I should never, ever be allowed to speak.
It would be difficult to convey to you how many times I have opened my big, dumb mouth and said something so retarded, so mortifying, that I lay awake the next several nights wishing for my own death. I'd blog about them so you could get your jollies laughing at my stupidity, but the internet isn't big enough to hold them all. However, one particularly unfortunate boo-boo was so traumatizing to me that it's never far from my mind, in spite of the years that have passed since it occurred. Every once in a while I notice it feels like there's something in my throat, and eventually I realize it's my foot, where it's still permanently lodged after this one particularly heinous faux pas.
I live in Texas, but still have some family and friends in my hometown in Missouri, so I go back from time to time. On one particular visit, I was in the lone drugstore of that incredibly tiny town when a man who looked to be in his seventies spotted me and was very excited to see me. He was so sweet, so kind and so enthusiastic, it was as if seeing me had made his day.
You'd have to understand my hometown; it is very, very small. I can hear some of you now--"I come from a small town, too!" No, you don't. Not like this. There were 38 kids in my senior class in high school. There is one street light in town, and it's on the main street, a flashing yellow. Everyone knows everyone. This is the kind of town where, when a car shows up in town with out-of-state plates, it's news. "Who is that? The car has Idaho plates." " I think it's Kitty's cousin." No, you're wrong--I think Bob has a sister from Idaho, though, it could be her." Etcetera. There's a little old lady in town who has a police scanner in her home, which she sits by all day long, enraptured, as if she's watching TV. The moment anyone gets stopped or arrested, she's on the phone to anyone and everyone she knows to report the news. She actually gossips about what she sees in other peoples' shopping carts at the grocery store, as in, "I guess Jackie's husband is making some good money now, I saw her buying steaks." Growing up, I used to hate the total lack of privacy that comes from small town life. I probably only went to the doctor once a year or less, but still, if I called the only clinic in town to make a doctor's appointment, the office worker who answered the phone would say, "Can I help you?" and I'd say, "I'd like to make an appointment," and she'd say, "Oh, hi, Karla." And this was before our town got caller ID.
There were only a handful of businesses in town--one grocery store, two gas stations, one hardware store, one florist, etc. My mom happened to own one of the two restaurants in town, which made her high profile, as in, everyone knew her. And by extension, it seemed like everyone knew me, even though I didn't necessarily know all of them. I was probably introduced to them all at some point, but forgot lots of names, partly because I was a kid, and partly because I was (and still am) fairly self-absorbed. This is why it came as no surprise to me that this very kind elderly man knew me and knew all about me, while I could not, for the life of me, guess who in hell he might be.
This happens to me a lot when I'm back for a visit, and usually I can play it off because the exchanges are fairly short. Someone will call out, "Hi Karla!" and I will answer as if I know them. We will exchange the briefest of pleasantries, and both be on our way, with the other person naturally assuming I knew exactly who they were. I hoped to be able to pull off the same scam with this man, because the alternative--letting him know I didn't remember him--was out of the question. He was just so glad to see me--how could I tell him that I didn't even remember him? So I played along, hoping his identity would come to me at some point. The thing that haunts me even now is that he gave me an out--he actually said to me at the start of the conversation, "You probably don't remember me, do you?" And God help me, he was just so sweet and cheerful that I didn't have the heart to say no, so I said, "Yeah, of course I do!"
I'm actually a pretty skillful bullshitter, so I thought I could pull this off. Plus, I know that the key to getting away with any kind of lie is to keep the exchange brief, try to make your escape before being caught. With this man, however, it was not so easy to extricate myself from the situation. He wanted details about my life, and asked me very specific questions. "How's your mom? I know her health hasn't been so great lately." "I hear you moved to Texas--what part? Do you like it there?" "What brings you to town? How long are you here for?" This went on and on. This guy was clearly retired, and seemed to be someone who perhaps didn't have a lot to do in his day-to-day life--why else would he be so thrilled to see me, someone who he probably hadn't seen in 10 years? I wanted to turn the conversation back toward him before I blew my cover--plus, it would have been incredibly rude to answer all his questions about me and never ask one about him. So I took the first opportunity to ask, "So what have you been up to?" As he opened his mouth to answer, I was wracking my brain--who IS this guy? I was desperately hoping to mine his responses for clues. Here's the sad saga of how it went down:
Me: So what have you been up to?
Him: Oh, well, not too much...you heard about my wife.
Me: (Nodding solemnly) Yeah, I did.
Him: Yeah, so I'm living by myself now, which is hard.
At this point I was thinking, Ah-ha! His wife left him! This gives me a clue. But he kind of had that hangdog attitude about it, like he'd been dumped by her, so in an effort to put a more positive spin on it, I brightened and said:
Me: Hey, you're back on the market!
Him: Well...I don't know if I'd put it that way...(trails off)
Suddenly, total recall hit me like a bucket of cold water. I knew exactly who this guy was: It was Mr. J, the father of a kid I went to school with, and longtime patron of my mom's restaurant. His wife died about a year before; I remembered my mom mentioning it to me.
Did I just tell a man whose wife died that he's back on the fucking market??!
Can't...breathe....Foot jammed in mouth just past the knee....
I don't remember what happened after that. I have no idea how the conversation ended, or if I was in any way able to recover from that. (Is that possible!?) It's like I blacked out from the mortifying horror I felt. The next thing I remember is practically racing across the street to meet up with Brian, who had been in the grocery store picking up some food. I breathlessly recapped the scene, gushing miserably about what a goddamn idiot I was.
Now, any responsible person would have agreed with me that I was, indeed, a goddamn idiot, or at the very least, that I had stuck my foot in my mouth. (If only I had stuck in in there sooner, before I got a chance to speak.) But my husband loves me a little too much for total honesty, and can't stand to see me in such a fervor. He actually tried to convince me that it wasn't that big a deal, that Mr. J. probably hadn't noticed, etc. In spite of my protests and retelling of the story to be SURE he understood exactly how thoughtless and stupid I had actually been, he stuck to his reassurances that I had behaved in a perfectly acceptable manner. You've got to love a man who will flat-out lie to try make you feel better.
I have to tell you, this story still horrifies me to this day. I managed to surpass even my own expectations of exactly how stupid I'm capable of being. I learned a very important lesson that day: I should never, ever speak unless I'm reading from a script that someone else wrote.