It was a muggy Monday mid-afternoon. I just woke from a wonderful nap, though the aftershocks had me feeling pretty shitty. I impulsively decided I needed a steak. A red, juicy slab of savory sirloin. But it’s Monday. My diner closes early on Mondays. How am I supposed to eat? How will I survive?! I’m going to die!
Alas, fret not, as it so happens, food is readily available at other establishments. I know! Ruby Tuesday has steak! How, I wonder, can I get Ruby Tuesday’s tasty tabletop ecstacy to pass through my tastebuds? A neurotypical’s typical answer might be to quite simply drive there, order the desired entree, and devour it deliciously.
My solution requires quite a bit more planning. I’ve grown quite accustomed to my unreasonable and rather unusual means of accomplishing anxiety-inducing excursions such as venturing to the bank, or eating at a restaurant that isn’t my beloved diner.
My solution is precariously planned, beginning with an important Step One. Who? Who, today, will I prey upon to fall victim to the inane, mental ramblings over a rather silent meal with myself and the Autism Ball & Chain? Who do I trust, and yet, surely despise enough to drag along my toxic path with me? Who possesses even the remote inkling of the desire for sustenance? Who, indeed…
I know. I know who. Him. He inquired just this morning about my state of hunger. I wasn’t hungry at the time, for my beloved diner was available to provide for me. It’s only been seven hours. Surely he must still be hungry. With only a small jerk of the barbed wire around my stomach, I sent a text message to the him in question. This was it. I was convinced he would immediately reply that my inquiry was absurd and that if he was hungry, he would sooner kill and fry his favorite dog than go through a deserted drivethru with me. I’ve made a terrible mistake. How do you un-send texts?!
By some kind of insane, unworldly mishap, he somehow must have been hypnotized and threatened and drugged into replying with some kind of agreement to go to dinner. With me?! Is this even possible??
Though I waited for more than an hour longer than I was asked to wait for him, I waited patiently. Hunger whipped at my guts. Anxiety of visiting a restaurant I don’t typically venture to unsettled my nerves. But I didn’t care. He said yes. I waited with nothing other than patience.
Belonging to a farm, I’ve learned, means many things, and one of the most important and oddly peculiar things I’ve learned is that, for some reason that I am still researching, NTs (neurotypicals) have a strange need to bring politics into the horse community, and they live and thrive in all its horrid, unnatural malevolence. I came to learn that I was waiting for him to join me for steak and broccoli because, circumstantially speaking, a couple of pubescent teenage whores looted peoples’ feed rooms, and got off with a week’s worth of hay and grain. This angered me. I hate pubescent children, females in particular. They’re obsessed with drama and “popularity” and shiny things. I didn’t know what to do. I could seek them out and crack their heads open. I could imitate their Miley Cyrus-esque habits and spread a ridiculous rumor that I stole the food and I framed them, and if they were to figure me out, I would just get plastered and take my clothes off – like I always do. Or, for once, I could simply not care.
Not care? How does that work? Is that possible? How could I not be furious that barbaric bimbos are chasing my family around with a tazer? How could I not be irritated that my sirloin must wait while this pathetic mess is mopped up by uninvolved parties?
Well, I decided, I don’t care. I will try it. I will not care. My Pathetic Debate of the Day is how to nourish myself in bovine blood and peachy potatoes. My complication of the day does not include bitch teenagers, thievery, con-artistry, nor thunderstorms.
Blissful, it almost was, to not care. I nearly enjoyed myself, living in an alternate tangent whilst my favorite people scrambled about to solve the Mystery of the Missing Hay. Still, I did pity them, and I almost wished I wanted to crack skulls for them… but remain, I did, on my own island.
At last, he finally caught up with me. I was ready. Let’s do this. Mission: Ruby Tuesday. The thought had my stomach twisting in salt and barbed wire. Is this truly happening?
No, it is not. He tells me a couple will be joining us. She is one of this planet’s greatest assets and therefore one of my favorite people. He is her husband. Oh my. Three people. I will be sharing a table with three people. Though three people I respect and adore, three people means three people. What have I done?
I was trapped in a car. With three people. But I’ve done this before, and I can do it again, my experience attempted to convince my gut. I could no longer concentrate on my beloved Netflix. I put my phone away. I can do this.
Slowly, vaguely, the three voices drifted through my brain until I realized they were still discussing the sickly stealing sorority. Still? But then, I realized, this must be what it’s like to not care. Nothing new, I am alone in my experiment in expunging myself. On and on, they ramble. They take an awfully long time to reach conclusions, I notice. The evidence, though circumstancial, points solely to the pubescent pair. I said nothing. I don’t belong here. I pray Ruby Tuesday will accommodate me. With a deserted dining room.
But alas, my prayers are quite seldom answered. I was, however, lucky enough to be dining in a quiet area, where the loudest noise emitted from the building’s radio speakers. I bothered not to pray for the tunes to be quieted, as my prayers have often been misinterpreted this evening, as if I was wishing upon the Monkey’s Paw.
The three continued to discuss their theories and ideas, which, quite predictably, always ended with the same conclusion: the bitches did it. My interest piqued as my concern so oddly settled into the dregs of nothingness, and so I gave my best attempt to sharpen my hearing and fully grasp the meaning directly, behind, under, and upside-down of everyone’s words. Nearly fifteen seconds passed when I decided that verbal conversation and I get along like baking soda and vinegar. I felt panic wash through my guts because this could be a precious learning experience for me. I avoid any means of social situations, as they spike my anxiety as if it’s a ball to play with. How was I supposed to learn anything from this situation if I couldn’t even keep up with their words?
Brilliance struck me like a train of lightning bolts and I went for the idea before I could have a chance to see the stupidity behind it. As the three flocked around the salad bar, I watched, mesmerized at the divider mirror that showed the world which dish was under attack by which greedy hand. Focus, I told myself. I used my phone to record everything that happened to occur at the table. I was able to drift in and out of the real world, returning home to armor up in preparation for placing my order. I could listen, take notes, and analyze the recording at any time later. It was genius – I was free to travel far away, prepare for the horrors of requesting my entree, and never miss a second in social conversation. Hooray, technology!
My anxiety met 60% when I did actually place my order. This is a problem. I hate to give my order first because I like to see people I know do so first so I have an idea of how it’s done. She went ahead of me. Relief was was an oceanic wave over my face. Still, terror reined again when I was forced to give my order next. But I had my preparation, in full Roman armor, I recited my order almost profesionally. I didn’t even fuck up my order and then agree to what the waitress thought she heard just so I didn’t have to go through the putrid hell of having to re-explain myself. The only chink in my armor was the compulsive need to inflict pain, which I did only slightly by punching my knee with every syllable. I didnt even bleed. That, I praised myself, is real progress.
The three continued chatting, straying from topics such as the thieving hoes to other dining establishments and such, and my recorder continued on slyly.
Upon the arrival of my beautiful slab of cow meat, I wondered nervously if I was expected to wait for the others’ food to arrive before I began crushing my savory steamed broccoli with my molars. Unsure and positively sweating, I busied myself finding a better place for my secret recording device and over exaggerated the unwrapping of my silverware. Just as I ran out of things to busy my hands with, I was fortunate enough to have my plate accompanied with other entrees. Maybe this night will work out well, after all.
Halfway through the meal, I was impressed at how comfortable I was becoming. I even almost offered a similar social story to the table. I was feeling pretty Donald-Trump-successful. This was incredible.
Too soon, I noticed, I was becoming the last to finish my dinner. What is this? Me? Eating alone? WHAT IF THEY LEAVE ME HERE?!
Okay, be reasonable. We still have to pay for this. They can’t just leave me without paying. Or, I thought, can they?
I returned to Earth just long enough to witness a comment by her husband. “Okay, that’s it. After this, we can’t go out to dinner for the rest of the week.”
Electricity fired through my brain’s neurons. My skin flushed and bubbled with excitement. My hair crackled with negatively charged ions. I was having an idea.
No. No way, I tried to reason with myself at the ridiculous thought. But it’s absolutely brilliant. It makes complete and utter sense.
I was going to pay. For the entire table. As my heart rate rose, I thought of how this was going to be possible. I sipped my soda. I could ask her. She would understand. I pictured it:
Me: Can I pay for it?
Laura: Of course not!
Me: …Can I pay for Victor and I?
Laura: Victor’s a big boy.
Me: *inquisitively sliding cash across table*
Laura: *places credit card in check book* *returns my cash* No.
Me, thinking: WHY CAN’T I JUST DIE?!! *trying not to burst into tears* *throws grenade* *explosion* *everyone dies*
Hm. No, let’s not ask her.
Well? Then how do I do it? How do I pay for everybody? Another idea struck me. It was risky. The thought had my guts twisting as if I was giving birth and my pulse, again, sounded like the bass in my car’s sound system.
Where is she? Where is our waitress? A male waiter was servicing a table nearby. Oh, my gods. Maybe she left. Maybe this is now his section. Do I ask him? How do I get him? Do I hide behind the salad bar, wait for him to approach our table, and get his attention by lighting the croutons on fire? What if she sees me and comes over instead? No. Bad plan. But then…
There she is! The waitress. She passed our table. My heart leapt to my throat. That was it. It was too late. On her way back to the kitchen, surely she would drop the check at our table. And it would be too late. Disappointment bubbled in my gut.
No! I did not go through painful heart palpitations and ragged breathing to fail now! When she drops the check, I will pick it up and run! If the three want to fight me for it, I will encourage it. I. WILL. NOT. LOSE.
Our waitress came to our table. I spotted the black leather book in her apron. It held the bill, I was sure. She placed a filled cup of Coke on my coaster. I didn’t even know I was empty. I stared at that little book with our bill inside, prepared to fight to the death. I glanced at my fork. This will be a good weapon. She reached for my plate. No! I mentally screamed at her. My weapons… gone…
I stared daggers at that book. That was the next thing she reached for. I had to be quick. My heart raced. My head pounded like it was baking in an oven. This is it…
“Will there be anything else? Would you guys like any desserts or…?” I forgot how pleasant a person’s voice can sound when they’re about to fuck you with a credit card.
I swallowed. Ready.
She then dismissed herself to fetch the check. I was swarmed with confusion. I still had a chance. But how?
I sipped my Coke. I grasped my wallet. I sipped my Coke. She’d disappeared into the kitchen. I sipped my Coke. She was trapped. I could get between her and our table. The kitchen neighbored the bathroom. It might just appear as if I went to go shit. In a desperate attempt to calm myself, I gulped my Coke until my brain froze in protest. I hyperventilated. I stood. I paused. I walked briskly toward the kitchen. I stopped. What if the three saw me?
I approached the bar in desperation, then attacked that means of escape, as now the three probably thought I was an alcoholic. Remembering the salad bar blocked me from their view with the mirror that divides the length, I mentally thanked the designer of this establishment.
I quickly realized I didn’t give the waitress enough time to finish her kitchen tasks. Shit, shit, shit! I looked around in panic for anything that might look like I belonged here, crouched behind an occupied booth seat. There was nothing.
And so I remained for several heart-wrenching seconds. Or… minutes, maybe? Hours? Hours, likely.
I can’t remember a time I so strongly felt the natural functions of my body. A fresh round of sweat erupted under the brim of my favorite hat. I felt every rib bone, muscle, and blood vessel in my entire chest cavity. I felt my lungs beg for air that wasn’t tainted with my own terror. But I felt my heart most of all. I felt each of its four chambers work with Herculean effort. I felt my heart pump so hard and so strong that it ricocheted off the walls of my chest and sent blood soaring to my limbs until my palms and soles sweat from the heat. I watched two female and one male waiter exit the kitchen and peer down upon me with what I assume was confusion. With the presentation of each employee, my heart jumped and tumbled and shocked me as it was able to work even harder each time. I continued to pretend I didn’t exist. Is this how I die?
I peered into the window in the kitchen door. There she is! I straightened slightly, ready to pounce. I watched her stop at the register and print a bill. This, I knew, had to be our bill.
I watched her retrieve the check from the printer. She exited the kitchen. I waved her down, acting like my heart totally wasn’t raping my arteries with oceanic currents of blood.
I asked if she had our check in her hand. She confirmed. “I want to secretly pay for it,” I told her, immediately scolding myself for sounding so moronic. To my shock, without an inkling of hesitation, she led me to a nearby register and pulled up our total on the screen.
“This is the total for your table, is that okay?” she asked me kindly.
“Yeah,” I trembled. I wanted to throw up. And cry. And die. “They never let me pay, so I want to do it secretly,” I was compulsed to explain to her. I peered at the screen. My vision was failing me. I read, “$68.” I couldn’t see beyond the decimal point. In full panic, I watched my hands shake like I was in mid-siezure. I pulled $60 out of my wallet. Shit, that’s not enough!
Oh, my fuckballs, I still need a tip! I pulled out a fourth twenty. My brain chose then to short-circuit, and any means of mathematics was completely lost to me. Concerned that four twenty dollar bills wasn’t enough to pay for a sixty-eight dollar meal, I pulled out another ten. That was good. Right? RIGHT?!
My legs tightened, prepared to run. The waitress then offered to get me some change. “No,” I think I may have screamed at her. I clumsily zipped up my wallet. “Erm, no change. Sorry, I’m totally freaking out. They never let me pay. I’m totally normal otherwise. Like… I won’t throw up on you. I mean, maybe I need a doctor. Er, no, haaa, just kidding. I’m fine. I’m just freaking out. We’re by the bar but I’m totally not wasted, I promise. Okay. Sorry. Thank you so much.” She didn’t immediately answer, so I then began to wonder, what the fuck?
“So you’re gonna let them know you paid?” she asked me.
“No,” I think I may have screamed at her. Again. “Erm, I mean, I think they’ll kill me. I think I’m just gonna go sit down. And then run like hell and go hide outside.”
She laughed at me. I would too. “Okay, so I’ll wait till you leave and I’ll let them know.”
“Shit, thank you so much,” I repeated in all meaning of the words. I returned to our table.
I couldn’t bring myself to park my ass. I snatched my half-a-Coke. I chugged what I could without choking. I chewed on my straw. My heart continued to pound.
On impulse, I asked if I could go outside. “Yeah, I guess…” came a hateful reply. Hateful. What have I done?! If they don’t murder me, I considered suicide to be inevitable.
I dropped my Coke and bolted to the door, nearly mowing down a waiter in my destructive path. Why must there be two doors to escape this dungeon??!
Outside, I forced the foggy, post-thunderstorm air in my lungs by the gallon. I paid little attention to the puddle of water I parked my ass in. I fumbled with the cigarettes I stashed in my pocket. I wasn’t two puffs into my quest for cancer before the restaurant’s door opened and spat out the she of the three. I think I shuddered in anticipation of a beating.
“You whore,” she greeted. I wanted to die. What have I done?!
Still, I laughed. I breathed. And I wanted to die.
I still want to die. My adventures with anxiety have taken me to some pretty interesting and seriously fucked up situations. Today, it was Mission: Impossible 4 Ruby Tuesday. I would like to say I learned something valuable today, but I think all I can speak of is bodily functions. I have never, in all my adventures with anxiety nor autism, felt nor understood the function of my heart so vividly. I feel like I gained some medical training.
Oh, where did I get my medical training? Ruby Tuesday, doctor. The difference between my education and yours is that, apparently, Harvard offers flimsy papers with your name printed on it. That, and an actual education. So there.
I’m pretty sure the three totally hate me now and are now spending their respective evenings throwing darts at my photo, exchanging wretched tales of their most dreaded experiences in my presence. I’m sure of this, and I hate myself. I hate the tools and disadvantages I was born with. I hate that there’s a “hard way” to learn life’s lessons, and that I’m not even so lucky as to learn that way. I’m actually programmed to be blind and ignorant to the things that most people know naturally, and therefore forced to learn them, not by the “hard way”, but by the “impossible way”.
I think today’s adventure with anxiety has best taught me that either I am on the wrong planet, or my autism and I belong in a cabin in the woods. Or a dome under the sea.