (once ever two weeks). I have band practice in the evening and my student council meeting tomorrow. I have crafty magazine clippings about social and political topics I don't really yet understand hanging in my locker (I had pictures of Bill Clinton, Che Guevara and Malcolm X hanging in there - I was soooooo cool!) to inspire me between classes and I am at Melissa's kitchen table - scared to pick up my fork . . . like the rest of it suddenly doesn't matter (and TRUST ME - my senior year . . . student council MATTERED)!
I put my fork down. I pushed my plate back. I explained all the rules of eating after surgery to him and my table of peers. Everyone seemed fine with the explanation and they went back to eating. But not me. I was done for the night.

I hadn't even thought about dinner with Melissa and her family in many, many years but it all rushed back to me last night. I woke up this morning with the urge to dust off my Norelco and find my student council agenda so it was handy.

I kissed my wife, hugged my daughter and enjoyed a glass of milk for breakfast instead - while googling Che Guevara . . . some things never change!

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