The Hovering Matzo Balls 

“I’m a witch,” Misty said to throw a big, huge matzo ball atop our table. It hovered there, proverbially, dominating conversations of the past, present, and future. She didn’t list it on her online, dating profile. Who would? Green people who wear pointy hats don’t get asked out. She wasn’t one of those witches anyway. She told me it was her religious affiliation. She didn’t have a cauldron, she didn’t own a candy house to lure unsuspecting children, and she never cackled.  

I don’t know if it’s one of those loose concepts that conspiracy movies love to use, “No one’s to blame and everyone is,” but we now buy into this notion that  people who think different make calculated, well-informed decisions in life, especially when it concerns spiritual and mystical pursuits. We think they have something all figured out. Misty didn’t. She decided to become a Wiccan for some of the same reasons I played Donkey Kong so often, because she thought it sounded fun and cool. She was as uninformed, insecure, and vulnerable as the rest of us.

As with most insecure and vulnerable people, Misty put her best foot forward on our first (and as it turned out our only) date. She threw that big old matzo ball out there with some conviction framing it. ‘I’m a witch, deal it!’ her expression said, and deal with it I did, in my own obsessively curious way. I don’t know what was on my face, but her smile told me she knew she struck the right chord with me. 

“And now for something completely different,” I thought, recalling that old Monty Python line. I was so fascinated that I dove right in. I asked superficial questions, in-depth questions, and questions that made her so uncomfortable that she laughed before answering them.  

Most of these questions were self-serving. I didn’t care that Misty chose what I considered an alternative religion, I wanted to know why. I wanted to know how her beliefs system could challenge mine. They weren’t the polite type of questions everyone asks, and I didn’t ask leading questions to have her view me as open-minded. I went for the jugular, asking questions that we’re not supposed to ask.

I enjoy asking questions that make recipients squirm, and when they do, they usually chuckle, as Misty did. Some of the questions I ask offend the recipients, and that’s fine with me, unless they offer me a substantial reason why the question might have hurt their feelings. It’s happened, and when it does I back off and apologize when warranted and without excuses or qualifiers. Most of them understood and allowed me to proceed.  

“I don’t know how you get away with asking such things,” a witness to some of my questions said. 

“I think they know I’m just curious,” I said. 

When the Q&A portion of our conversation concluded, Misty couldn’t tell if I was interested in her religion or her, so she asked me if I wanted to join her religion. I said no. I told her I was just curious. She smiled at that. I didn’t know why she smiled, as I thought it might disappoint her that I had no desire to become a warlock, but I realized that she thought she had her answer. It was an excited smile, until I informed her that I wasn’t interested in her either. 

The Real Eye 

Michelle offered to help me end my desperate search for a quality apartment at a reasonable rate. She said she knew people in real estate who specialize in helping prospective clients find quality apartments at below market rents. Her friend could not only help me find a top-of-the-line apartment, but she would haggle with the landlord over rent, and her fee for doing so would be paid by a landlord who was grateful that she found a tenant for them. Made sense to me. Who wouldn’t jump at such an offer, I thought, until Michelle brought up her finder’s fee. 

Your finder’s fee?” I asked. “What are you doing here? You’re not helping me find an apartment. You’re pointing me to someone who can. How much do you want for your ability to point?” 

“I tell you what,” she said with a grin. “You take me to lunch, and we’ll call it square.” 

In the space of fifteen seconds of uncomfortable silence, I developed about three different attack strategies to illustrate the absurdity of her proposal. These attacks would’ve also informed her that I wasn’t as naive as she thought I was, but I also knew that one of the only reasons she wanted to help me was that she had a little bit of a crush on me. I ended the silent stand off with one word: “Fine!” 

At the restaurant, Michelle wet her eye with a bottled solution three times before the server put our lunch on the table. If she waters it once in such a short time span that’s a thing, twice is a bad day, but three times is a matzo ball she inserts into the space between us, disrupting all other conversation until the matter is aired.  

“Why do you keep doing that?” I asked. I could’ve, and probably should’ve just ignored it, but I live by the rule that it’s better to ask embarrassing questions than to leave a big, old matzo ball hovering atop a table. A matzo ball isn’t an ugly thing, and it isn’t beautiful. It’s not a stand alone meal. It is what we make it, when we surround it with a bunch of tasty items. Until we do that, it’s just a bunch of ground up crackers and eggs. If we don’t talk about it, it’s the only thing we want to talk about, and it influences every conversation we have, until one of us develops the fortitude to address it. It gathers a life of its own in our conversations, until both parties are so uncomfortable that someone has to put a pin in it.  

“I have to,” she said. “It’s a fake eye, and if I don’t keep it wet, it gets irritated, it burns, and there’s a possibility that I could lose it.” 

She wet her eye a fourth time after she said that. I don’t know much about artificial eyes, but I understand that we probably don’t have the technology necessary for them to produce their own liquid. I also understand why a sufferer needs to keep it wet. I don’t know how often a physician directs the victim to wet it, but Michelle was dousing it at such regular intervals that it was obvious that she wanted us to address the matter before we moved on. 

“What happened?” I asked. 

“It was … a car accident,” she replied. She swallowed those words, as if they were so weighted with such trauma that the subject should be dropped. The look on her face, however, suggested that she wanted me to ask follow-up questions but she wouldn’t answer any of them. The silent drama between us couldn’t have been more dramatic if she body slammed her dead aunt on our table, wet and festooned with seaweed and added, “And I don’t want to talk about it.” Yet, she appeared to beg for further exploration. She hit me from so many corners so quickly that I didn’t know how to approach this matter. I felt trapped between what I wanted to do and what she wanted me to do. I don’t know the look I gave her, but whatever look it was, it wounded her.  

Thanks to repetition and time, I’ve recovered a lot of my sense since, but back when I sat down for this lunch with Michelle, I was a big mess of emotions about car accidents. I developed my own I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it phobia of car accidents. The idea of a car accident robbing her of an eyeball rattled me. I was a wreck mentally, on the topic, but I was physically intact. I still had all my appendages and organs in working order, I thought as she spoke of other, unrelated matters. Her impairment reminded me how easily our situations could be reversed.

Anything can happen in a car accident, could turn out to be an excellent, working title for the first chapter of my autobiography, and the exploration of the aftermath would’ve littered every chapter that followed. A driver can hit someone from behind, at a relatively slow speed, and both drivers could incur once-in-a-lifetime, freak injuries. It happens. It happens every day. It happened to Genie. Genie didn’t remember much about her accident, but she said she didn’t speed. Police reports characterized her accident as a simple fender bender that happens every day, but the force of the impact caused Genie’s head to hit in the windshield in a manner that would impair her thought process for the rest of her life. 

I thought about the terrifying car accident I was involved in that led an on-scene police officer to say I was lucky to be alive, and I thought about Genie when I looked at Michelle’s fake eye. I thought about the car accident I got into with an elderly woman who told the police officer, responding to the call, “It was almost as if he drove into me.” I did drive into her. A simple twist of the wrist would’ve avoided the accident. I wasn’t drunk, or in anyway impaired. I was just terrified. To my lifelong embarrassment, I choked, froze up, or however one wants to put it.  

Freezing up like that is so weird, and so embarrassing that we never talk about it. How does one talk about deep psychological scars that lead to an embarrassing silent scream that causes you to drive into another car? “There’s something wrong with you my man,” is something they say when we open those vaults. “There’s something fundamentally wrong with you. Something deep in your layers. You might want to seek counseling to rectify that before it’s too late.” 

Most good friends and family don’t say such things, but if we give them our vulnerabilities, they duck into a hole and come out with eyes that say so much more. We all know that look. Michelle knew that look too, and when I inferred that she didn’t want to talk about her car accident, I tried to conceal that look.   

Once I got over the daymare, she started dotting her eye with the bottled solution again. I tried to be sympathetic, or empathetic regarding the nature of her injury, but I couldn’t keep the look off my face. I tried and succeeded, then I tried and failed. I tried talking around it, with it, and through it with various conversation topics, but she just kept dotting. I could see her ingesting each look, and I knew that my looks meant more to her than any words I said. 

I knew Michelle had romantic aspirations long before our lunch, and I knew the looks I gave her put an end to that. She wouldn’t stop dotting, and I couldn’t stop looking. 

After our lunch was over, I drove Michelle to the location of the cherry apartment, and the real estate agent went through her pitch. It was a cherry apartment, but I hesitated. I didn’t want to rent the first apartment on the agent’s list. I wanted a menu of options from which to choose. That was a mistake, and Michelle seized upon the opportunity. She took the cherry apartment, presumably to spite me and the looks I accidently gave her and her fake eye, and the real estate agent didn’t take my calls after that.   

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