I have suffered all my life from a painful case of Foot-In-Mouth Disease. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been speaking first and thinking later, creating an ongoing, lifelong catalogue of embarrassing incidents that leave me replaying conversations in my head for hours afterwards, wincing and wishing I had been born with a rewind button between my eyes.
Generally, I try to forget these incidents as soon as possible. If I didn’t, the cumulative weight of them would bear down on me like a two ton psychological bowling ball, and, unable to cope, I’d end up retiring to the deepest backwoods of Idaho, away from the society of men—an unregistered hermit with freakishly long hair and dubious personal hygiene, muttering to herself and picking lint from between her toes on Saturday nights. Occasionally, however, one of these foot-in-mouth moments sticks around to trouble me for rather longer than usual, whether because of the particularly heinous way the words came out or because of the unintentional hurt caused by them.
For instance, there’s the time I was holding court at my in-laws’ house with a gaggle of girls that included my warm, loving, gentle-spirited mother-in-law. It was in this genteel company that I declared with all the self-important authority of the new bride that I was going to decorate my kitchen in a modern style, since I had never liked the “country kitchen look, with all those roosters. I mean, what do roosters have to do with cooking, anyway?” My authority melted about two seconds later when I looked around and realized I was standing in just such a kitchen (and a very inviting one), surrounded by roosters of various sizes, all staring down at me with their beady eyes and sharpening their suddenly savage beaks. Nobody ever mentioned my little gaffe, but I spent the next ten minutes trying to dig myself out of the hole I had stepped in and the next ten days mentally kicking myself for my insensitivity.
Another time, I complained loudly that a dress made me look fat right in front of the relative who had graciously given it to me when it got too tight for her. (In hindsight, I wasn’t fat and neither was she—I would give my eyeteeth and a couple of other body parts to be able to fit into that dress now.) I could tell by her look that she was stricken, and once again I tried ineffectually to shore up the damage I had done by singing the dress’s praises at every possible opportunity for the next few days, to no avail.
Both of those incidents occurred in my twenties, and I had hoped that my thirties would finally bring the grace and maturity needed to cure my FIMD for good.
Alas and alack.
Just this week, I got to taste my toes again.
On Wednesday, Paul’s wonderful grandmother called from Oregon to wish us holiday cheer and we were having a nice, long chat, catching up on all the news of each other. Some time before, Paul’s grandfather had been sick and showing signs of increasingly failed health and erratic behavior. It turned out that it was all caused by side effects of a medication the doctor had put him on for something else. They only found out because he obstinately refused to take his pills one day, and all the symptoms disappeared.
As I was talking to Grandma, I told her how glad we were that Grandpa was feeling better. I added, “It’s a good thing he’s so stubborn, or you might never have discovered what was wrong! That’s a blessing in disguise!” Instead of the chuckle I expected, there was a brief pause on her end, followed by, “That’s probably true. By the way, Grandpa’s listening on the other extension. Do you want to say hello, Floyd?”
If I can’t have my rewind button, couldn’t I at least be endowed with the supernatural ability to fall through the floor and disappear at will?
Since I didn’t spontaneously burst into flames, I powered my way through the rest of the conversation with Grandpa, shared a few more newsy tidbits about the kids and whatnot, then gratefully passed the phone off to Paul so that they could at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that their blood relations are perfectly polite, even if the married-in part of the family is a little sketchy.
Since this latest episode, I’m starting to wonder if there even is a cure for Foot-In-Mouth Disease. What if I never outgrow it? I’ve done some internet investigation, and WebMD doesn’t even mention it. I’m thinking that I might start a foundation or something to get the ball rolling on research into this devastating malady. I’ll call it OOPS, the Organization for Oral-Podiatric Separation.
And just in case that doesn’t work out, I’ve laid out a small down payment on a derelict shack in upstate Idaho. It’s a bit ungainly, but then, so am I.