“I’m sorry. I just can’t. It’ll destroy me,” I tell my boss, following advice received in response to texts sent minutes prior.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, “You don’t have to.”
“Thank you,” I explain, “Small talk will ensue, my mind will wander – it will set me back.”
“It seems like your mind wanders sometimes in budget meetings,” she agrees.
I nod. I fight tears. My shoulders shake. I cover my face.
She gets up, walks past me, and shuts her door. “It’s okay,” she reassures me, as she returns to her desk, “I expect you to feel this way.”
“Some people don’t get it,” I choke out, “But I’m still fragile.” I sob more, “I’m sorry I’m such a mess. Her phone call surprised me – her cheery tone. It’s why I just can’t.”
“It really is okay,” she reassures me, “It’s not part of your job anyway.”
I stand in her office, continuing to reiterate, through tears, how difficult everything is for me – further explaining why THIS, in particular, would jeopardize my psychological well-being.
“This” isn’t what you’d expect. This isn’t holding a friend’s baby or attending a child’s baptism. This isn’t visiting the hospital or the cemetery. This is lunch with my boss and two of our financial service providers, with whom I’ve worked closely for six years.
About a month ago, I’d tried it – lunch with other financial services providers, and it went poorly. It happened on a Thursday, following an especially shitty Monday-Wednesday.
Monday, I face planted outside San Sai on a crowded downtown sidewalk. I was holding my San Sai bag and drink, when my foot caught the curb, and I plummeted to the ground. I severely skinned the back of my right hand, including every single knuckle, and both elbows. My hand took the brunt – it swelled and bled immediately, the wounds deep and oozing.
“That’s some wicked road rash,” AB noted, “It looks like you were in a motorcycle accident.”
I laughed it off, but it hurt.
Tuesday, Mark left for a business trip. It’s difficult for me to be alone now.
And Wednesday evening, I attended support group. I was shaken by a new attendee’s story – it seemed especially dramatic, and I left feeling renewed shock over the crazy shit that happens.
At support group I listened as one attendee explained, “I come here because most the world sucks with grief,” unaware how that’d be illustrated for me at lunch the next day.
Additionally, my wounds became infected – I poured hydrogen peroxide in them each day. They hurt more than my C-section incision had. But, by Thursday my hand was more presentable – wounds scabbed over. Still, Thursday I wore a long-sleeved shirt that’d hopefully hide my hand.
I dreaded lunch. I’d spoken with my neighbor about it – explained I’d initiated most the conversation in years prior. She suggested I discuss innocent topics – the weather, sports…
I decided to attend – my boss would be happy I tried, and I’d eat free.
At 11:20am, five of us congregated outside my boss’s office. One co-worker I hadn’t seen since June greeted me enthusiastically, “Hiiii!!! How ARE you?!?!”
“Hanging in there,” I answered flatly.
Does she remember what happened?
We approached the elevator and stepped in. I remained silent. They chatted.
We exited the building and started walking. I trailed behind with a co-worker, a man I also hadn’t seen since June. Still flustered by my other co-worker’s enthusiasm, I remained silent. And so did he. The trek to the restaurant seemed endless. Another co-worker shifted towards us, engaging my male co-worker in conversation – I was relieved, but rattled.
Does he remember what happened?
We entered the restaurant – I lagged behind. Four financial service providers greeted my compadres and eventually greeted me. I feigned a smile, and we exchanged pleasantries. Each handshake, to my severely wounded right hand, was more bone-crushing than the last. I winced.
Holy shit. Are they trying to inflict more pain?
It was ridiculous, but it still seems, sometimes, the universe is conspiring against me.
Where the hell did they go to business school?
I sat at the end of the table, across from my boss. We each sat next to a service provider. And on the other side of each service provider sat other co-workers. I scanned the menu. Chatter ensued.
Only chicken sandwiches… I’m not eating bread right now…
We ordered drinks, and the chatter continued.
Should I order a chicken sandwich with no bread? Also, I don’t want fries…
“Can I take your order?” a waiter interrupted my deliberation.
“Chicken sandwich – no bread, no mayo, no fries” I replied.
“Oh, aren’t WE fun today?!” the waiter asked rhetorically.
You fucking asshole – I’m ordering a breadless sandwich because I’m trying to lose weight. After a pregnancy ending in the death of my child.
The group completed its orders and settled into conversation. Eventually we received our food. Besides the pleasantries we’d exchanged and placing my order, I’d remained silent. The service providers hadn’t addressed me either. A riveting conversation on fall colors and utility bills began.
Do they know what happened? If I ask how they’ve been, they’ll ask how I’ve been. Then I’ll have to lie. And I don’t lie.
“So beautiful,” I muttered in agreement with those noting the beauty of fall.
An awkward pause ensued.
“So, how have YOU been?!” the female service provider next to my boss asked a nearby co-worker.
Thank God she didn’t ask me. If she asks me, what should I say? Well, you know… It’s been hard… Or, hmmmmm, not the best summer of my life…
“And how was YOUR summer?” the same female service provider asked my boss.
OMG! I’m next. She’s going to ask me. What the hell am I going to say?
“Yes, with all our crazy schedules, it was so difficult to set this up. We had SO MANY conversations about it,” my boss explained.
I received the invite two weeks after Matthew died. I accepted tentative. They’ve avoided speaking to me. I’m the only one whose summer they haven’t asked about. Oh my God. My boss told them what happened. That’s why they won’t speak to me!!!
“Is that a tattoo?” the female service provider gestured towards my scabs.
“No, I fell,” I answered.
“Oh my Gawwwwd!!! Are you okay?” she asked, obviously concerned.
“I’m fine,” I replied.
She’s concerned about my hand… But not about my loss…
“A woodpecker pecks at my house, so I throw tennis balls at it,” my male co-worker explained.
“I live in a condo, but I have a gnat in my kitchen,” the male service provider next to me joked.
“I once found a starving guinea pig in my basement,” my male co-worker one-upped him, as everyone erupted into laughter.
“Haha,” I faked a chuckle.
They have NO balls. They’re scared of me. I’m not participating. I’m not telling them my story about Howie bringing dead bunny rabbits through his doggy door into my bed – the story that’d trump their LAME ASS STORIES.
“Have you been to the new IKEA?” my boss asked me, interrupting my thoughts.
“No,” I choked out.
We’d purchased Matthew stuff from IKEA – his dresser, a light fixture for over his changing table – the table Mark had painted with his dad. Matthew would never use it. Will I ever go to IKEA again? I can’t cry. Not here. Not in front of these people!
The IKEA conversation continued. Tears filled my eyes.
Lunch eventually ended, I endured more bone-crushing handshakes, and we headed back to work.
I cried that afternoon. A lot.
If they didn’t know my story (less likely), did they wonder what’d happened to me? The girl who’d been most lively at the table last year, initiating conversations. Did they wonder why she’d gone silent and cried about IKEA?
If they knew my story (more likely), how could they be so cruel? To ignore my loss. To engage me in a stand-off – refusing to talk to me, as I refused to talk to them. All it would have taken was an “I’m sorry” at the beginning to avert all that.
I concluded they must know. And, that, yes, most the world SUCKS with grief. And it’d been too early for me to venture outside my “circle of trust”.
So I’m not doing it again – lunch with financial services providers who likely suck with grief.
I’m not doing it after the service provider who called to extend an invite seemed overly cheery, as though nothing ever happened. I’m not doing it after, in all my nervousness, I accidently told said service provider I’m “doing well”. I’m not doing it after said service provider seemed to believe I may actually be doing well. And I’m not doing it when the other service provider invited has yet to acknowledge my loss.
I’m not doing it again – engaging in a stand-off or worthless small talk. I’m not pretending I’m okay for the benefit of these loose acquaintances, only to make excuses for them later – that most the world sucks with grief. I’ve been lucky to find enough who don’t suck, so I’m not doing this.
“Do you want to just email them?” I ask my boss.
“That’s fine,” she responds, “I’ll just tell them you’re not available.”
“Let’s just be honest and tell them I’m not ready,” I suggest.
“Okay,” she agrees.
GOOD! I’m not allowing them to pretend I’m okay for their convenience.
It all seems self-centered, amiright? My “appropriately acknowledge my loss, or else” ultimatum when the world doesn’t revolve around me. But it’s not that effing hard – an “I’m sorry”. That’s really all I’d expect.
Those who’ve walked alongside me can vouch for my capacity to discuss other things now. I think they see my genuine interest in their lives. And it is genuine. And it’s because they don’t suck – they’ve acknowledged my loss and my pain.
But with people who suck, I just can’t. Maybe we’ll lunch next year. But not right now.
And I’m not sorry about it.
I’m sorry Matthew died. And I’m sorry most the world is so hard on the hurting.
But I’m not sorry for protecting myself in the best way I know how – from people who suck.