Sunday, August 10, 2008

WORDS GET IN THE WAY

On Friday night, I experienced one of my greatest fears: conversational writer's block. I was not amused.

The backstory: I went to the house warming-slash-birthday party of my friends Hollie (birthday girl) and her boyfriend, Caspar. The evening had begun innocently enough. A few friends and I polished off two bottles of white wine during a pre-party at my apartment. Then we headed over to Hollie and Caspar's. About an hour into the party, I had switched to rum and Diet Coke and was starting to hear myself stumble over my words. But I was in great form, doing some light flirting and keeping everyone around me good and entertained.

Then he showed up. A former friend of Hollie who had basically ripped her apart several months ago and hadn't bothered to speak--or apologize--to her since. He hadn't been invited to the party, but as they have friends in common, it wasn't surprising that he'd heard about it. His presence annoyed me, but I held my tongue. At first. Somewhere between giving my speech (at Caspar's request) and my umpteenth rum concoction, I approached the ex-friend. We'd only met once before, but I'd heard a lot about him (mostly negative) and he of me (all positive, which probably compounded his insecurities). I can't remember what we talked about, but at some point, it became very clear to me that he was misconstruing everything I said in a negative way because he was in such a defensive mode (gay men are a lot like women when standing face-to-face with someone by whom they feel threatened).

I took the bait. I demanded to know why he was there. Was he so desperate for a social life that he had to crash the party of someone he apparently hated and who despised him? And why was he such a tired, old, bitchy queen in the first place? I wasn't being as eloquent and clever as I wanted to be, but that didn't stop me. Then he called me stupid. I. Lost. It. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, and nobody calls me stupid and gets away with it. I put up my dukes and challenged him to take his fighting words outside. I was shocked by what was leaving my mouth; words were flooding out without my wanting them to. I didn't seem to have any control over them, and worse, they lacked the normal stinging punch of my verbal putdowns. Too many glasses of wine and too many rum and Diet Cokes had conspired to make my verbal skills totally shaky. So I entered full-on thug mode. Finally, I understood why those playground bullies who always resorted to violence were never masters of language.

I eventually pulled myself together and walked away--without throwing a punch. But this thing was far from over. I sashayed over to Caspar and Hollie and, in moment worthy of All My Children's Erica Kane, gave them an ultimatum: He leaves or I do! Minutes later, Caspar was showing him the door. I felt somewhat vindicated, but the incident had cast a huge shadow over the night. I wasn't upset because some clown didn't like me. As my brother once said, life is not a popularity contest. And I was less bothered than I probably should have been by the way that I had lost my temper. What really sent me reeling was the fact that I had lost control of the language. For a writer, there is no greater hell.

The next day, my friends, the host and hostess, announced that they were "on a break." I wasn't surprised, but I was truly disappointed. I felt that the way they had backed me up the night before had really cemented our friendship, and I'm still convinced that Caspar is a real keeper, the only one I've met since I moved to Buenos Aires (not surprisingly, he's British, not Argentine). I only hope they've clearly defined the meaning of "on a break." Words--whether it's a lack of them or a misunderstanding of them--clearly do damage. Look what it did to me. Look what it did to Ross and Rachel on Friends.
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