I was doing so well with this whole ‘being an adult’ thing.  One month in and I’m proud to be able to say that I haven’t once run out of clothes.  There’s always been a clean dish available for food and my cat only ran out of food once, and only for twelve hours, tops.  I haven’t been late to work AND there hasn’t been a single moment when driving my car that that I’ve been worried about running out of gas.  I even cut my fingernails before they reached Guinness book status.  So on Wednesday of this week, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I felt like I was meeting my goal with limited to no resistance.

My pride would be my downfall.  In my complete comfort with my newly attained maturity, I made a series of grave mistakes.  Mistakes that would serve as reminder that sometimes I think I’m an 18 year old stuck in a 25 year old’s body.

It all started with an adult decision (the worst kind of decision, really).  The adult decisions usually start with a small thought that pierces all other thoughts in my mind.  Mine kind of sounds like a parental voice and says things like, “Hey, maybe don’t leave a pile of dishes in the sink?”

or “An adult would probably buy cat food before they run out,”

or “Just because there aren’t stains on it, doesn’t mean it’s clean,”

or “let’s not wait till that work shirt smells like French fries, maybe wash it before then?”

These are thoughts that have swum around in my mind since the brutal adoption of that terribly old fashioned family value called “chores.”  Most days, I ignore it.  I can suppress it, say to it, “maybe later. These twelve episodes of Modern Family aren’t going to watch themselves,” and move on to those pressing obligations.  But now I have another voice that reminds me that I’m trying to grow up.  I have to Hlisten to this one, so I oblige.

That’s where it all went wrong.  That’s how it all started, by listening to the voice of responsibility I started down the road of my abode’s doom.

That nagging voice said to do this dishes.

The worst part was that I didn’t even have that many.  I could still see the bottom of the sink,with all the dishes stacked in there.  There wasn’t even anything growing in there, what’s the hurry? I surprised myself by having the urge to keep it clean before it reached that dreaded point of no return.

The dishes is what damned me in the end.  If I had just done what I always had, and played video games or read a book, I wouldn’t be writing this.  But I did, I started the dishes and the path of unintentional humility.  A chain reaction of events started by an urge to clean.

Before I tell you what happened, I want to give you the chance to figure it out for yourself.  Here is an numbered list of what I did exactly:

  1. I took out the trash and recycling.
  2. I brought the bins back in.
  3. I started the sink water and stacked all the dishes in there to clean them.
  4. I fed my cat and emptied the litter box
  5. I put my towels and whites in the washing machine
  6. My friend Dave called and asked if I could pick something up at a shop before they closed on the other side of town.
  7. I finished getting dressed and opened the door and left the house to pick up the parts for Dave.

I made a textbook error, a rookie move.  I did something that makes me legitimately worried that both Alzheimer’s and dementia are in my future.  If you didn’t catch it, I’ll fill you in, but not yet.

First I want to talk about my experience with the bike shop owner. Long story short, she is going through something hard in her personal lives and I happened to show up at a critically sad moment.  I’m very bad with critically sad moments.

More specifically, I’m really bad at comforting or consoling people.  I’m bad at pulling someone out of a self-deprecating or foul mood.  Nothing terrifies me more than a crying person.  I’d rather deal with a charging bear than someone who’s letting out the water works.  At least with a bear, I have some idea as to what to do. (If it’s black, fight back, if its brown, lie down, if it’s white, goodnight.  Where are the rhyming or catchy phrases for dealing with sorrowful people?)

Whenever someone breaks down and cries in front of me, I panic.  I think to myself, ok Nick, they’re crying, this is where you comfort them and they appreciate it, and they feel better. 

Great, so I know when I need to comfort, but I have no idea how to do it.  My first response is always the worst; my first response is to lightly pet them and say things like, “there, there, now” and “it’s ok,” as if I’m calming some bucking, wild stallion like in the movies.

“Shhhhh,” I say, petting their head, imagining the stroking of a mane, “down girl, good… it’s ok, I’m not going to hurt you.”

This is what I want to do.  It would work if they were a mustang and not a human being, but my brain doesn’t seem to recognize the disconnect. The only thing it accomplishes is distracting them from their sorrow simply because they’re so distracted by my awkwardness.  I’m usually greeted with stares of confusion and realization that I’m probably not the best person to confide in.

But I’ve moved past that response, I know it’s not ok, it’s in my past.  The first step is knowing you have a problem, right? Now, when someone breaks down and cries, my first reaction is to suppress that awkward response.  That doesn’t do much, though.  It feels like I’m trading one terrible response for another; instead of gently caressing a shoulder, I’m waging a war in my head, battling the urge to pat the top of their head and call them pet names.  I’m so concentrated on calculating what to do, that I do nothing at all.  So you could say that I haven’t really accomplished much, that I’ve replaced an awkward shoulder rub with an awkward silence.

Which is where we come back to the bike shop.  When I arrived, the owner seemed very sullen and remarkably quiet (something out of her character).

In her arms she held a very old, very tired and sick looking Jack Russell Terrier.  The dog was swaddled up in jackets and blankets in this woman’s arms and was still slightly shivering.  She told me he’s old and that his liver and kidneys were failing, and that he hadn’t eaten in days.

I come to find out that I’ve arrived just minutes before a vet was showing up to put this nineteen year old dog down.

She tells me stories of his life, a life of nineteen years that she had been part of the whole time.  She recollects the dog sprinting down mountain bike trails while they rode.  She tells me that she waited a week too long to put him down, but only because she wasn’t ready to let go.  She feels terrible that she selfishly waited.

I am not good at many things, and as I’ve shared, consoling is one of them.  What I am good at, however, is knowing my limitations.  At this point I recognize that I’m out of my element, and that I should probably get out of there as soon as possible.  Truly, it would have been better for the both of us if I could have left ASAP.  She would feel better, I would feel better, hell even the dog could feel the awkwardness creeping in like a bad migraine.

I say my condolences and ask about the parts.  To my dismay, the part I needed was in her husband’s car, who was on his way over.

So I sat, and tried to talk to this woman while she spoke.

I said things like,

Sucks that dogs die, but I guess you gotta get used to it, ya know?

At least he had fun while he was around, right?

My dog is dying too.

None of those are appropriate.  I never know it as I said it, it’s always about thirty or forty seconds after that I recognize my inappropriate responses.  I look back and think, what the fuck did I just say?

Instead of listening to this woman, hearing her stories and simply shutting my mouth, I started talking about the troubles I have.  I started talking about the thought of losing my own dog and how sad it makes me.  There’s something terribly wrong with that.

For lack of a better term, I was stealing her thunder.  I was making her story, mine.  I was redirecting the hurt so that it was with me and not her.

I do this all the time.  I don’t know why, but in the heat of conversation I think my best response it to share with this individual that I’ve gone through some hard stuff too.  I’m trying to tell them that they’re not alone with their experiences, but it always seems to come out as, “yeah, we all gotta deal with some hard shit in life.”

Eventually, the husband came back, a sad look on his face as well as he reached in and kissed the dog on its forehead.  As it turns out, the part had been at the shop the whole time, they hand it to me and I made my way out.

And what do I say what I’m leaving?  Do I offer condolences?  Do I tell them to stay strong?  Do I reassure them that they’re doing the right thing?

“Good luck!” is what I cheerily tell them as I walk out the door.

Seriously, who does that?  Is that ever an appropriate answer?

“I have cancer.”

“Good luck!”

“I got in a terrible car accident and broke by wrists; my girlfriend has to wipe my ass now.”

“Good luck!”

“I’ve just been evicted, and it’s supposed to be -31 degrees tonight.”

“Good luck!”

“There’s a finger nail in my burger, and it’s of those gross, bedazzled, fake plastic ones.”

“Good luck!”

No, never.  It’s never appropriate for the grieving.  The only use that term has is when someone is about to conquer something great, when their aspiring to better themselves.  Not when they’re dealing with tribulations.

Right on cue, about thirty or forty seconds after leaving the shop I recollect all that happened and shake my head in shame.

I’m just glad it’s the twenty first century and I won’t have to take over the family business.  I would make a terrible psychologist.

I just wanted to move past it all, and get back to the house and clean.  Rounding the corner and leaving the parking lot of the bike shop I get this weird feeling.  It was that same feeling someone with OCD gets, the one that makes them return to the house three or four or five times to make sure everything is in order.

What did I forget to do…? I thought.

Eh, probably nothing…