There are very few questions I detest more than “Are you okay?”
(Runners up include: “Where are your pants?” “Why do you hate thousand island dressing?” and the statement, “I’m worried about you.”)
I must’ve asked that question to thousands of people over the years, especially when I was serving. The standard greeting of a new table was something like, “Hi, my name is Becky and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. How is everyone doing?” 999/1000 times people would reply with the standard, “We’re doing fine” or “What the fuck kinda name is “Becky?””
When you’re in the weeds, slammed beyond control, have one eye on the three tables you haven’t yet greeted that are looking around for you, the bartender yelling at you across the restaurant that he’s somehow out of sour mix and you just heard your second set of dinners hit the line, you don’t really have the time for more detailed interaction with people.
That 0.001% of people, though, responded with something to the effect of, “I’m alive,” or “do you really want to know the answer to that?” When you’re juggling three sections and dealing with half a kitchen that’s doing the YMCA (en espanol)(which really makes you want to join them) instead of cooking your food and you can’t find spoons for the coffee you just brewed after dumping out the last of the coffee and cleaning the maker, and trying to figure out how, exactly someone drinks an amaretto stone sour without yacking, you don’t have the time for personals. Even if you wanted to.
Because you walked in that day wondering if you’d be making enough to cover formula, diapers and gas to get to school, you’re worried about your own problems: does my son have autism? What am I supposed to do about the dude that’s stalking me? What do I do with the rest of my life? You can’t really handle any problems besides what’s directly in front of you: get food, drinks, and merriment to your tables without having to sing Happy Birthday with the few cooks who don’t speak English and your manager who thinks singing to customers is dumb, but they asked so you gotta start begging the cooks and the busboy and the brand-new dishwasher to help you out here, please? And you look up from your soggy birthday cake and notice that the inept hostess is now triple-seating you at 10:30PM on a Thursday night.
There’s simply no time to be a counselor. Which is why I still hate the question.
“Are you okay?” most people want a reply that sounds positive, “why yes, I’m delightful, thank you for asking! Little Jimmy, the highest human pedigree of child, well, he’s just been enrolled in NASA’s young genius program, I’ve been promoted from CEO to heiress, and I just bought the most gorgeous 874,623,722 foot yacht – you should come over for a sail and I can regale you with perfect stories of my very perfect life.”
(okay, that just sounds like one of those Christmas card letters, but you know what I mean).
No one wants you to reply to “Are you okay?” with “No, not really.” Simply put, they don’t exactly want to know if you’re okay; it’s a formality, something that fills the space between “hello” and “goodbye.” I get it – I’ve been there and I understand that there’s not a lot of room for the truth.
Which is why I’m no longer able to really answer that simple question. The qualifiers, stories, the explanation is far longer than most people care to hear – especially when your primary response would be (if you actually said it), “No.”
Because while I’d love to come here and type you a wonderful story of how much better my life has gotten since July, it’d be a lie. Things are different, that’s for certain, and not always in the best of ways. I’m getting a crash-course on Living Alone 101, and it’s one motherfucker of a ride.
There are good moments and bad. Feeling liberated and feeling defeated. Darkness and light. Continue obnoxious comparisons ad nauseum.
But the truth of the matter is this: I’m not okay. I’ll be okay again, but I can’t tell you precisely when or how. Making the right decision doesn’t always mean that it’s the easy one.
And for now, for this very moment, and, I’m certain, many moments after this one, I’m not okay – I’m simply learning to be okay with not being okay.
That’s the best I can do; it’s the best we all can do.
We grab a life raft where we can, hold onto the hope that this, too, will pass, and that someday, this will all be a time we can look back upon as The Time Things Weren’t Okay. We’ll wake up each day hoping to slay the dragons, hoping the darkness won’t win, and we fight to do better; to be better.
There’s growth to be had. There are changes to be made. And there are things to be done. Life will, once again, be good.
Some day, some passing afternoon, in the not-so-distant future, I know that I will be able to once again answer the question, “how are you doing?” without feeling as though I’m lying through my teeth when I say breezily, like our endless numbered days, “Oh, I’m fine.”
And mean it.
Being 32 years old, I’ve had experience with cars. Primarily driving them, occasionally riding in them, and very rarely scoring a makeout session in one (ah, Junior High, how I miss thee). And while my father made it his mission in life to both capture every fucking event 57 times with his camera, he also wanted to push a daughter out into the world who could do… erms…. stuff -n- things. Like change a tire or hammer something.
I never did learn how to fix a tire (although I can hammer like a motherfucker).
Once my father realized that I routinely fell UP the stairs, he decided “use of a car jack” may be better suited to someone like, oh, I don’t know…. my older brother? He never fell up the stairs, or if he did, he’d yell at the stairs for getting in his way (to be fair, I did too.). Being unable to properly change a flat tire was problematic, considering my form of therapy for many years was to take long rambling drives alone through the country and down dirt roads, just to see where I’d end up.
In the age before cell phones didn’t require a brief case, I’m kinda amazed that I didn’t fall victim to some serial killer in the woods or something. Just the occasional exhibitionist, but that, Pranksters, is a story for another day.
But because my meandering lead me down some interesting paths, I often had flat tires. Didn’t matter who’s car it was, I managed to get one of the tires flat.
In fact, my parents eventually deduced that I was a fugitive at large and driving over those road block things, which meant they refused to entertain the idea of “Mooooom, can I borrow your car? It has gas in it and mine doesn’t.”
My second car, a red Honda Del Sol, had problems with the battery one winter. Dutifully, I saved up for a new car battery and clutch, a pair of jumper cables riding shotgun. The problem, was (and still is) one tiny, pesky detail.
So when the directions say, “connect the red thingy to the other red thingy and connect the black thingy to the black thingy,” I still become confused. Which one is red? Which one is black? I know, from The Internet, that hooking up these cables is one of those things you don’t want to fuck up or you’ll probably die or wind up booted off The Island, so instead of simply finding another person and expertly linking the colors before happily restarting my car, I stand there.
I’ll stand, hovering over the open hood of my car, looking inside, hoping that this time THIS TIME, there are a bunch of flying gnomes that will pop out and spell, “THIS ONE IS RED” in proper flying formation. Honestly, if I can’t have the gnomes, I’ll settle for a neon arrow pointing down to the red side of the car battery (although to be honest, that seems less trustworthy).
Sunday, because I am not just annoying but stupid too, I left my lights on for upwards of two hours in my parking lot. Apparently the dingy-thing that’s supposed to be all, “TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF BITCH,” wasn’t working or I wasn’t paying attention or something. Either way, it’d been a short enough time that I hadn’t been particularly concerned by it.
Apparently, that’s the sort of thing that makes car batteries REALLY MAD.
Which is why I found myself searching the back of my truck for jumper cables before realizing, “oh fuck, I need help with this shit.” I trotted over to the apartment office and asked after jumper cables, feeling like a total dweeb. Who doesn’t own their own jumper cables? (answer: me).
The lady told me that while SHE didn’t have any, one of the maintenance guys would, and they’d “be back” in a couple of minutes.
Now, rather than going to sit in my apartment and wait for them, I decided the best course of action was to go stand near the car and appear to be thinking about something.
Me: “Oooh, yes. Good plan. Open the hood.”
Me: “NICE! The hood’s propped open. I totally look like I got this: goes back to the lesson I learned very young – half of being competent is looking as though you know what you’re doing. HIGH FIVE, Becks, HIGH FUCKING FIVE.”
Me: “I can’t high five myself. I’d look crazy.”
Me: “Okay, craziER.”
Me: “Man, it’s cold just standing here, staring at this open hood. I bet I look smart, though.”
Me: “Woah, some critter made a nest in my hood. MAYBE IT CAN BE MY FRIIIEEENNNNDDDD!”
Eventually, the dude came by with his car and a set of jumper cables. I balanced myself on the YOU STOP HERE concrete slab, trying to look all nonchalant, like, “oh yeah, I got car trouble, but it’s because I don’t have jumper cables, not because I can’t see red.”
The maintenance guy handed me the set of cables to hook up to my dead battery and rather than confess the truth, “I can’t see red,” I simply asked, “Can you hook them up? I’m afraid.” Which, to be fair, being unable to see red properly, meant that it was the truth.
He smiled and laughed a little before expertly hooking them up to my battery, then his like it was nothing. When he was done, he said, “go ahead and start your car.”
So I did.
And it worked.
Next time, the gnomes are going to have to help me.
Back when I was a wee Aunt Becky, I loved animals. Okay, scratch that, I STILL love animals, but not with the same intense fervor I once did, mostly because picking up animal shit is gross. But back then, in the days of wine and roses, I didn’t have to think about Kitty Shitters or anything other than OMG CUDDLY SO CUTE.
So when my parents, always semi-closeted nerds, decided that what we REALLY needed to do that weekend was to go to Fermi Lab, a mere ten minutes from my home and look at all the smart people doing smart people things, I was all for it. Mostly because it meant a romp in the woods and the opportunity to see OMG CUDDLY ANIMALS OMG. I could’ve cared less about the smart people, although I do remember being fascinated by how many of them wore socks with sandals, which I’d been told was a fashion sin times four hundred basquillian. Apparently, THEY did not get that memo.
Fermi Lab has a whole range of wild buffalo and prairies and stuff, but for some reason, since my parents wanted to look at smart people doing smart people things, they simply sat by the big pond in the front of the main building and allowed me to run amok. So I did. Artfully dodging piles of goose poo so green and white that it’d have been pretty had it not been totally gross, I ran around, looking for OMG CUDDLY ANIMALS OMG.
What I found were not cuddly cute animals. No. They were geese. Of the aforementioned geese shit.
Oh well, I thought, I bet one of them WANTS A CUDDLE! I thought about telling my parents that the goose over there wanted me to take him home and live in my room and go to school with me like a pet goose. I wanted to name him Mr. Poopy Pants and have him cuddle me to sleep at night and go roller skating with me on the weekends. My parents were too engrossed by Smart People Watching (I’d swear they had binoculars) to pay any attention to my new pet, so I decided it was time to bring him over for a visit. Just y’know, so he could meet the fam.
It was time to grab Mr. Poopy Pants and bring him home.
The only problem was that every time I got close to him, he’d take a couple steps backward. “Oh,” I thought. “He’s playing hard to get. I CAN WIN AT THIS GAME.” Instead of backing off and feigning nonchalance, I decided that the best way to solve this problem was to march my way through it.
And so I did. For at least an hour, I chased Mr. Poopy Pants around the pond until, at long last, I’d backed Mr. Poopy Pants (who may or may not have ACTUALLY been the same Mr. Poopy Pants I’d set my star-crossed eyes upon, into a parkbench. I reached my wee arms out as far as I could so I could grab his neck and give him a big hug, when it happened.
Mr. Poopy Pants, my loving, rollerskating goose, well, he didn’t want a hug. At least, he didn’t want a hug from me. But I wasn’t going to let that deter me. No sir. I opened my arms, closed my eyes and moved forward until I was within arms reach of him.
Suddenly, my feelings of pink puffy hearts were gone and I felt a searing pain in my finger. I opened my star-crossed eyes and saw my beloved pet goose, Mr. Poopy Pants, gnawing on my finger.
I was crushed.
Tearfully, I returned back to my parents, still using their binoculars to look at Smart People, and held out my finger. “*sniff, sniff* Mom! I got bit by Mr. Poopy Pants. *sobs*”
My mom looked at my finger, then at me, then back at my finger and then finally at my dad.
“Well,” she said. “What did you expect, Rebecca? He’s a GOOSE and you’ve been chasing him for an hour and a half.”
“He was *sobs* my bestest friend,” I tearfully sputtered out.
My parents couldn’t contain their laughter.
“What?” I stomped indignantly. “HE WAS.”
“You go ahead and believe that, Rebecca, but there’s no way I’m allowing a goose into my home.”
I flung myself on the bench next to them, examining my war wound and pouted. I couldn’t BELIEVE my parents didn’t want a goose in their house.
Finally, I decided that they probably hadn’t considered that he might take me roller skating. But by that time, the geese had moved on to shit on another area of the wildlife preserve and I was left with the memories of my best friend, Mr. Poopy Pants.
While I was not left with memories of a rollerskating goose best friend, I was left with an intense hatred of geese. Cute? Sure. Cuddly-LOOKING? Sure. Things that shit every-fucking-where? Fucking SURE.
So I’ve made it my personal mission in life to give every goose I see the You’re Number One finger, in the vain hope that one day, I’ll manage to flick off Mr. Poopy Pants’ relative.
Which is why yesterday, when I stood outside basking in the 45 degree weather and debating the merits of putting on a tank top in January, when I heard a flock of geese squonking across the sky, I looked up, gave them the finger, then began to laugh.
Those motherfuckers were flying North, not South.
Fucking stupid fucking geese.