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Drama Friendship

“So how does one get into this line of work,” I asked nervously. Sitting across from me was a thoroughly intimidating woman. It wasn’t so much her appearance. It was just her presence. Something about the way she sat in the room. She was very fit and pretty trim but somehow, just seemed to take up space. Her hair was thick and a striking ombre jet black to crimson red. The type of hair that made an impression. And then of course, there was the room itself. Not by any means a traditional office, something of an alcove off to the side of an indoor pepper garden. The room smelled of fresh herbage with a twinge of hot pepper and the walls were covered nearly floor to ceiling with newspaper articles and printed Insta posts about the woman. Her name was Ginger which isn’t a pepper but does have a kick to it, I couldn’t decide if that was a fitting name for her or not. Ginger smelled like mangoes which was an interesting medley with the smell of the room.

“You know the saying ‘those who can’t do teach?’” Ginger said in response to my question, I nodded. Ginger looked wistfully at her walls for a moment, then added “I LOVE peppers, the hotter the better really. It’s an experience you know?” She paused and continued, “It’s not just about the heat, it's the color, the flavor, the smell, the crunch. Hot pepper eating is honestly just an experience for all the senses. Hard for me to understand why people jump out of planes when you can get such a rush by just putting a pepper in your mouth…. Not to knock skydiving or anything,” she rushed to add a little sheepishly. 

“Why did you give up pepper eating then,” I asked. I was already beginning to feel more comfortable, the way she talked about pepper eating was the way I felt about skydiving and even though she had subtly knocked skydiving, the feeling that she was a kindred spirit made me feel a bit more at ease. 

“Well, I imagine it is something like you,” she answered, “life had other plans for me. Except, instead of a spouse telling me I needed to quit, it was the doctor.”

“Like a medical doctor?”

“Yep, don’t get this twisted, hot peppers can do a number on the whole body. It’s not just the tongue that can take a whipping, it can cause swelling, nausea, vomiting, eye pain, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heartburn from acid reflux, and headaches. It’s all manageable if you train right. But I have underlying health conditions which make it so my body can’t take the heat anymore. But anyway, those are things you could experience and have to be prepared for if you want to train with me.”

I was silent for a moment and then said, “so… when can we get started?”

Three months later

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD DO THIS,” Ben roared with anger. I knew Ben would be mad, which is why I hadn’t told him. But he’d found out anyway and he was livid. “Liz, you promised me,” he continued. “Promised!”

“It really wasn’t that big of a deal,” I tried to minimize, “it was only one time.”

“It’s not supposed to be any times Liz!” He exclaimed incredulously. I watched my husband take a deep breath and try to calm his body a little. He was trying to exude calm-husband although he was still struggling to maintain his tone as he said, “Liz, I didn’t force this on you, you agreed. You know I never cared that you loved skydiving so much. But when we started having kids… you agreed, our kids need a mother more than you need that specific hobby. It’s too dangerous. And you agreed. Isn’t that why you started working with Ginger on the pepper thing? I thought you liked the pepper thing?”

“I do like pepper eating,” I responded. “And Ginger is an amazing coach. You know she’s-, wait, hmmm… Okay it’s like this. If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be smelling peppers like a sommelier smells wine and researching Scoville Heat Units, I’d have said you’re weird. But that's exactly what has happened. I discovered this whole new world to love and Ginger gave me that. And she’s taught me so much. I just wanted to, you know, teach her something. Give something back to her since she’s given so much to me.”

Ben was silent a moment. But not a good silent. This was the type of silent he was when he was analyzing. You could see it in his eyes. His dark eyes darting slightly down and to the left like he was trying to understand something just beyond comprehension. His brow furrowed slightly. And this was always dangerous because we risked going from husband-brain to therapist-brain. And therapist-brain Ben could be really annoying.

“So wait,” he said. He paused again and then continued, “You and Ginger went skydiving together?”

“Yes,” I answered cautiously. This felt like a trap. He sounded less mad, but I wasn’t sure yet. 

“She knew you made this promise but she went along with it?”

“She didn’t pressure me or anything. It was my choice to make.”

I could see the wheels turning still in his head. “And she’s your pepper eating coach?”

“Right…” this was definitely a trap, I just wasn’t sure yet where he was taking this.

Ben rubbed his hand down his face and let his chin come to rest on his knuckles. He took a deep breath and said, “ Liz,” he paused again, “I need to ask you a question Liz and please be honest…” he closed his eyes for a second and then brought his hand away from his face and brought it together with his other hand clasping them together, “Liz… are you and Ginger eating peppers together?”

I knew what he meant but I tried to deflect, “Of course I’m eating peppers when I’m with Ginger. She’s my coach.”

“No Liz, when you’re with Ginger, is she eating peppers too?”

I paused for a moment and then finally said, “Not all the time.”

“Shit! Liz! This- This is insane! This is ridiculous. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation!” 

“She’s a grown woman she can decide for herself if she wants to keep eating peppers or not.”

“Do you hear yourself right now? Her doctor told her that her body can not handle it. She could die Liz. You do understand that right. She is your friend who has a habit than can kill her and you are enabling it.”

“I’m not her mother,” I snapped back. “And she knows what she’s doing.”

Ben rubbed his hand down his face again and closed his eyes again as he took another deep breath then said, “I really thought this pepper thing was a good idea. I was excited for you. But you and Ginger are not good for each other. This is not good.”

“Don’t knock my friend just because you don’t understand extreme hobbies.”

“This isn’t about extreme hobbies Liz.”

“You’ve never understood the value that these hobbies can have in someone’s life and you’ve never really tried to understand or you would have never asked me to give it up.”

“I just asked and you agreed. You didn’t have to agree. I didn’t force you. That was a choice you made. But the way you’re acting now, you're like an addict hanging out with another addict and the two of you are out of control.”

“Out of control? It’s not like we’re joy riding or going to raves. Dramatic much Mr. Shrink-man? Not everything is a diagnosis waiting for your super brain to figure out!” And with that I stormed out of the room. Ben couldn’t talk to me like this and just expect me to take it. Like I was a client. Or a child. I knew marrying such a mild mannered man would sometimes be challenging. But in these moments I literally wasn’t sure that he would ever really get me. Love is just love. Maybe we needed to be more compatible. He should have honestly been glad I’d met Ginger. In some ways, she made him a lot more tolerable. 

One month later

“I can’t believe this is happening,” I muttered. I was sitting next to Ginger in the emergency room. Ginger laying in misery in the hospital bed on my left. “You didn’t even eat that many peppers.”

She said nothing in response and moments later the doctor entered the room. She’d reviewed Ginger’s chart and said flat out, “to be clear, your Gastritis is chronic and severe. Hot peppers are good for most people but they are not good for you. Is this really the life you want for yourself? In and out of the hospital because you want to eat a hot pepper?”

Ginger stared at the wall. Apparently she didn’t have anything to say. The doctor kept talking for a while. But with Ginger being unwilling to respond, eventually the doctor left.

Ben wouldn’t come to the hospital. We were barely on speaking terms these days. He wanted me to cut Ginger out of my life. Sitting next to my friend in the hospital, for a second, I felt like maybe I understood why. If I hadn’t been with her, maybe she wouldn’t have done it.

But then again, she was a coach. If she didn’t coach me, she’d coach someone else and this would probably still be a problem. The truth was probably that she probably should not coach anymore. And she shouldn’t work out of a pepper garden. And maybe she shouldn’t keep a thousand pepper eating memories on her walls. 

Ginger had been primarily silent the entire time we’d been at the hospital. She turned her head and looked at me. After a moment, she quietly said, “I don’t think I can be your coach anymore.”

“I know,” I responded, relieved. 

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself,” she added tearfully. “Am I just going to live a boring life?”

I felt teary too but tried to hold it back, “We’re just going to have to find a new hobby,” I said, but then quickly added, “but we can’t do skydiving either.”

“We?” she asked.

“You can’t be my coach anymore but we can still be friends.”

“How will Ben feel about that?”

“Well, we’re giving up the peppers… so, hopefully better, but hard to say.”

“I suppose it depends on what our new hobby is going to be,” she said with a sly smile. “Bull running? Ice swimming?” 

I knew those weren’t serious suggestions and I chuckled. But finding a new hobby for us was actually a serious need so I gave it a moment of serious thought then proposed, “How do you feel about… extreme skiing?”

January 21, 2022 08:31

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2 comments

Xylianna Clay
05:42 Jan 28, 2022

I really like this, what a fun look into these character's lives! I never thought of hot pepper eating as an extreme sport. Ben is a great balancer for these two hot-headed characters. You introduced them all so well, and the story progression was great! Super satisfying to read, loved it.

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Maya Mason
06:02 Jan 31, 2022

Thanks for your feedback! I Googled extreme sports and chose to pick one people probably wouldn't think of, so I'm glad to hear that it was a bit of a surprise for you. Thanks again.

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