Looking Normal at a Party- Looks Can Be Deceiving (That’s What Friends are For)

Last night, I was invited to a small get together. A friend of mine from elementary school was going to one of her friend’s house to ring in the new year. Her friend lives 5 blocks from where I’m staying, so she asked if I wanted to stop by.

I was feeling OK, it was close, there was no obligation to stay for any length of time, and there was only a handful of people.

I was excited for the opportunity to socialize. For months, my interactions with other human beings have been mostly limited to my immediate family and cordial “hi, how are you’s” at the YMCA.

I put on real clothes: a loose knee-length skirt and a blouse with my favorite red leather jacket. I wore make up. Despite my boot and the constant CRPSness in my leg, I felt normal, or almost normal.

I arrived with my big dumb boot on my leg and a bottle of wine (stolen from my mom… shhhhh…). There were six adults and 4 children and my friend was the only person I knew. This made me happy. Crashing parties and meeting new people used to be a favorite past time of mine (as an aside, I’m pretty sure my new best friend is an almost 2 year old little boy. He gave me 2 trucks and a half eaten cracker).

I waddled through the house, making my rounds, introducing myself. When I found the hostess, I gave her the wine. She asked if I wanted anything and listed a menu of delicious sounding alcoholic drinks. My reply of “I’d love some water, thank you” was met with a puzzled look so I qualified, “I have to take a lot of medication.” She smiled and gave me a glass of water, then offered me an empanada and a seat.

The seats… I looked around. Every available chair was barstool height. Oh God…

You see, when my knee is bent at a 90 degree angle, the pressure is barely tolerable. However when my knee is bent at a 90 degree angle and dangles, my ankle feels like it is going to explode, or implode, or do something that would make a big mess in this lovely home.

I chose to stand.

I stood for a few minutes, smiling, eating my delicious empanada, drinking my boring water, and apparently doing a very poor job of looking comfortable. My friend insisted that I sit down (er, up…).

I noticed that there was a big box of plastic utensils under a table. I coyly positioned myself so that I could rest my leg, semi-outstretched, on top of the box under the table. I thought for a moment that this was incredibly rude. I wouldn’t normally dream of making an ottoman out of a utensil box in a stranger’s home, but this was a desperate times/desperate measures situation. Nobody seemed to notice, which made me feel even more guilty about it.

We were all chatting and getting to know one another and then all of a sudden it happened: the dreaded statement that I’ve heard about from other CRPS sufferers, but had yet to experience.

There it was. Verbatim. Word for word, dangling in the air like a heavily pregnant rain cloud:

“But you don’t look sick.”

I was hit unexpectedly. I was suddenly dumbstruck. I withdrew into my thoughts.

I didn’t know that “sick” was a look. It certainly wasn’t a look that I was aiming for when I got ready for the evening. “Normal” was the look I was going for, so goal achieved; congratulations (!) to me? What does “sick” look like anyway? Did my dad “look sick” when he had prostate cancer? Or my brother with melanoma? I had mono when I was twelve for about three months before anyone noticed; perhaps I’m a seasoned professional at not “looking sick.” I guess sometimes I “look sick” if I have the flu. Or maybe, just maybe, this statement was actually meant to be a compliment…

I emerged from the spiraling thoughts to notice that my friend had intercepted the conversation and come to my defense. When I came to, she was listing the very physical and visible symptoms of CRPS. She explained that the cocktail of medications I take makes it possible for me to do things every once in a while, like go to small parties for short amounts of time. She explained that CRPS was chronic, degenerative, and progressive.

I, feeling suddenly out of place and uncomfortable as the focus of attention, said something sarcastic and dumb like “yeah, it’s lots of fun.” I changed the subject.

Then, word circled through the house that everyone was going outside to light and watch fireworks in the street.

Full-scale firework displays casually performed in heavily wooded residential streets by half-drunk home owners has always been a dubious activity in my book, both before and after CRPS. The idea of smoldering embers raining from the sky onto small children and other bystanders makes me nervous. My leg rebels against me when I become nervous. I knew my exit from the party was imminent.

I went outside and stayed long enough for a rogue firework to skip out of the cul-de-sac, onto the hostess’s driveway, under a car, and out onto the driveway again, causing me to hop out of the way like a frenzied rabbit trying to escape the cruel fate of a hungry hawk’s talons. My friend, also suspicious of the situation, made an equally frantic withdrawal.

We met again on safer ground, outside of the circle of fire, danger, and doom. I explained that it was probably time for me to head out. She hugged me and said she understood. I said I should find the hostess and say my goodbyes. She said that they weren’t so formal and she would say goodbye for me. I thanked her for inviting me and for being my friend.

I was at the party for just over an hour.

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