Another Sunday story, sad to write, even more sad to understand it.
“Hey everyone! This is my friend Kate. Kate, this is, well, everyone.”
Everyone waves and reaches and greets while Kate’s nearly crippling self-doubt multiplies and she wonders why she came here, how she could let everyone stare at her like this, with her hair frizzing at the edges and her weight not what it should be.
A moment later Kate is sipping cold tea from a red solo cup and she doesn’t even know how she got it. Someone must have handed it to her when she was trying not to make too much eye contact and worrying about the sweat on her back and the ugly chip in her toenail polish.
“So you’re okay with these guys, right? I just have to check the food,” says Milly.
“Oh no I’ll help you,” Kate replies. She hears the begging in her voice. Milly doesn’t though. Nobody ever hears.
“Don’t be silly,” her friend says back. “You’re a guest. There should be more girls from work soon. Until then, my family will take good care of you. I’ll just be a minute.”
And then Milly is gone and Kate is standing with her cup in the middle of the patio. The cup is dripping from the heat and a spot of water lands on her white pants and she sees that nobody else is wearing white pants and she’s horrified. White must not be in fashion and they are all younger and prettier with more money, and so they know. Her mother would have known too, and she would have demanded that Kate change into something more suitable and that she not look like such a mess. “You’re always a mess Kate. How come you can’t ever get it together?”
Everyone probably thinks she is a complete fool in her out of style white pants and so she tries discretely to look for a place out of the way where she can sit down and disappear but then a thin, beautiful woman with tan skin who smells of strawberries is standing beside her asking something and Kate feels so small.
She feels so small, but still not small enough. Not nearly.
“Pardon me?” Kate replies. “I just. I mean. I didn’t hear you. I’m so sorry. How rude of me.”
“Oh my goodness no,” says the beautiful woman. “I just sort of bombarded you. I was only asking how you know Milly. From work I guess.”
Kate swallows and tries to still her heart from beating out of her chest, to move this woman several steps back so that she won’t be close enough to see the lines in Kate’s horribly round face or how poorly she applies her makeup even though she tries so hard. She watches tutorials on you-tube and she buys everything and she does all the steps but she only looks like a sweating clown.
“Yes,” Kate finally stammers.
The beautiful woman seems to get uncomfortable as she sips her wine with long slender fingers and Kate is so sorry. She tries to find more to say but she's worried it will all be stupid and so she smiles widely before she remembers her teeth and how that one in front is crooked and they are not as white as this beautiful woman with the strawberry lotion and she quickly closes her mouth.
“Have you worked together a long time?” the woman tries.
Tears bubble up behind Kate’s eyes and the woman thinks it is because Kate loves Milly and Milly is leaving but Kate is too self-centered and pathetic to cry for Milly. Kate is crying for herself, because she can never get it right. Because she is all wrong.
Just then Milly appears beside them and throws her arm around Kate, pulls her in. A lone tear drips down Kate’s cheek and she is mortified but Milly and the beautiful woman just say how they are all going to miss each other and they will keep in touch and visit and don’t cry Kate, everything will be wonderful.
But everything will not be wonderful for Kate. It never has been. She is consumed by fear and doubt and shame. She is terrified to be seen and to not be seen, of speaking up and of having no voice at all. She is surrounded by people and yet there is no one and she wants it this way but she is so lonely, always has been.
Milly and the beautiful woman are still talking when Kate takes a deep breath and then she thinks that her breath is too deep, like an elephant, and she apologizes and Milly asks what she is apologizing for and Kate says her breathing and Milly laughs and says, “Oh Kate you are allowed to breathe.”
But Kate doesn’t think so.