The “Perfect” Sandwich: A True Story & Overwrought Metaphor For My Thanksgiving Mood

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.

This caprese sandwich is the closest stock photo I could find, and yet it still doesn’t capture the sheer perfection of that perfect sandwich. Photo by Ponyo Sakana from Pexels

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.

Stock photos don’t do justice to how I feel about olives. If you like olives, you might see olive tapenade on a serving platter. To me, this looks like a side of mashed ants.
Image by Christo Anestev from Pixabay

***

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.

My would-be perfect life sandwich, marred with olives and also the pickles in this case – double-yuck! Image by Miroro from Pixabay

***

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.

31 comments

  1. I love the metaphor of the sandwich: you work it well; that was what drew me to the post — so soon after I had posted my ‘Zen Sandwich’ one; hello, I said, another post about sandwiches: I’m going to devour this one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You… you hate olives?! I can’t look at you the same way anymore, lol. Great post, and yes, it can be annoying to have people tell you what you should or should not be thankful for. I used to get that a lot for work travels, but boy, there are SO MANY better things to do than to be in a closed tube with screaming babies for eight hours before sunrise on a public holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! It’s so irritating when people make assumptions. Travel writing sounds super cool to me too, but I’m sure like any job, it has its unique job/industry-specific suckiness and you shouldn’t have to feel thankful for the sucky parts. I just wish people would let you have your own feelings about the sandwiches and olives (or in your case, pick something you dislike if you’re into olives…by now you know how I feel about them) in your own life and not tell you how they think you should feel!

      Like

  3. May I just add my voice to the others in this comment stream? I would pretty much repeat all the others have said, so I’ll just say, like, ‘Amen!’ I do appreciate the sandwich/olives metaphor. I can see this becoming a standard idiomatic expression, or perhaps multiple expressions. “You don’t know my olives.” “Can we address the olives in the sandwich?” “Oy! This week! Too many olives!”

    And, at the risk of compounding the olivicity, “Shalom!” (for reals)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I really enjoyed the sandwich story and could totally imagine feeling the same way. But I wasn’t prepared for the post to head the way it did. I think it is a beautifully honest and raw post. Possibly painful to admit such feelings. I must admit I read the snippets of conversations you posted about your husband and lamented that my marriage wasn’t as yours seemed. Marriage is so hard. And children – the issue is so sensitive. It’s wrong that people have told you to be happy you don’t have children if that’s not how you feel. It’s very hard to relate to people with kids if you don’t have them, I remember being in that boat in my early 30s. Working from home is NOT necessarily a breeze just because you don’t have to homeschool. It’s suffocating and claustrophobic and you have every right to dislike all the bits of your life that you dislike. Therapy is weird and hard. I applaud you for knowing you want more from life and going after it (via therapy). I think if more people went to therapy the world would be a better place.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I feel like I did the blogger version of Instagram – y’all saw the most photogenic snippets of marriage and not the fact they had been heavily excerpted and filtered. I feel bad for having made you feel bad unnecessarily! Thank you for understanding. I totally get people wanting to talk about the sandwiches/olives of their own lives, but don’t assume that I feel the same way about my own. I think that’s what really drives me crazy. Therapy is an interesting experience. Thank you for the encouragement.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I am sorry to hear of your unhappiness. No sandwich which you gag on when you take a mouthful of is perfect anymore. The perfection is an illusion that it suits the outer world to believe. I listen to a podcast called “How to Fail with Elizabeth Day”. She is a British author and journalist who interviews very “successful” people about the olives in their lives. Sometimes the interviews get quite chatty – almost like two friends having a late night gossip. Anyway, she has commented quite a few times on how our society insists on positivity and social media allows a platform for us to curate our most perfect selves. But it’s very unhealthy. It’s okay to be sad. It’s normal to feel angry and frustrated and lonely and it’s reasonable to seek help. COVID19 makes all those things so much harder and emphasizes all the inadequacies of relationships and living situations which might otherwise have been more tolerable. I hope you can be kind to yourself as you find your way through this awful tapenade in your life. Oh dear. I sound terrible. It was meant to be compassionate and empathetic. Not preachy. I hope you can gather some of the intention

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for this. That’s just it – I know by any reasonable definition and to many people, my sandwich is perfect. And yet, for me, it’s tainted by the olives which I can’t stand and can’t ignore and can’t fully pick out, and it’s not a perfect experience. Thanks for the podcast tip! (And rest assured, you don’t sound preachy at all!)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You are absolutely right, that it is insensitive and rude for others to tell you to be thankful for what you have when it is slowly killing you à petite feu, I agree. I can see how others would see your situation as safe, and not as bad as it could be, and thus not understand how that can be like Virginia Wolf: she was safe, but that is not enough.
    I know how it feels to be unable to live to your full potential, and to be told to be happy with that.
    And it is not reasonable.
    I think that those suggestions come from people who might wish to help, but have no idea how.
    So, might I suggest that we figure out a way to start a secular convent together?

    Like

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