I put the cookies on the counter and my friend reaches for her pocketbook, but I dismiss her with a wave. “No no, don’t worry about it, sw- I’m buying.”
Immediately the world dilates into a single sharp white question: What just came out of my mouth?
“You’re sure?” my friend asks. “Thanks, Scamper.”
The part of my mind that most resembles a drill sergeant wrests control away from me, and immediately I’m relegated to autopilot. His voice booms in my head: “Do you have any idea how close you just came to compromising the mission, soldier?” Indeed I do, and it’s getting to be a problem. Apparently there’s enough noise in the cafe to mask the fact that I just came this close to calling my friend “sweetie,” and as I mechanically pay the man at the register I scan my friend’s face with my robot eyes, running a full high-definition analysis of her muscle tension, temperature, and perspiration. I seem to have evaded humiliation this time.
Oh, but my predisposition toward such gaffes goes back a long way. I can still hear my entire third grade class spinning around to face me, like small flowers toward the sun. I had just made the fatal mistake of calling on the teacher for help, only instead of saying her name, my mouth had formed the reputation-shattering syllable, “Mom?” The laughter began, coming from one boy initially, but instantly spreading throughout the entire class. Their little lungs went into convulsions, and they were barely able to keep the snot from shooting from their noses as the teacher shushed them to no avail.
Clearly my term of endearment threshold has been compromised by the fact that there actually is a sweetie in my life, but I’ve been rendered vulnerable because some association has subsequently been made between that term and anyone I feel any degree of comfort around. It’s that degree I’m worried about.
And if this is a neurological disorder – something I’ve suspected more and more recently – then the cards are stacked against me. Sure I’ve lucked out this time, but there’s no telling what kind of damage I may wreak if this behavior is degenerative. What if I call my brother “puddin” by accident? The horror of it would scar us for life. And rightly so, for we are warriors, and affection – even a slip – is unseemly. I can just see myself using the 2nd person familiar with a gendarme when we tour Europe a few months hence. I’ll end up in jail – for life when I refer to the magistrate as “my sow in rut.”