November 20, 2002
Party Pooper

miles to go: 123.80 [YTD: 1,878.20]

My reputation as the official Dirt Company Party-Pooper is holding strong.

I never say much at staff meetings. I don't *do* lunch. (That hour alone in the empty CAD cubicle is the only writing time I get, most days.) I'm not interested in betting on the Raiders or playing pool after work or joining the company spelunking team.

And now there is my latest social faux pas to live down: blowing off Pottery Night.

Every couple of months or so, Jane and JoAnne and some of the other alpha females in the office decide to throw a Girls' Night Out: a sort of spontaneous, "Let's blow off some steam" shindig, exclusively for the Dirt Company women. It's usually held at one of those trendy *You Paint/We Bake* ceramic boutiques, where you sit around drinking wine and and gossiping about absent co-workers and sponge-painting cornflowers onto fruit platters all evening. (In other words: three activities I go out of my way to avoid, as a rule.)  Every couple of months, therefore, I'm challenged to come up with a plausible reason to get out of Pottery Night. There are a bazillion excuses I could use -- bad weather, heavy traffic, overdue library books, toothache, backache, headache, sudden unfortunate temporary amnesia (What we were talking about again?) -- but eventually I always fall back on the ever-reliable/conveniently-ambiguous/never-questioned favorite:

"Family Emergency."

This time around, though, I briefly gave some thought to actually going to Pottery Night. I figured I was overdue, for one thing. Attendance isn't mandatory at these things -- it's not like they're going to withhold my paycheck if I fail to show up and paint a bud vase with the rest of the ladies -- but even a committed socialphobe like me understands the importance of making the occasional half-hearted Attempt to Fit In. For another thing, I genuinely like (most of) my female co-workers, especially Jane and JoAnne. It's not like I'd be forced to spend the evening nibbling cheese cubes with Martha Stewart and Cranky Denver Lady. So when this most recent invitation landed in my e-mailbox, I didn't immediately start formulating plans to bail out. Maybe I can paint a spoon rest or a soup tureen or a coffee bucket, I told myself. By noon I was thinking it might even be fun. By the middle of the afternoon I was three-eighths convinced that I wanted to go. But then 5 p.m. rolled around, after an especially long, wearying, phone-and-Xerox-intensive day, and I looked out my office window and saw how dark and cold and dreary it was outside -- the exact same dark and cold and dreary I looked at twelve hours earlier, when my day began -- and no matter how hard I tried, I knew I simply couldn't bring myself to put on a party face.

"Are you coming with us tonight?" asked one of my nice female co-workers, slipping into her jacket and smiling at me expectantly.

"I can't," I said. I didn't even bother trotting out my worn-out excuse. I didn't have to, anyway. She gave me a knowing look -- 'Family emergency' again, right? -- and then she and the rest of the Dirt Company women sauntered out of the office amidst a flurry of giggles and jangling car keys. All of a sudden I was thirteen-year-old Secra again, watching Kim DeFeo and Penny Thomas walking arm-in-arm across the parking lot of the Burien Ice Arena without me. But I didn't care. I knew I would be absolutely miserable if I went to Pottery Night. Furthermore, I knew that my misery would have nothing to do with weather or traffic or family emergencies, real or imagined ...

... and everything to do with not wanting to watch them drink.

I don't feel this way all the time. I'm not always uncomfortable around alcohol, or around people drinking alcohol. Weekend before last, as a matter of fact, I sat at the restaurant bar with David and Kenny for almost an hour, while we waited for our table, and I was totally OK with it ... even when the bartender was blending margaritas two feet from my nose. Most of the time I'm just fine in these situations. And it's not like my alcoholism is a deep dark secret around The Dirt Company. I don't go out of my way to advertise the fact that I'm a recovering alcoholic, but on the other hand I don't avoid the issue, either. On a couple of occasions, I've ended up talking about it with female co-workers. You know how it is: things like that have a way of getting around a tiny office. I'm sure there wouldn't have been a single raised eyebrow if I'd sat there at the pottery table and nursed a watery Coke all evening.

But I also know what my *triggers* are -- the little dips and setbacks that leave me feeling most vulnerable to temptation -- and this month it seems like I've been hitting them all, one on top of another. Lack of sleep. Financial anxiety. War. Tot crises. Illness. Computer malfunction. Serial Bad Hair Days. Incessant JLo. Christmas commercials showing up on TV three fudking weeks before Thanksgiving. November has been weighing on me like a big lead mattress for more than three weeks now: I knew that sitting around watching my fellow Dirt Company women getting pleasantly squiffed on chardonnay probably wouldn't improve the situation much. It wouldn't make me break down and take a drink -- at least, I don't think it would: I'd like to think my committment to sobriety is stronger than that -- but in my gloomy November frame of mind, it very likely might set up a pattern of craving and denial that I just don't have the oomph to deal with right now. I don't need to add temptation to my list of stressors this month.

(I'm avoiding clothing catalogs, and the Safeway bakery department for pretty much the same reason.)

So instead of going with the other girls to Pottery Night, I went home and took a bath. I cooked some pasta for dinner. I sewed a button onto David's pants. I read the last two chapters of "The Boys of My Youth," and then I fell asleep halfway through "Life With Bonnie." It was one of the quieter evenings I've had this month ... and it was exactly what I needed.

The next morning I wasn't exactly treated like a social pariah around the office or anything: no pointed fingers or aborted conversations, whenever I walked into the room. But I definitely felt out of the loop, especially when the other women were talking about how much fun they'd had the night before. At one point, one of the women I like the most quietly asked me why I hadn't gone with them. 

"Is everything OK?" she said. "Is your family alright?" 

I briefly considered making up some outlandish story to explain my absence -- sister in the hospital, daughter in jail, dead hard drive, imploding thigh muscles -- but who on earth would believe such hogwash? In the end, nothing seemed quite as appropriate -- or as believable -- as the truth.

"There are some times," I quietly replied, "when it's harder for me to be around alcohol than other times." And I left it at that.

She nodded understandingly. "I respect that," she said, patting me on the hand. And then she scurried off down the hallway towards her office. I'm sure that by the middle of the morning everyone in the office knew the real reason Secra flaked out on Pottery Night. But that's OK. I don't mind being talked about ... at work or anywhere else.

I figure that if I'm going to be the Office Party-Pooper, it might as well be for a more gossip-worthy reason than "Family Emergency."

in memory of marcella degrasse
in memory of marcella degrasse
[aunt marcie]

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