Saturday, May 24, 2014

That Time I Cried At Chili's

I've been a bit neglectful of my blogging lately. I didn't finish my April "30 Days of Blogging" project, and I still haven't posted the pictures or talked about my fishing trip with Dad (yes, I went fishing, and I caught the most fish!) or our trip to the Smokies. I can only say the same thing that I say every May, I think:

This month is always super busy and horrible for people who work in higher education.

However, now that the kids are moved out, the summer school kids are moving in, and we have a brief lull before a month of freshman orientation, it's time I caught up on things a little. I haven't done anything but work for the past month, more or less, but I do still have some leftover suggested topics from April's writing exercise, so I figured I would use one.

Sometimes on Facebook you mention the time that you cried at Chili's. What's that all about?

Well, you pretty much have it all there in the title of this post, but I guess a little bit of extra explanation wouldn't hurt.

A few years ago, my apartment complex informed us that we would be spending an entire Saturday without electrical power, because some kind of repair had to be made to the transformer or something. This meant no cleaning, no video games, no laundry, no air conditioning, no cooking (we're not allowed to have grills), and no doing any of the other things I usually do at home on the weekend. I don't remember what was going on at work, but I felt that I could use a day of complete rest (I feel that a lot, so it's possible that nothing out of the ordinary was going on at work), and I decided that I would open all of the windows and recline on my fainting couch with a book.

This sounds great, right?

Except that the book that I chose to relax with was Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

You see where this is going, right?

I decided to spend my relaxing day alone, without electricity and no outside stimulation, reading about a father struggling to keep his son alive in a post-apocalyptic nightmare version of America. To make matters worse, all of the neighbors (probably wisely) decided to take the day and go somewhere else, leaving the building completely silent. I spent the entire morning on my fainting couch, completely immersed in a book that got more depressing and bleakly hopeless with each page. By midday I was close to done with the book and I was getting hungry, but I didn't want to open the refrigerator and break the seal, letting the cold air out, in case the power outage went longer than planned. I was in full weekend introvert mode by that point, though, so the idea of going very far seemed overwhelming, and I stood on my porch and surveyed my options:

To the right, the sign for Olive Garden. On a Saturday afternoon, it would probably be filled with boisterous laughing families.

To the left, the sign for Chili's. Somehow, in my head, Chili's seemed like it would slightly less filled with families.

"Yes, we'll just pop over to Chili's, and I'll read the last fifty pages of this and maybe get a lava cake for dessert."

Except that things didn't quite work out that way.

I got to Chili's. I settled into a booth way in the back by myself with my book, got my diet soda, and ordered my boneless chicken wings. I kept reading. My boneless wings arrived, and I picked at them for a second, but mostly I just wanted to finish the book, because now I was right at the end, and the father (and the reader) realized that he had to trust his son to strangers, because the father was going to die, and he would never see the son again and never know if he was ok, and the little boy was never going to see his dad again either, and they had come all that way, and the dad had tried so hard to protect him, and they loved each other, and I loved my dad, and someday my dad and I would never see each other again, either, and now the dad in the book was hugging the son goodbye, and he was trying to be strong, and...

...and I totally lost it.

In Chili's.

I didn't just cry. It wasn't like delicate movie crying where a couple of tears course down your cheeks and you blink and smile through it. This was open weeping. This was sobbing, gasping for air, then when you finally get a breath you start sobbing again. My nose was running, and I had to take my glasses off, and I was blotting my face with my one napkin because God forbid Chili's should bring an extra napkin to the table unless you beg for one, and all of a sudden I realized that the waitress was standing next to me. I attempted to compose myself, shoving my glasses back on, and painfully swallowed a sob as I looked back at her.

"Sir? Are the... are the boneless wings ok?"

"The wings?" There are wings? What? That kid's dad just died, lady! "They're fine. The wings are fine. I'm just really sad right now."

"OK. That's ok. You just let me know if you need anything, ok?"

I nodded, and realized that she looked kind of terrified. For a second, I realized how terrible this must look: a strange man, seated alone in her section, sobbing. I realized that I should do something to reassure her that I was a normal, rational human being.

I shoved an entire boneless wing into my mouth.

And then I smiled.

I've never eaten alone at that Chili's again.


leonor said...

I shouldn't have laughed at this story, but I did.

Marcheline said...

Reminds me of the time I read the ending of the book "Losing Julia" in the back of a plane. When I was a flight attendant. Just before I had to serve the drinks. I was a MESS. Only happy books while flying/dining!

nan said...

Another great piece of writing... and I am reminded of my extended emotional reaction to seeing Terms of Endearment on a movie date... and then going out for dessert afterward. There was no second date. I was a complete lunatic basket case.