OPP (other people’s problems)

I am not down with OPP. Not down with other people’s problems. Tired of carrying shit that is not mine, doesn’t belong to me, not mine to be carrying. I’ve done that most of my life, and have finally come to realize fully that nobody is asking me to do that. If they are asking me to carry something of theirs, it’s not my job. They may ask, or demand, that i carry it, but I must remember that “NO” is a complete sentence, and requires no explanation, justification, or rationalization. Just. No.

Today I went out to lunch with some people, for the first time in over six months. We went to a casual restaurant, after the lunch rush, and sat outside. The outside seating was covered, and the weather was utterly gorgeous.

There was a large table seated nearby, with some shrieking, squealing, shouting women that I suspected had partaken of copious amounts of fermented fruity beverages. Fortunately, they were more or less on their way out. I noted to myself that we were all going to have to become reacquainted with being in close proximity to annoyances like that as things begin to open again, and we all begin to venture out of our caves.

Once the noisy ones had vacated, I was left to enjoy the company of my table mates. One of them is a very close friend, my confidante, someone who totally gets me. I love that woman, as much as I can love anyone.

It is not a romantic kind of passion, but I am more than aware that I love her deeply and profoundly. We can tell each other truth, and then move on. She is safe. She’s a few years younger than me, but it doesn’t see to matter a bit. Sometimes she’s the elder, and sometimes I play that role, and the interchange is seamless and effortless.

The other two members of the lunch party are friends, but nowhere even close to the level of authentic friendship that I have with the first one. They are much older women, both from Detroit I believe, and very different from me. One is a real talker, kind of know it all but in a nervous kind of way. Not so much arrogance as just uncomfortable with silence.

The other participant, however, is a little more of an expert-of-all-things, which can be annoying. What truly gets to me at times with her, though, is how deep her anxieties and control issues go. She is generally soft spoken, and seeming easy going, but there’s an irritating control issue that I seem to trigger quite often. And it’s trying my patience just a bit.

Today, after we had been seated, I threw my wallet and my keys on the table in front of me. On my keychain is a flexible plastic figure of a human hand with fingers that can be manipulated and positioned as one sees fit. Of course, because it belongs to me, I have the fingers arranged with the middle digit extended, for added charm.

I wasn’t paying any attention to it sitting there, and neither was anyone else, but she was. Apparently, it was speaking to her or something, and she decided that she didn’t like how it was positioned, because the middle finger was pointed toward her. I thought that was a stretch, but just ignored it.

Then, she reached over and moved it so that the finger was pointed more in my direction. Fine, whatever. In the meantime, the wait person had brought drinks, then returned with straws. I opened one and deposited it into my glass. Someone else opened theirs and did likewise. The other two remained unopened, and were sitting unobtrusively on the table, somewhat near my offending keys. We were all talking, and nobody was concerned with the straws. Or the keys. Or so I thought.

When the wait person came back to take our order, the anxiety laden one called him to her position at the table, loudly, and dramatically reached over to pick up the extra straws, saying dramatically, “Oh, sir! You may take these back!” OK, then. We finished up with making our order, and the guy left to do other important things, like put back those extra straws.

We’re all talking, until the anxiety laden one again heard the keys talking to her. “Can I ask you to please do something with those, please? That hand is driving me crazy! Can you put it into another shape or something?” At that point, I’d had quite enough of her, and I wasn’t at the table to manage her anxiety. There are fine medications on the market for that. Not my gig.

She persisted. I said no. Just no. I then said to her, “You always seem to have some kind of issue with something I’m doing! The other day, you were bothered on the Zoom call because I was eating a lollipop. I always seem to be doing something that disturbs you!”

“Oh, no – I didn’t have any problem with your lollipop. But you get waving it around and it was disappearing into your virtual background, and that was driving me nuts!” I didn’t see the need for a response to that, and I made no move to rearrange my keys. My true friend put the wine list over them, and I didn’t challenge that. So we moved on.

That kind of stuff really irritates me. Irritates me to a higher level than it is probably worth, I acknowledge, but it reminds me of stupid things my other used to do. Her neurosis would manufacture problems with something I was doing, or being, or saying…and the only solution was for me to change something. Because of the power dynamic there, I had no choice but to acquiesce. There was no winning at that point. I was powerless in situations like that for more years than I care to remember, and I hated it.

I wasn’t going there with a peer. When people are indulging their anxieties, neuroses, whatever and want me to change something for them to be more comfortable, it’s rarely a reciprocal thing. This woman today has an irritating habit of chewing gum, constantly. For whatever reason, I find that distracting and annoying, but you could not pay me enough money to ask her to stop chewing gum. I don’t feel as though I have that right.

Other people don’t seem to question their right to ask a person to change themselves, or their self expression, or their habits to suit them. I feel like that’s bad form, and I just grit my teeth and get through it. Worst case, I would be there for an hour or maybe ninety minutes. I have withstood worse things for that amount of time, so no big whoop. But that’s me.

I wasn’t giving into someone else’s neurosis today because I didn’t feel as though it was my job to help her feel comfortable. Don’t look at the damned keys if they irritate you so badly. Change seats with someone else if it bothers you so much. But don’t make it my problem, when I’m not doing anything to specifically cause you discomfort. What if it was my hairstyle, or hair color, or my eyeglasses, or my t-shirt? That’s not my problem to solve for someone else.

So, that has stuck with me the past couple of hours, and while I’m not mad at her or hating her, I really don’t want to repeat that experience again. You stay over there, and we’ll be nice and friendly and cordial, but let’s not get that close again. K? Love ya, mean it.

My writing prompt today asks me to consider food. My least favorite thing to discuss, actually, because…I love food. There are certain sensations that good food arouse in me that must cause my brain to light up like a Christmas tree. I’m mostly a sweet tooth on two legs. The first thing I remember stealing when I was a kid was a Milky Way bar from the grocery store. I got caught halfway through it, and the cashier told my mother. My mother asked me point blank if I did it, and I said no. Looked them both straight in the eye and said no. But, I knew I was lying.

I remember the incident very clearly. I wanted the Milky Way bar, and asked for it. I was told no. I must have been about seven, and already there was undue emphasis on my weight. My mother was more obsessed with it than was reasonable, I believe. I was “chubby”, but not having health issues or mobility issues. She was constantly looking for ways to deprive me of sweets in particular, and I was constantly looking for ways to thwart her.

When I wasn’t allowed to get the candy at the grocery store, I made myself scarce for a moment, tore into the chocolate, and gulped down a huge bite of it. The cashier discovered me as I was trying to cover it up, and so I had been caught red handed. I absolutely HAD to have that candy. Had to have it.

My mother, being the underweight little pixie that she was, always had sweets around the house. The holidays were the worst, because people would give them presents of candy boxes, cakes, what have you, and they were all over the place it seemed. My mother could have them, my father could have them, but not me. I was forbidden.

I remember so much of my time being spent figuring out ways to get food that i wasn’t supposed to have. The funny thing was that i had enough to eat. I wasn’t starving. The entire effort was to get at the sweets, or anything I wasn’t supposed to have. It was mainly the sweets, though. I don’t remember hording leftover chicken or potatoes or anything like that. Except for one weird period when I was craving canned soup. That was just odd…I would eat it right out of the can, cold, and this was way before Chunky soups. You were supposed to add water to those concentrates, but I ate them without all that.

Anyway, it was mostly the sweets. When my great aunt and uncle in Lake Charles would let me “help” in their little grocery store, I would steal money from the register to pretend I was buying sweets on the shelf. I think they knew what I was doing after a while, and quietly told my father one day they didn’t need me to help any more. I kind of figured that’s what it was about, but of course I said nothing.

I never got an allowance, but any change I accumulated, found, stole went to buying sweets. My mother did everything she knew how to do in order to keep those away from me, but I always found a way. It was an obsession, an addiction. Looking back on it, i think it was a power struggle between she and I.

I am still a sweet freak, but it ebbs and flows. I go through phases where I am absolutely obsessed with certain sweets, and eat them in such excess that i get sick from a steady diet of whatever has struck my fancy. For a while it was bags of jelly beans…Jelly Belly, then Gimbal’s, then Russell Stover, then whatever was cheap.

Then, it was Raisinets, then Nestle’s Crunch, then Butterfinger, then Heath or Skor bars. Whenever those were 2-for-1 or 2-for-cents off, I would buy bags full of them. Right now, it’s Dum Dums and Tootsie Pops. It’s the taste. It’s all about the taste, and of course the sugar.

I have tried tracking phases like this with what’s going on in my life at that time, and near as I can figure, those obsessions are triggered by anxiety about something that is causing me stress. Right now, it’s about this finances. I still don’t know what’s happening with this ridiculous healthcare subsidy, and I still don’t know whether I have any chance with this job I’ve applied for. There’s nothing I can do about either of those issues right now, so…let’s have another lollipop and piss off some neurotic person who can’t handle it.

There is a part of me that wonders if my obsession with sweets is making up for a sweetness in life that is lacking. I have contemplated this in the past, and definitely feel as though life is not sweet for me. I have usually experienced life as hard, as difficult, as something to be endured, as something to be survived. It has never felt particularly sweet, and that is not to say that i have not had some good times, some times when things seemed to be going very well. Overall, though, it has generally made for a very tired girl who appears to be aging well past her years. I feel old, I feel worn, I feel weathered. I am tired. I am not feeling as though I will fall anytime soon, although one never knows these things. But, I’m pretty exhausted. Not sure if I have another rebirth, or recreation, in me.

So, I enjoyed my lunch today, in spite of the minor irritation with the neurotic one, and I ate heartily. It wasn’t my most favorite restaurant, but it was very tasty. I ate everything on my plate, like a good Catholic girl (because there are starving children in India). I had a hamburger, which is not something I have very often. It had mozzarella cheese and sauteed onions, and some kind of steak sauce. It came with french fries. I was fine with all that…until…

…I ordered dessert. It was an apple cobbler kind of thing, a la mode. It came with two spoons for some unknown reason, because I only needed one. It was very good. I will say the only other thing I’ve had since coming home is a couple of Dum Dums, but nothing else.

In the past, I’ve eaten past the point of being full, eaten when I’m no in the least bit hungry. So, in a way, I’m rather gratified that i didn’t find it necessary to start snacking after I’ve been home for a while. I’m still feeling rather satisfied from the meal, so haven’t felt the urge to have anything else in the savory category.

I do not eat well. I know I’m a compulsive eater, and sometimes I feel as though it’s best if I just don’t even start. For that reason, I’ve never been much of a breakfast eater. My mother was obsessed with breakfast, and she cooked grits and eggs and bacan most mornings. I ate it when it was laid out, but it was never anything I craved. I preferred to save my appetite for more substantial plates of pasta or sandwiches at lunch, and then larger portions of the same for dinner.

Coming from a city that prides itself on its food, and its seafood in particular, I could live on fried seafood. The hamburger I had today will probably be the only one I have for quite a while. I am not a huge beef eater. i will eat chicken, and sometimes lean pork, but could leave those behind as well. Seafood is my game. Most of the time, I enjoy it deep fried, but never greasy. I will eat it broiled or panne’, provided it has some interesting sauce or stuffing to accompany it. I like my food to be interesting, combining different textures and flavors.

But, back to the sweets. Dessert is essential. I always feel as though I’ve been cheated if I’ve eaten a full meal with savory spices and garlic, and have that taste left on my tongue as a reminder. I absolutely must “cleanse my palate” with a sweet thing. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a cake thing, sometimes a pie thing, sometimes a cookie-type thing. The sugar is the key. I can do with or without coffee, although I never turn it down.

I have been abstinent from alcohol and non-prescription drugs for 32.4 years as of this moment, but truth be told, I have never considered those substances to be my core addictions. Food seems to be more my issue. It’s far more difficult for me to control my food intake, to eat as “prescribed”, to refrain from overindulgence. And of course, the insidious thing about food is that you cannot abstain. You have no choice but to learn moderation, and to resist cravings, and that…doesn’t work very well for me. It never has.

I’m not sure if I will ever become a competent eater. Some days I don’t much care, although my weight does frustrate me. It has so much to do with my self-esteem, and causes me to feel like a failure. I figure 3rd graders know better how to manage their food than I, but…so be it. Right now, i’m grateful my cravings are only for lollipops and not Milky Way bars. (I noticed they had a new variety of those recently, but did not give into the urge to try it, thank goodness).

Some of my favorite meals, as I said earlier, involve fried seafood. But, I do have a penchant for Thai food, mainly some of the noodle dishes like Phad Thair, and Phad Woonsen. I could live on that on the days I wasn’t eating fried seafood…which I can’t get much of that here. I also enjoy thin crust pizza with non-tomato-sauce base, like either barbecue sauce or white/garlic sauce, and cool toppings. A restaurant here does a thin crust with “gourmet” toppings that can include asparagus, Thai-seasoned shrimp, roasted chicken, etc.

Anyhow, food is a social thing as well as a comfort thing. I suppose the social thing is also a comfort thing, so that’s two birds with one stone. I have no problem having a meal alone in a restaurant, but I am way more satisfied overall when I am with other people. Even if they are mildly annoying, like today. I still enjoyed the company, and my bestie made up for all of the neurotic one’s antics.

I’m not sure where else I need to go with dissecting my relationship with food, because I don’t think it’s a great one. I have lost tons of weight before, and gained it back. Lost it, gained it back. Right now, I’m on the gain side of the spectrum, mainly because of being on lockdown with the pandemic, but I can get back to a better place. I am starting to come out of the isolation a bit, so will probably be a little more active shortly. The dog will be overjoyed.

I’ve wrestled with food and weight my entire life. Some of that battle was given to me. As I said, my mother was more or less obsessed with my weight. She was rather obsessed with her own weight, and had been underweight most of her life, the little wench. But she projected some weirdly distorted vision of size onto me, and it was inaccurate. She was constantly talking about it, and talking about how she was going to get that weight off me, and it was going to be such a good thing. When I remember pictures of myself while that was going on, I wasn’t that big. I wasn’t some horribly obese figure who could barely walk, or was rolling from side to side when I did. I was not then, nor slender, but I was healthy. I would kill to be that size now, but I felt then exactly how I feel now. The distortion was in my head, and it was based on what I imagined other people saw. It still is.

I was having a conversation this morning with someone, and I made the comment that being an only child was cool in some ways because the good news is I have no one to answer to. The bad news is…I have no one to answer to. I do most things by myself. I was saying that often there’s nobody in my corner, especially now that my mother is gone. She asked me how would it be if I was in my own corner. I had no answer for that, mainly because I know the implication is correct – sometimes I am my own worst enemy. Sometimes I’m not in my own corner, I’m not sticking up for myself, I’m not putting myself first.

Being in my own corner. It sounds like such an absurd statement, but it has me intrigued. How do I do that? Do I even WANT to do that? Maybe I’ve been trying to hold the Universe hostage to do this my way, to hold out until I get what I want – somebody else in my corner, somebody who backs me, somebody else. Perhaps all of my futile efforts to have somebody else there – ANYbody else – have not left room for ME to be there. Maybe I have thrown in the towel.

I’m going to need to think on this for a while. I hope Dum Dums don’t go out of production anytime soon. That would be a bad thing. Mother’s Day is coming up, which is a little bit of a tender spot for me, and I’m gonna need some flavor to get through all that.

Louisiana is big on sugar cane. People have been picking sugar cane there for hundreds of years, and it’s a big industry.
Maybe I come by my sugar fetish honestly.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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