The Party

At some point during my childhood, my mother made the mistake of taking me to see an orthodontist.  It was discovered that I had a rogue tooth that was growing sideways.

My mom and I were told that the tooth, if left unchecked, would completely ruin everything in my life and turn me into a horrible, horrible mutant.

Unless I wanted to spend the rest of my natural life chained in a windowless shed to avoid traumatizing the other citizens, I was going to need surgery to remove the tooth. 

I was accepting of the idea until I found out that my surgery was scheduled on the same day as my friend's birthday party.  My surgery was in the morning and the birthday party wasn't until the late afternoon, but my mom told me that I still probably wouldn't be able to go because I'd need time to recover from my surgery.  I asked her if I could go to the party if I was feeling okay.  She said yes, but told me that I probably wouldn't be feeling well and to try not to get my hopes up.  

But it was too late. I knew that if I could trick my mom into believing that I was feeling okay after my surgery, she'd let me go to my friend's birthday party.  All I had to do was find a way to prove that I was completely recovered and ready to party.  I began to gather very specific information about the kinds of things that would convince my mom that the surgery had absolutely no effect on me.  

I'm pretty sure my mom was just placating me so that I'd leave her alone, but somehow it was determined that the act of running across a park would indeed prove that I was recovered enough to attend the party.  And I became completely fixated on that little ray of hope.   

I remember sitting in the operating room right before going under, coaching myself for the ten-thousandth time on my post-surgery plan: immediately after regaining even the slightest bit of consciousness, I was going to make my mom drive me to a park and I was going to run across it like a gazelle on steroids.      

And then she would let me go to the party.  

I must have done a really good job pretending to be okay even while I was still unconscious, because I was released well before the anesthesia wore off.  My mom had to hold on to the back of my shirt to prevent me from falling over while we walked out of the hospital.  

I first started to regain consciousness while we were driving on the freeway. I didn't know what was going on, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that I needed to do something important.

THE PARK!!  I didn't recall exactly why I needed to go to the park, but I had spent so much time drilling the concept into my head that even in my haze of near-unconsciousness, I knew that getting myself to a park was of utmost importance.   I tried to communicate this to my mom, but the combination of facial numbness and extreme sedation caused me to be unable to form words properly.  

I yelled louder and more urgently, but my mom still couldn't grasp what it was I wanted.  

It was at this point that I decided to open the car door and walk to the park by my damn self.  The only problem was that instead of being stopped safely near a park, we were hurtling down I-90 at 70 miles per hour.

Luckily I hadn't had the presence of mind to unbuckle my seatbelt, so instead of toppling to a bloody death, I merely hung out the side of the car and flailed around ineffectively.

A little shaken up by the incident, my mom decided that it would probably be a good idea to pull off at the next exit and get some food in me.  We found a Jack in the Box and she led me inside. 

It was pretty crowded, but my mom didn't want to get back in the car, so we found a table and she told me to wait while she stood in line to order our food.  

I sat contentedly at our table for a few minutes.

But then I forgot what was happening and panicked. 

I had to find my mom.  I had to tell her about the park.  I tried to call for her, but I still couldn't quite remember how to say words.  

I began stumbling around the restaurant, shouting the closest approximation to the word "mom" that I could come up with. 

My mom hadn't yet figured out what I was trying to tell her, but she knew that I was yelling and stumbling into the other patrons and generally causing a scene, so she firmly told me to go back to my seat.  

I had remembered why I wanted to go to the park, so I obeyed my mom, thinking it would increase my chances of going to the park, thus increasing my chances of going to the party.  

When my mom returned to our table with our food, some version of the following conversation ensued:

Me:  Carn we go to the parp now? 

My mom:  The park?  Is that what you want?

Me:  Yes!  The parp! 

My mom:  No.  Eat your food.  

Me:  But moun - I can roun arcoss the porp.  I can do it!  I can go to the partney!

My mom:  No you can't. 

Me:  I can!  I can!  I CAN!!! 

My mom:  Look at you.  You can't even walk. You can't form a coherent sentence.


My mom:  You are not going to that party. 


My mom:  I said you can't go to the party.  Now eat your food.  


My mom:  Stop it.  

And then I started to cry big blubbery tears into my milkshake.  It was at that point that my mom noticed all the people glaring at her and realized that, from an outside perspective, it appeared as though she was not only refusing to let her poor, mentally disabled daughter go to a park and/or a birthday party, but was also taunting her child about her disability.  

And that's how I got to go to a birthday party while very heavily sedated.

The Four Levels of Social Entrapment

One of the most difficult aspects of interacting with other people is figuring out how to extricate yourself from a conversation without appearing rude or mentally unstable. You aren't allowed to just walk away - you need to have a reason to stop talking. And the reason can't be that you want to stop talking. You need to find a way to end the conversation without making it seem like you want the conversation to end.

This unspoken set of rules can turn an otherwise rational person into a flailing, helpless victim in a sea of self-perpetuated social anxiety.

It's like we're all competing in a game that no one wants to play.  And even though you can't ever win the game, you can prevent yourself from losing by pretending that you like playing long enough to be allowed to stop playing.

The game has four levels of difficulty.   
Level 1: Brief encounters with kind-of friends

There is a special kind of awkwardness between two people who don't know each other well enough to interact effectively, but are familiar enough that ignoring each other's presence isn't really an option.  No matter how much you like the person, you dread encountering them because you only know two things about each other and once you've covered those two things, there is nothing else and that is terrifying because you aren't good at ending conversations and that makes the horrible, strained silence all but inevitable.

But eventually you do run into one of these acquaintances and even though you both sense the impending awkwardness and desperately wish to avoid it, you have a social obligation to say hello. So you do, and the conversation derails even more quickly than you expected.

And then there you are, standing clumsily in the parking lot of Best Buy, frantically trying to keep the conversation afloat until one of you can think of a decently acceptable way to end the encounter. You stop caring about whether you make sense or not.  You'll say anything to avoid silence.  

At some point, the rapidly deteriorating subject material forces you to give up on being polite and just settle for the first bumbling phrase that comes out of you.  

Luckily, your artless delivery doesn't matter. The other person is just thankful that they finally have an excuse to stop talking to you.  

Level 2: Forced proximity 

 Trying to end a conversation in the grocery store is like battling a sea monster that has an infinite capacity to revive itself.  

As soon as you figure out how to disengage with the person, you run into them again and you have to figure out how to start a new conversation. And then you also have to figure out how to end that conversation.  No matter how many times you come across each other, it never really seems acceptable to not say anything.

You try to joke about it.  

Soon, however, you will exhaust your supply of pleasantries and lighthearted banter. 

The awkwardness of each new encounter is magnified by the awkwardness of the previous encounter until you have no choice but to pretend that you are so fascinated by the ingredients of what you're buying that you don't even notice the other person is there.  

Level 3: The Trap

However, some acquaintances don't share your desire to avoid awkward encounters. In fact, they often seek your company despite your complete inability to relate to each other. This person is seemingly immune to awkwardness and once they latch onto you, you are not allowed to leave until they are done with you.  

For example, you might be sitting by yourself in a cafĂ©, enjoying a cup of coffee.  And then you see her squinting up at the drink menu.  

She's trapped you at social gatherings a few times,  backing you into a corner and then standing at just the right angle so that you'd have to physically push her out of your path to escape.  She's extremely passionate about a variety of things that you have no real interest in, like veganism and the healing properties of soy.  She can talk about these things for hours without pause.  While you don't mind that she feels that way, you don't particularly want to hear about it in such great detail.  But she tells you anyway.  Over and over and over.  You might make a feeble attempt at steering the conversation to a topic of more mutual interest, but she doesn't want to talk about what you want to talk about.

The first time you escaped her conversational death-grip, you thought that she had probably said all she needed to say and that the next time you saw her, you could maybe talk about something else.  But no.  She checks up on you.  She wants to know if you've tried any of the things she suggested.  When you tell her that you "haven't gotten around to it yet," the cycle starts over again.  

You want to avoid this kind of interaction, so you turn your chair away, hoping that she won't see you when she turns around.   

But it's too late.  She's spotted you. 

She's not quite sure if it's you yet, but you can feel her eyes focusing on you.  You risk a glance to see if she's still there, even though you know that she is.  

And then you accidentally lock eyes with her.

Once eye contact is established, she begins to lurch toward you in slow motion, like a zombie in a bad horror movie.  You are consumed by a desire to bolt, but you don't.  Your obligation to adhere to social decencies outweighs your sense of self-preservation. You stay right where you are, unable to look away.  

You are going to have to talk about soybeans.  A lot.  And you are going to have to pretend that you like it.  To protect your dignity.    

Level 4: Well-intentioned social terrorism

The well-intentioned social terrorist does not alert you before they invade your safety bubble.  It's always a surprise.  You'll come home, exhausted and eager to finally feel safe from unwanted interaction. 

But then... 

You're cornered like an animal. There's nowhere to go.

You'd always assumed that your own home was a safe place - a place where you were not in danger of sudden, undesired social interaction.  But your pathetic delusions of safety implode into the realization that nowhere is safe anymore.  

You could tell them no, but you aren't busy and you don't have any immediate plans, so you don't really have an acceptable reason to decline their company.  


You could try to lie and say that you're just coming home to drop some stuff off before you have go somewhere.  But if you do that, you'll have to spend the rest of the night in total darkness, because if your friend walks by and notices that your lights are on, they're going to know you were lying.


But if you allow this person into your house, you are no longer in control of when the interaction ends.  This is not as simple as finding the right opportunity to walk away.  No.  This is some next-level shit.  You can't just walk out of your own house and leave the person there.  Where would you go?  

If you want to be left alone, you're going to have to wait it out until you can convince the other person to leave.

But even then, it isn't over.  

Now that you are aware that your home is not the impenetrable fortress of protection you once thought it was, you are forced to live in a constant state of slight uneasiness. Someone could surprise you at any time.  What if your friend decides to surprise you with a visit every day?  Now you have to worry about keeping your place picked up, "just in case."  You're scared to play music or watch movies because then you can't pretend to not be home if someone knocks on your door.  

You are no longer in control of your life.