It was Sara’s 40th birthday party. I had barely walked through the door when she pounced on me, screaming. Right in my face.
Behind her, the casual low-level murmur of party-din dissolved into a ragged silence. Every head swiveled toward us, mouths agape with surprise.
I was so taken aback I almost turned around and left.
But I did want to be there.
I did want to wish her a happy birthday, meet people, have a good time. Now I was stopped in my tracks, unsure.
But I knew she was right — I really was always late.
“Don’t you know what being late means?” she blurted, almost spitting, still right in my face.
Well — no, I quite obviously didn’t. I hadn’t even thought about it, in fact.
She had, though. Which made sense, since she was a highly successful psychologist who was passionately curious and thoroughly informed about why people do the things they do.
“It means that what you’re late for isn’t important to you.
It means that you think your life is more important than mine, or my party, or the friends gathered here.
Everyone knows you’re my best friend! We’ve been waiting and waiting for you so we could start dinner — where’s your respect?””
She stood back. Crossed her arms over her chest, legs apart, like a bloody sergeant. Her face crimson with rage.
I was stunned.
Was that true? And what’s with the attitude? This was not like her.
I had to admit that, yes, I did have trouble tearing myself away from my work in order to go to most social events. But … but … I had specifically made time for this party.
I was just, well — yeah. I was late. One more touch on the painting I was working on … oh — and one more here … and a bit there … until almost an hour later I snapped — oh no! I was supposed to be there an hour ago — and hurried out the door.
She was on a roll now! Rolling her eyes, chin out, she continued, accusing me…
“It means you think so much of yourself that you want to make a grand give-me-all-your-attention entrance, rather than milling and mixing as everyone congregates and arrives together, at the same time. On time. But oh no! You have to be The Star!”
Now that really startled me.
I hated being the center of attention!
I knew that being late meant all eyes were going to be upon me, but I’d hoped I could quietly squeeze into the room without anyone noticing. I figured I was so unimportant no one would care.
How did that work out for ya, Angela? Not. Not at all. In fact, never! Seemed I wasn’t all that unimportant.
And now not only were all eyes glued upon me, I was getting ripped to shreds in front of everyone.
Shame evaporated all the strength out of my muscles. I felt like I was going to faint on the spot.
Thankfully, Sara’s husband Rafe came over, calmly put his arm around her shoulders. He looked at me and said, “Hey Angela, good to see you — come on in…” as he gently guided Sara over to the side to let me in.
“Thanks, Rafe,” I murmured, my voice shocked-as-shit-woobly-trembly. “I’m kinda not used to being ragged on like that!” He nodded, mini-smiled, and the three of us moved slowly into the house.
Sara finally untensed, gave me a cursory stiff greetings-hug and huffed off with Rafe to be with others. Rafe looked back at me and winked. Like, ‘she’ll get over it, not to worry.’
Well, I didn’t know about that, or if I would get over it. Being massively shamed in front of everyone we knew wasn’t my idea of the greatest time to have at a party.
I’m one of those don’t-do-well-at-parties people.
I’m just not a hobbing and nobbing, glad-handing, gossiping, gabbing-lightly person. Hopping one person to the next, small-talking my way across and around a room? No.
I prefer the depths of intimate one-to-one conversation to vague talk about the weather, political rants, vagrant or high achieving kids, snide remarks about the spouse standing right there — spare me.
One-to-one, I’m fine. Tell me about your recent discoveries at work, your adventures kayaking around in that far off river, your latest writing, your curiosity about some bug going extinct in the Arctic, how to do something more easily. Discussing our art or writing or being creative somehow, the rise of consciousness — now that is fun to me.
So now I’m sitting all by myself in a dark corner.
Purposely isolated away from the others, chewing on what Sara had spewed all over me, as I sipped my water-disguised-as-an-alcoholic drink.
When I stopped drinking, I didn’t realize people would get offended that I wasn’t partaking of the brew being served! If anything, I felt pretty damn good about it, because I was no longer harming my body. If anything, I thought people would congratulate me!
But — no. They wanted me to be part of the swaying, mumbling, incoherent crowd, the ones who thought they were having so much fun, getting so high and stupid-stumbling-drunk.
I used to be part of all that. But I had moved recently, and this crowd didn’t know that only a couple of years prior, a doctor had told me in no uncertain terms that if I had even one more alcoholic drink in the next five years, I’d leave the planet quite painfully and abruptly.
They didn’t know that my liver had been damaged so badly by my previous overdone indulgence that I’d fallen off a bar stool, passed out on the floor, been ambulanced to the hospital, where they saved me by a half a hair.
So I just put a lime on the edge of my fizzy water glass and pretended it was a gin and tonic. I needed flack about not drinking like I needed a second head. None of anyone’s damn business — you go get drunk and feel like shit the next day, I’ll pass.
In my dark corner, contemplating Sara’s outburst and flurry of surprising revelations, I saw that she was right.
Not only was I being rude and disrespectful by being so late, I was silently announcing to her and everyone there that to me, I mattered more, was more significantly important, than anyone else.
That really shook me, because it was during one of my deepest times of introspection and self-doubt. My now ex-boyfriend had (wrongly) accused me of cheating on him with his (smarmy, gross) brother, and tried to run me over in my own driveway.
I’d felt like the lowest of the low. I had already been in shock from that, and now more was dumped in my lap.
I was too numb to cry, or respond to her at all.
So I just sat there like a blob, feeling like a widening, seeping, poisonous black stain.
Sara came and sat with me. I tensed up. We’d been friends for years, but never had she barfed all over me like that before. I didn’t trust her now.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Put her head on my shoulder. Slumped over, long black hair hanging down and over her face. She shook it aside, straightened up, gazed right at me and took my hand, lightly squeezing my finger tips.
“I’m so sorry, babe, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
I felt my breath escape from vice-gripped lungs. I closed my eyes.
I wanted to respond. I wanted to say thank you, but couldn’t say a word. Still not trusting her.
“I was so worried about you! You were later than usual, and I thought maybe you were in that big pile-up on the highway coming over here!”
My eyes popped open. “Pile-up? What pile-up?”
She told me. She talked. In time, I relaxed, she relaxed, and we slid back into our old-friends mode.
I knew then that she had blasted me because she cared, not because she’d wanted to embarrass me.
Yes, I knew she was right, what she’d said, but also that it had come from caring and the frustration of not knowing I was OK.
I said, “So, next time I’m late…” She rolled her eyes again, knowing I’d probably never be on time (she was wrong — I did change!).
“Next time how about hugging me first, and saying something like ‘Oh you’re here! Thank goodness! I was so worried about you!’ Instead of blasting my ass across the entire cosmos in front of 60 other people? Was I humiliated enough for you?”
She guffawed. We laughed, and got up together to go talk to people.
It was a hard lesson, but it sank in deep.
I’ve never forgotten it. Now I’m actually early most times I have to go anywhere. If she was around still, she’d be so surprised!
Thanks for reading my story. That was in 1985. I was 39. It was just before I left on a two-year, solo ‘truckabout,’ camping in all the western states and parts of Canada. I’ll tell you more about that another time.
What do you think about being late?
You’re Always Late! You’re So Annoying!
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023