My Secret Compulsion

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

I hadn’t seen my cousin in years. The first things I noticed about her were the new boob job—very obvious even if she hadn’t had  her dress unzipped to the navel—and the arm candy of a guy. Years of days in the sun, of nights of drinking, had taken their toll but she’d had plenty of cosmetic surgery by the time she was 35 and she’d married, though, like me, she’d kept her last name.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

She was still as wild and crazy as that time when we scaled the walls at a stadium concert for Mother’s Finest and the security guards  grabbed my ankles and tried unsuccessfully to pull me down before I scrambled over the top. She’d gone to law school as planned but instead of criminal law, she ended up lawyering real estate deals for the  independently wealthy 30- somethings who live on the Gulf about an hour away. Her new husband was an aging surfer dude not quite so loaded  with money but lots of attitude and the self-importance that comes from  constant hob-knobbing with the independently wealthy

30-somethings.

He blathered on endlessly about this real estate deal or that one and how much money they were making. He dropped names of people as personal friends, when I knew only of what I’d read in the papers. He spoke of this party or that yacht or whose penthouse they got drunk at  last weekend. The young, the rich, the affluent. Status. In an obvious, overblown, I-don’t- need-you sort of way that stuck in my craw.

My cousin mentioned to him that I was a writer and he fixated on that immediately. I saw the glimmer in his eyes. For some  unknown  reason,  he  equated  “writer”  with  fabulously wealthy, darling of society, high-status, worth. Suddenly, he was planning all sorts of charity fundraisers for me to be a guest of honor at and throwing around the names of local socialites he’d met on trips to my area of the Gulf. Not only did that make me extremely uncomfortable, but when my cousin tried gently to tell him she’d be in the restroom, he yelled at her not to interrupt when he was talking to “somebody important.” I didn’t like the image he attributed to me any more than I liked the tone of voice he reserved for his new wife.

It brought back an old compulsion that took every bit of my will to fight. I was honestly afraid I’d either give in to that old compulsion or I’d break the cocktail glass I held in my grip.

During my late teens, all through my 20’s, and maybe even a little into my 30’s, I had this…thing. I don’t know how to explain it unless it harkens back to some past life where I lived in high social status and refused to accept disingenuous behavior on my own turf. I’ve not encountered this  feeling in the past decade, at least not with the same degree of strength, so maybe it’s passed.

It’s a compulsion, the kind where I can barely control my right arm. It’s almost a reflex, and when I feel it coming, I have to get out of the  situation immediately or I have to use every ounce of my focus to keep my hand steady. No, I don’t want to slap someone.  I want to throw my drink in their faces.

I distinctly remember various social occasions where I had to smile prettily at men in tuxedos or women in sequins and make small talk that bored me to tears. I remember socials and teas where women chattered in syrupy tones and their only interest in me was whether the  pearls and diamonds were real, which may explain why I don’t really care  for pearls and diamonds. I could feel the lies and the disinterest all  around me, the people pretending to be what they weren’t, the arrogance of those behind the façade.

And I just wanted to scream, “Wake up!” And then the glass in my hand—whether ice water or Pepsi or wine or an Absolute Screwdriver—would start to shake in my grip.

Sometimes I’d  feel  it  more  than  once  at  a  particular event. Sometimes, I’d feel it throughout the night. I’m not quite sure what triggered it, but at the time, I kept hearing “Phony!” and “Fake!” in my head when I was around certain people.

Sometimes I would imagine my arm flying up and my drink in their faces and the look of surprise, of reality on their smug little visages! But I never did. Ever. Nope. I always kept it under control.

So if you see me with a drink in my hand, especially if it’s a hot drink, and you feel the need to indulge your phony side to impress me or  to impress yourself, it’s probably best that you not stand too close to me. I never know when the compulsion may come back.