Imagine the scene, if you will, an ultra-chic Upper-East side eatery, and it is the hour of the beautiful people. Everyone in the restaurant is impossibly chic and beautiful and glittering in the glow of understated fabulousness. They sit shoulder to shoulder sipping Syrah and dining on Dover Sole and Veal Ragu over a Swiss Alp of spelt pasta, while wearing the easy-confidence and effortless-cache that comes with a closet filled with Hermes and Prada ( the kind of pieces that are only recognized by one with an eye to discern, no labels emblazoned on these ladies who lunch) that they keep in their uber-decorated houses in the Hamptons and Pied de Terrre’s on Park Avenue.
When we walked into this upscale Italian eatery I was feeling fine. I liked myself. I liked my life. I was fine with the way I looked. I was confident and happy. All was well. That was until I met the eight-foot tall hostess who looked like the love child of Iman and Eros who met me with an attitude of accusation. Her height and her haughtiness took my breath away. She asked me a seemingly innocuous question, ” Do you have a reservation?” It seems like a fair question. However when she asked it, it seemed instead like a moral failing on my part. I mean, really, how dare I enter this place without a reservation. Who did I think I was? I attempted to surround myself in an aura of extreme self-confidence, which in her presence was not easy to muster. “No, no reservation.” I stood my ground and waited for her to show me the way to our table. She turned away from me, snapping her giraffe-like neck in disbelief, and then turned back to me, “You MAY come this way.” Again, it sounds polite when I write it. Only she didn’t say it that way. She said it like we were playing a brutal game of Red-Light/Green-Light and that she was bestowing upon lowly me the greatest and most extreme of kindnesses ( only in a bitchy way) and that she might change her mind and laugh sadistically at me at any moment.
Sitting at our table, surrounded by those who, in my fantasy life, were all very important and glamorous people who live important and glamorous lives. I was no longer the me that had walked in the door. I was instead a pimple-faced dorky tween who was traumatized once upon a time when shopping at Neiman Marcus with her mother and was met by a couple of mean girls in the elevator who called me a poindexter. The memory of that moment is hermetically sealed in my psyche and when I get activated by any event that seems to offer that kind of narcissistic injury I time travel and forget who I am and I become who I was. I was a dork. I was the girl who was tormented for not fitting in. I was the too-pale girl surrounded by bronzed California girls who tormented me for the lack of melanin in my skin, “You must lay out at night. You get moon-tans. Your white legs are hurting my eyes. I need sunglasses to look at you. You are so bright white it hurts.” I know in retrospect that their critique of me was pretty lame. Their cutting remarks lacked wit and creativity, and yet they hurt just the same.
When we walked into the restaurant I was hungry. But now that I was sitting at the table and looking at the menu and trying to find something to eat, I couldn’t connect to any feelings of hunger. Nothing. None. Nada. My boyfriend ordered the Suprema Di Pollo Alla Senape Con Patate Dolci E Cavolo Rosso, impervious to the fact that we were no longer in a chic restaurant but instead in my Junior High School lunch room. I marveled at his ability to want in the midst of my mid-afternoon nightmare. I ordered, only because I felt obligated to, La Zuppa Del Giorni. The waiter disapproved of my order, “That’s it?”, he asked as if I had just given him a penny tip. “Yes, that’s it.” His disapproval of my order amplified my complex, “see,” my psyche told me, “see, you don’t belong here. You aren’t cool enough. You are lame. Tammy and Krista don’t want to be your friends. If only you were tan, then they would like you.” I had no words to argue against the leveling attack.
So here is what was happening to me at the Upscale East-side eatery, something about the way the hostess reacted to me took me out of the present and transported me back to Junior High and feeling all those “I don’t fit in” feelings. And at first I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about those feelings. I was overtaken by them and felt that they were absolutely and objectively true. However in noticing that this feeling felt like an event from the past allowed me to integrate the memory, and differentiate it from what was happening now. The hostess wasn’t Tammy and the waiter wasn’t Krista and, most importantly, I wasn’t the seventh grade version of myself. Noticing the differences started to help. Feeling my body in the room helped further. “I am here now,” I told myself. “I deserve to be here,” a kind voice in my head assured me. ‘It’s the hostesses job to be a gatekeeper. It isn’t about you. You can afford to be here. You deserve to be here. No one is looking at you. You are fine. You can have the onion soup if you want it. You are fine.”
I don’t exactly relish sharing with you that I had to do all of this self-soothing just to get through lunch. It is not something I usually have to do, but there was something about his setting that took me out of the now and into the past and the only way out of it was to have that kinder and gentler adult in my head bringing me into the now. The voice is a kind of Glenda the Good Witch voice that is a combination of Igor and other therapists I have had over the years. The voice took me out of the past and brought me into the now, it allowed me to take a deep breath and feel safer and calmer and less fragmented—and it even allowed me to enjoy some of Keith’s delicious Suprema Di Pollo Alla Senape Con Patate Dolci E Cavolo Rosso. And after a few bites of the delicious chicken I felt even better still. I ordered from our somewhat surly waiter a double espresso, which was a further sign that my seventh-grader self was gone as she doesn’t like coffee and I do. To further prove to myself that she was gone, I didn’t add any sugar to my espresso—undeniable proof that the adult me was back in charge. The adult me paid the bill and left all the mean-girl feelings behind as I confidently walked out onto Madison Avenue.