Did you ever have a rough start to your morning?
Did a dog ever eat your muffin in class?
Did you cry about it?
Before I go any further, I want to be clear about something. This is the story that I use to truly test people, usually people who don’t know me very well. I tell this as an icebreaker with acquaintance-potential-friend types. Will this person handle being my friend? I think to myself, as they say, “yeah, sure, let me hear it!”
I also tell this to guys that I’m interested in – you know, when you go on those pre-dates and you tell each other stories to give off that I’m-uber-datable impression. Luckily, I have the art of giving off the wrong impression boiled down to a science and this story is merely just part of the experimentation. I look at his soft eyes and slight smirk and I know what he’s thinking, but I think to myself, Yeah… but will you want to handle me?
And, as a sick sort of challenge for myself, I think, I bet not.
This horrifies my mom.
“Claire, it’s funnier when they know you,” she pleads. “Let them get to know you first… Please.”
But I can’t help it. It’s almost as if I feel like I owe them the truth, you know? It’s not just because weird things like this happen to me a lot… it’s also because of my reaction to these sorts of situations.
The date was nondescript and the morning dew on the grass was average. It was just a normal day; I was getting ready to go to a normal 9:30 am class and, surprisingly, I was not running late. I strutted confidently into the dining hall. Nary a soul was near the pastries.
This kingdom is mine, I thought, drinking in the possibilities.
I looked at the shelves and the potential breakfast delicacies bathing in fluorescent light, their sweet smells pulling me in. I wanted it all.
But then I saw it. It was a blueberry muffin with some clear sugar sprinkles placed haphazardly on a glazed top. A black paper muffin cup hugged its gooey core.
My precious, I thought, channeling my inner Gollum.
As I put the one to rule all muffins in my outer backpack pouch and walked into class, I would soon come to find that I had gambled too heavily. Too succulent of a treat was not destined in my stomach.
It would be in the stomach of a Rottweiler.
“Isn’t she just the cutest??” my professor gushed. I sat down in my seat, stiff, and placed my backpack on the table.
“Yeah,” I said.
I lamented that the day that I was early to class was the day that my professor brought in the type of dog that ran over me while I was a kid. The memory still persists as one of true abject horror. I was standing innocently in a soccer field, not even a tween, and then all of a sudden a sleek bear-like figure stampeded over my small body.
And now one of them was sniffing my bag.
I pulled it closer to me. I had to protect my breakfast treasure.
Minutes passed and the rest of the class filed in, muffin-less and dark circles glowing under their eyes.
I am queen, I thought.
Until the pop quiz.
Why would she give a pop quiz on my day of muffin triumph? A perfectly good morning was now soured as I apathetically looked at the questions. I had… glazed… over the chapter.
Glazed, heh heh, I thought. Stupid jokes would pull me through.
But I was wrong. By the end of the quiz, I was drained and I overwhelmed. It was MUFFIN DAY. I thought. I couldn’t just have one day of muffin-y bliss?
And so I did what I had started doing in first grade whenever I felt like crying over bewildering circumstances. I went to the bathroom.
I didn’t cry this time, though, but it did help calm me down. The quiz wasn’t worth that many points and I would just actually read the chapter the next time. It would be okay.
If only I could have guessed what the next two minutes of my life had in store for me.
First off, I was already a little shaken with the dog and the quiz and all. But walking into a room of laptops simultaneously playing George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words stand-up bit was pure disorientation. Later and after the madness, I would be told that it was because the projector wasn’t working.
The echo-y shouts of profanity paled, however, in comparison to the bizarreness of my professor just losing it at the sight of me. I mean it – she was practically in tears watching me tip toe to my seat.
“Claire… Claire I am so sorry,” she said, gasping for breath between laughter.
I had been so focused on the laptops that I had failed to notice the carnage on my table. Crumbs… crumbs were everywhere. My backpack askew, the dog was nuzzling her nose into…
My tablemates witnessed my reaction and started to laugh too, bemused at my look of genuine disappointment, surprise and anger. I knew that they weren’t really laughing at me, but it didn’t help. I’ve had to learn over the years that there’s a reason why my peers can pick on me easily (I react and I am sometimes – if not most times – very weird) and that I shouldn’t always blame them, but in this moment, that logic went out the door.
In that moment, I was back in elementary school.
My adult consciousness shut down and before I could process what was going on I was bawling. This made the room dead silent except for the weird echoes of George Carlin bouncing around in the room. With everyone dumbstruck and staring at me, I hightailed it out of there.
I felt like I was coming back down to Earth from wherever the hell I go whenever I get like that while I was crying in a stall in the bathroom and calling my mom. With the phone ringing, my first sane thoughts came through my mind.
What do I even tell Mom? Why am I even calling her? What just happened?
“Hi Claire!” she said, sunny and blissfully unaware of my current state of mind.
“Hi Mom,” I said, garbled.
“Claire… Claire what’s wrong?”
My mom has told me that she can tell within the first two seconds of a phone conversation if I am fine or not. “I usually listen for an echo,” is what she says. “That’s how I know you’re in the bathroom.”
“Mom… I was in class, and it was the professor’s dog, and I went to the bathroom, and it ate my muffin.”
I wish I could actually type the true iterations of words that came out of my mouth because it did not sound like that.
“Wait, what? Did the dog eat a muffin? Did it die?”
“No… it ate my muffin.”
“It… what?” Her voice was becoming less concerned and more incredulous.
“Yeah… it ate my muffin. I got it from the dining hall.”
“What?!” she practically shouted, holding back her laughter.
I started to giggle. “Um, yeah, I guess it’s kind of weird.”
She didn’t hold back this time.
“Oh my gosh Claire… I thought the dog had died or something! Oh my gosh! So what did you do?”
“I ran out of the room crying.”
“Oh my gosh!” It was the sort of voice she used only when she was laughing so hard that she was crying. After a few minutes of bewildered laughing, we both calmed down.
“Okay, well, you should go back to class then. Maybe they’ll know not to bring dogs in the school anymore!” she said.
Feeling better, I hung up. I washed my hands and dried off my tears. And then the pit of my stomach dropped.
I have to go back in there.
I am no stranger to public crying and to public humiliation. Again, another art form I have mastered. But this… this was different. My reaction hadn’t just been weird; it had been jarring.
As I walked back in the class, everyone, and I mean everyone, turned to look at me. The dog was back at my backpack and my tablemates in stunned silence shooed the dog away as quickly as they could, afraid of another outburst from me. I sat down. The class continued in awkward, muffin-less silence.
My world was salvaged when the class finally was over. I tried to scoot out as fast I could but my professor got to me first.
“Claire… I am so, so sorry.”
“Really, you don’t need to feel bad about it,” I said, nearly crying again. Why am I crying NOW?
I thought I could save just a tiny bit of dignity by playing up the fact that a Rottweiler really did run me over as a kid.
“Oh my gosh… I should have known,” she said.
“It’s really fine, really,” I said, one foot out of the door already.
“Take this,” she said, and she stuffed a five-dollar bill into my hand.
Before I could say, “oh no, you shouldn’t have to do that,” she was out the door as quickly as the Roadrunner darts out of frame.
Stunned, I walked out into the late morning day and made my way to the library like a zombie. I was going to attempt to get work done before my next class, but deep down I knew that any attempt of brain functionality would be futile.
Until I saw the café counter.
Next to the deli line was a pastry basket. It didn’t have a blueberry muffin, but it had something better. A coffee cake muffin.
It was like I was making the connection in my mind for the first time that money could buy food.
I… could still have… a muffin.
I beamed at the cashier who exchanged my cash for muffin and I didn’t mind the odd look she gave me.
“Thank you… Thank you so much,” I whispered to her.
“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said.
I walked away and found a perfect study spot. The chair was comfortable and books and windows surrounded me.
And, gingerly… respectfully… I started to eat my muffin, never feeling as happy as I did in that moment.