Many years ago, I was coming back to the USA after my first trip to Israel, an organized trip for Jewish teens. It had been an amazing trip all over Israel and now we were at Ben Gurion Airport about to fly home.
The flight hadn’t started boarding, and I was getting hungry. Not starving, but definitely hungry. I wandered over to a cafe in the airport terminal and it was there that I spied this perfect little sandwich. Roasted red pepper and goat cheese on a small roll. I absolutely love goat cheese and roasted red pepper. It was just the right size for my appetite. My Hebrew was virtually non-existent then (and hasn’t improved much since), but I did not hesitate to get in line and order that sandwich.
Right after I got my sandwich, the flight started boarding. I didn’t want the Israel trip to end, but it had been several weeks and I did miss my family. Also, I was getting hungrier and really looking forward to getting settled on the plane and eating my perfect sandwich.
Finally, the plane took off and it was time to eat the sandwich. I unwrapped it and took my first bite, eagerly anticipating that roasted red pepper and goat cheesy goodness…
…and I gagged in disgust. Because unbeknownst to me when I was buying the sandwich from the airport cafe, both sides of the roll were generously coated with olive tapenade. And I HATE olives.
I was disgusted and pissed (and feeling stupid, because there was probably a description in Hebrew that I couldn’t read that mentioned the olive tapenade), but I didn’t want to waste the food I’d spent money on and had been really looking forward to eating. With a plastic knife and fork, I started pick out every tiny bit of olive trying to save as much of the sandwich as possible. And with every bit of olive extraction surgery, I was just getting angrier and angrier. All the great trip memories faded to the back of my mind, I couldn’t think at all about looking forward to telling my family about the trip. All I could think about were all those fucking pieces of olive, contaminating my perfect sandwich like an infestation of ants, and I was furious.
I’ve thought about this memory before. I dramatically retell this story whenever Husband makes a stupid suggestion like “You don’t need to ask for the salad without olives. Just put them to the side and I’ll eat them.” or “Let’s get this mushroom and olive pizza because it’s sooooo good and you can just pick out the olives“. Since Husband has made these stupid suggestions more than once (men can be really dumb sometimes), he’s heard the story more than once. More recently, I was trying to think about how to describe how I’ve been feeling around Thanksgiving and I found myself thinking of this memory.
In spite of COVID, I still have, arguably, a perfect sandwich of circumstances. My family is loving, happy, and healthy, and I’ve been able to see them outside in person and the regular Zoom chats are largely enjoyable. I was able to see them in some fashion (virtual or outdoors socially distanced) for Passover, my cousin’s bar mitzvah, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, two small, drastically scaled-down weddings, my grandmother’s funeral and shiva (the non-COVID-related death of a 92-year-old matriarch, teacher, and artist is difficult and sad and I miss her of course, but it’s not a tragedy), Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, most Shabbats because we’ve been going to the same Zoom services, a random weeknight with my brother when he visited my state for a surprisingly-not-cancelled business trip, and Thanksgiving. My job is secure and although I don’t love everything about it, particularly certain aspects of the culture and the fact that I have no path to promotion, I largely like the people and the work, my employer is not asking us to put ourselves at risk of getting COVID for the sake of the business, and we did get a meaningful salary merit increase and bonus, which I quite honestly did not expect. I am married to a man I find physically attractive despite him not having cut his hair in over a year and despite his penchant for saying stupid things. I don’t have kids, which I cannot say I am happy about, but I recognize it means that I do not have to balance WFH and homeschool. I hate our apartment, but I can afford it, it’s safe, it’s a roof over my head, and I have Wi-Fi, a dishwasher, hot water, heat/air conditioning, and closet space, which already makes it a step above many far worse living spaces. Financially, we’re doing fine. I have the money for necessities, therapy (which I started recently for the first time in my life – an odd experience), and money for discretionary spending. I have a gym membership, which means I have access to a pool.
Anyone would be delighted to have this sandwich. It is, arguably, a perfect, amazing sandwich. I should be thankful for my sandwich, and I am thankful for it.
And yet, it has olives. And I keep zeroing in on those damn olives, jabbing at them with my plastic cutlery.
I despise working from home. Pre-COVID, WFH once or twice a week for flexibility was fine; in the COVID world, WFH all the time in a living space I hate, with a WFH co-worker with whom I do not get along (more on that later), in a job I did not get the promotion I was hoping for, with an unreasonable workload and no possibility of getting extra help such that the workday becomes 12+ hours long, sucks. I used to pursue a hobby near the office, a creative outlet of sorts that was a key part of my identity, a hobby that is no longer an option in the COVID world, and it will probably never come back. I am furious, at my job and at myself, about not getting the promotion. I have a second job actually, which I don’t like, have not been performing well, and can’t leave for another month (and also, I would feel guilty leaving, but I don’t like it). Aside from my lack of living grandparents and children, my family is sickeningly perfect, which means I can’t actually tell them anything. My marriage is…it’s hard to find the right words to characterize it, but unhappy, unfulfilling, and deeply flawed come to mind. I realize this may sound surprising, as I’ve been sharing these funny snippets of our conversations on my blog. However, the internet (in this case, me) is kind of lying to you. The reality is that nearly every conversation that does not appear on this blog ends in a nasty, though non-abusive, argument. I cannot really say anything more about this because my husband will definitely divorce me for posting our problems on the internet, and I’m not quite ready for that, although the thought has definitely crossed my mind more than once. I cannot quite describe how demoralizing it is to be in a living space you hate, a living space that is 100% your own fault due to your own poor choices, 24/7. I don’t really have friends anymore. COVID killed all normal forms of socializing and most conversation topics. The only friend I could actually talk to died a year ago. I couldn’t tell her everything either, but she was the person I could tell the most too. I cut off most friendships with friends-turned-parents, and, since I’m in my mid-thirties, the majority of my friends are now parents. I have also realized, after reading too many COVID and/or political posts from my Facebook friends, that I’m not sure I even like most of my friends anymore. Technically, I have the money to buy a different sandwich. I could change jobs/industries, move, make new friends…but when you’re married and your future/money is all shared (and when you and your spouse are having major arguments about shared future/money), doing this is more complicated. I’m not even sure that a different sandwich wouldn’t be riddled with even more olives.
When you have a perfect sandwich riddled with olives, there is nothing more irritating than being told that you should be thankful for the olives because they are actually wonderful and delicious. For me, this sounds like:
“You should be thankful you have a job!”
“That’s so great that you get to work from home!”
“Working from home is so amazing! You save so much money not commuting and you get to spend so much more time with your family! I hope we never go back to the office!”
“You’re lucky you’re not single!”
“You should be thankful you don’t have kids!”
“Thank G-d we don’t have kids!” -my own Husband (in case that wasn’t obvious)-People in My Life Whom I’m No Longer Friends With. My Husband also Fits into This Category.
It’s reasonable to say that I should be thankful for my perfect sandwich. I do have many incredible blessings, and I am thankful for them. It is reasonable to say that I should be thankful for my perfect sandwich in spite of the fact that it is riddled with disgusting olives, which I hate and which ruin the sandwich. This is more challenging for me, but I am overall thankful. After all, it’s laced with olives, not cyanide. I might hate olives, but they aren’t going to kill me, and I still have a sandwich, for which I should still be grateful.
It’s another thing, a rude, insensitive, and less reasonable thing, I think, to tell me that I should be thankful for the olives when I really fucking hate them.