The Splenda Level of Friendship


A_Megan01Standing at the coffee bar, I discreetly tear open two yellow packets of sweetener. I watch as the sparkling granules swirl into my English breakfast tea, dissolving easily.

Only after my paper cup has been securely sealed do I take a seat at a tucked away table. You greet me a wide easy grin.

We’ve gone out for tea many times, you and I. Yet I’ve never prepared that steaming cup in front of you. I suppose it’s because I wonder whether you would judge me for that teaspoon of artificial sweetness, given whatever life-threatening illness it’s causing this month.

Within seconds, you ask how I’m feeling, your eyes scanning my four months along belly. It can no longer be concealed by my ratty oversized sweatshirt, or blamed on a late night Mini Eggs binge.

I pause before answering. I really like you, you know. I so want us to be close. But a niggling voice in my head tells me to pull away, to not share too much, to not scare you away.

So I don’t say I feel like I’m drowning. That the nausea that has been relentlessly churning my stomach for months forces me to bed for hours a day. I don’t mention that if you peeked at my web browser, you’d see a history of research on pre-natal depression. I don’t tell you I feel like a failure as a wife and mother to my two-year-old son. I certainly don’t say I cried moments before walking through the door today.

I don’t say that I’m scared.

I say none of these things. Instead, I manage a bright smile. I buoyantly admit this pregnancy has been tough, but that I’m hoping to turn the corner soon. I couldn’t bear it if you thought me a burden in our budding friendship.

You chatter brightly on about the brilliant message your pastor preached on Sunday, and how you’re looking forward to delving into it more with your care group. You ask what my church is up to these days.

Again, I pause.

I don’t tell you I haven’t been to church in months. That I’ve been wrestling with ugly feelings of bitterness and a deep ache I can’t quite put words to. I don’t say I’m carrying a debilitating guilt over not attending, a guilt that seems to be paralyzing me.

I don’t say that I’m confused.

Instead, I nonchalantly confess we missed church this past Sunday, and steer the conversation back to you. I’m not sure what you would think of me if I were to utter these decidedly un-Christian feelings. Most likely that I’m not spiritually together enough for you.

We begin to chat about books, glorious books; I’m on firmer ground here. I sing the praises of Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I wax philosophical about authors that have been teaching me to analyze at my faith in new ways: Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and Brennan Manning. We talk animatedly over the shift we see happening in our generation.

And yet, even now, I don’t reveal everything.

I don’t mention the books lining my shelves that are so worn, they’re falling apart. The volumes that are creased all over and stained. They’re a bit more fluffy in nature, a bit less acceptable. Gracious, they often contain scenes I know you would consider rather scandalous. And yet, these books are my comfort, many nights the last few words I read before drifting off to sleep.

But I don’t mention them, my dog-eared security blankets.

I don’t say that sometimes, I like to escape.

You give me a tight hug before you leave, calling over your shoulder that you’ll text me next week.

I sit alone for a moment, feeling oddly unsettled.

There are so many pieces of myself I consciously don’t reveal. Gaping holes in our conversation because I believe where I’m at won’t line up with what you want: someone permanently happy and upbeat and spiritual and intellectual.

Someone together.

And so I choose to conceal the parts of me I feel aren’t quite together enough. I leave the raw parts behind in the biting cold. Separated by a great thick pane of glass, far away from lilting laughs and delicate pastries.

And I wonder if it’s just me.

I wonder … are you hiding too?

I so desperately want you to know the not-so-sparkly bits of me. But I’m terrified to expose myself amidst the warm conversations surrounding our tucked away table.

But I decide to step out anyway.

Because, my friend, I want to know the not-so-sparkly bits of you. The rough, the raw, the uncomfortable. To be honest, those are the parts I just know I’ll love best.

* * *

So, the next time we meet, I pick up two potentially incriminating yellow packets. And slowly walk over to our table, where you’re waiting.

Today I tear the packets open in front of you, anxiously watching the granules swirl about.

And I wait.