Do you know how many thoughts can go through your brain in approximately 10 seconds? I can’t tell you the exact number, but that’s not really important. What I can tell you is there are enough to completely derail one’s life.
The countdown began when my boss, Marshall, whom I’ve so been wanting to get to know better, emerged from his office with tears falling from his eyes.
I can say without a doubt that on any other day, I would have shot out of my desk and been hot on his heels. Why? Because that’s how I’ve always been. A comforter, an advisor, a problem solver.
But today, for the first time, I was none of those things. All because my mother believed she had finally pinpointed my fatal flaw, the reason I was still single.
Just the night before, I was having my usual Thursday dinner with my parents, when I mentioned that Mr. Dunner, one of the baggers at the local grocery store, seemed a little on the sad side when I was in there earlier. “I can’t say for sure what it was; he just wasn’t his usual good-humored self.”
My dad only smiled distractedly. He had already moved back to his recliner and was inspecting his newest organizational gadget. It was dad’s goal in life to get all of his creature comforts as close to his recliner as possible, so he could move from it only when absolutely necessary. “Sure hope Mr. Dunner is feeling better soon. He probably works too much. Needs to take a rest.” Dad thought the same about most people.
“No, I don’t think it’s that,” I said. “It seemed more like a heavy sadness. . .”
My mother interrupted, “I’m sure he’ll be fine, Everly, and I hope you don’t find a way to get involved in the matter.”
I tucked my chin in, a bit taken back. “What do you mean, Mom?”
She sighed. “Don’t take it the wrong way, Everly, but you do tend to involve yourself in everyone else’s business. Maybe just keeping to yourself sometimes, just being a little perhaps, quieter, might be a good idea.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Now, Everly. Don’t get offended. I’m just trying to help.”
“But I don’t know what I’ve done that’s so wrong.” I glanced at my dad, but he was busy finding the perfect slot for his toenail clippers. No help from that direction.
“It’s nothing you’ve done wrong, exactly, dear. You just tend to overshare sometimes, to involve yourself when your opinion wasn’t asked. You’ve been like that since you were a little girl. Remember when you had that awful discussion about bowel movements with Mr. Kassner?”
“He was having stomach trouble. I was just telling him what my symptoms had been and what we tried to make it better. I’m sorry the conversation got a bit colorful--literally.”
“What about when we went to the visitation for Mrs. Sanders a couple of weeks ago? You told that story, right up by the casket, about the time your bathing suit top came off in their new pool.”
“But Mr. Sanders laughed!”
“He was being polite, Everly. And then that poor lady and her daughter you accosted in the store.”
“I think an outsider’s opinion really helped, Mom. She bought the dress after all, and they were both smiling when they left. Is it so wrong that I love talking to people, whether it’s about bodily functions or fashion choices?”
“Again, Everly, wrong is not the right word. Just try reigning it in a bit. Men don’t like women who butt in and talk a lot.”
So that was it. She was trying to figure out why I hadn’t found the one yet and had decided the problem was me. Her words fell like dog poop hitting the ground in the hot sun, stinking up my life.
Was I too loud, too talkative, too willing to give my advice to others? It had always been a natural instinct for me to try to connect to those around me, even through the simplest conversation. If I could make someone laugh or help them find a reason to smile, I felt a little celebration inside my chest. But now a weight rested there, where before I had felt lightness.
So when Marshall left his office in distress on that Friday morning, I would have normally been the first person to offer comfort, without a second thought to how my overture would be received. After all, I thought about Marshall often. Jane, a lady I occasionally ate with in the employee lounge, seconded my thoughts about him. I didn’t worry about Jane, though. She had not-so-great skin and brought fish to work almost daily, smelling up the whole room with a noxious odor.
But now my mom’s words the night before paralyzed me. What if the last thing Marshall wanted was a female employee swooping in to comfort him? Maybe he preferred a more demure woman. What if I really was too forward with people?
I was chained to my chair, a prisoner of my own thoughts that circled and pecked incessantly at my brain. I closed my eyes to try to clear my head. When I opened them, I saw Jane stand and cross the office, intercepting Marshall before he made it to the exit. She placed her hand on his arm, and after sharing just a couple of words, they stepped outside together.
Jane caught me on the way into work Monday morning and told me she and Marshall had gone on a date on Saturday night. I could almost feel her giddiness vibrating through the air. He so appreciated her coming right over to check on him. “And Everly,” she said. “Marshall mentioned the fish smell in the employee lounge while we were chatting about, well, everything! I hope you don’t mind. I told him it was yours. So just fake a love for fish if it ever comes up, okay?”