excess

Maybe the second week of a freshman history class, my otherwise estimable teacher decide to go around the room and label people either stoic, skeptic, or epicurean. I loathed this process. Mostly because he lumped me in with the 20-or-so-others he deemed Epicureans, and what high school student isn’t hopelessly convinced they’re unique? But I also resented it because he’d only known us a handful of days, and who was he to slap us with a label before we’d even turned in a paper yet? I bristled, and it took lavish praise on papers I’d write to restore my equanimity.

But in hindsight, however uninformed his rationale, he was probably right. At least as regarded me. Because in social gatherings I am the last one to want to wrap things up, call it a night, go home, part ways…I have to actively soothe spikes of protest that arise whenever the humdrum–work, sleep, emails, bank visits, doctor’s appointments, car payments–gets called back to resume its monotonous grip on all our lives.

And it isn’t just social gatherings. When visiting in-laws, or really any relative outside my immediate family, I squirrel away at least a whole box of granola bars in my bag. Because I will be hungry. And they will not. And the women–always the women!–will comment on it. “How can you still be hungry?” “Oh no, I couldn’t eat another bite!” “What, are you eating again?” I’m used to people commenting on the fact of my eating; I don’t like it but it’s old news, and not bound to change if I keep running marathons and eating amongst those who don’t. What bothers me is the sense that you should be preserving yourself for something. Saving yourself for some fanciful future where the fact that you abstained from this one cookie, on this one day, makes you a saint, a “good girl.” Someone worthy of praise.

That day ain’t coming, folks. Get used to it.

But it even goes beyond food–the worst thing you could say to me, the biggest stab in my back, as a kid, would be “now now, settle down.” Bam. Instant mood crash. It wasn’t that I was ADD or even terribly loud or boisterous as a child. My report cards often listed “quiet” and “shy.” But dammit, if I’m going to be unguarded enough, trusting enough, to laugh outright, to run full-tilt, to risk making jokes people won’t laugh at and to expose opinions people will stomp on–if I’m putting all that out there and engaging fully, how dare you call me to task for it. I took a risk and you told me you didn’t give a damn about the effort that cost; you were just concerned about “someone getting hurt.” Well, great. No stubbed toes or blackened eyes, but you sent me right back into my damn shell. Congratulations. When I hear “settle down” now, it still feels like a slap to the face. The last time it was said to me was at a gathering where 20 or so people were jockeying for chairs, a trend arose where people kept offering the seat they’d approached to the next person, and I pushed the joke one second too far, I guess, and received the reprimand, however lightly given. My face flamed and I said not a word for the rest of the gathering.

…what I’m trying to say, however distractedly, is: excess. I keep finding myself in the position of pushing for it. Just one more game, one more drink, one more story. Don’t turn off the lights yet; don’t send everyone home. I’m always the last one to want to throw in the towel, and it’s not diligence! It’s not tenacity. It’s that this–all of this–takes effort. It takes effort. If we’re going to make it, why stop before we are fully spent? And why call each other to task for refusing to do so? What exactly do you think you’re saving me for or from? Dignity? Appearances? Stubbed toes? I’m not yours to preserve. You don’t get to pickle my fun, put it in a jar and call it a good time, memorable, just the right vintage. Memories aren’t going to ripen to a nice golden color, perfect for the plucking later. Or maybe yours will, but I know quite well what will happen to mine. So do not presume to curtail my experiences into neat little orchards ready for future nostalgic indulgence. By the time they’re ripe by your standards, my mind will already be gone.

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