Crack the top of the crème brulee and get right into it, spooning up the cream and dropping your voices. Well I try not to judge, you say, raising your eyebrows. I always thought there was something off, you murmur, dipping your spoon again. It’s not how I like to do things, of course, but hey, that’s just me, you mention, glancing sideways at one another and laughing as the sweet pastry crumbs of your second dessert litter the tablecloth.

This person needs to grow up, and this person needs to stop taking himself so seriously. This person was a lot more fun before she met her boyfriend, and this person could really use a reality check. You never trusted that person. You bet that person has some sort of secret and you have a couple of theories about what it might be. Yeah, well, you heard what that person did, right? Last year? You scrape the plate for the last of the caramel syrup and lay it all out, in highly enjoyable detail. You analyze patterns and project future outcomes; you declaim and assert and suggest. You raise your eyebrows, all of you, and you shake your heads mournfully, delightedly. You sit back in your chairs and lick your lips.

And then one of you says it: You guys, we really shouldn’t be talking about people who aren’t here this way. We’re totally gossiping.

No we’re not, another one of you says. We’re just…talking. It’s just talk.

I mean we like all these people.

All love and respect…

And they…well, yeah, maybe we are gossiping. A little.

We’re analyzing social behavior!

Right, that’s GOSSIPING.

Oh whatever, it’s not like they don’t talk about us when we’re not there.

I’m not convinced they do, one of you says as you stand up to go pay the check, and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Now no one knows what to think, so you pay and hug and kiss and bus and leave it at that. For now, at least—at least until you get together again.

You’re always thirteen years old, somehow, always, and even though you’re stable and settled and have maybe one or two little silver hairs peeking out amongst the dark curls, there’s a part of you that still arraigns the world in the court of junior high-style ideas of fairness. They have what they want, they have what you want, and how to tip the balance? How to even the score? You want to have a social life, you like all these people very much—in fact you’re seeing them this weekend–but you’re not getting everything you privately believe you deserve, and it doesn’t look like you’re going to get it soon, so why not? Why not cut someone down to size a bit, and why not relish it, while you’re at it? That’s the math somehow, which requires that you remain absolutely blind to any privileges you may have, and absolutely deaf to the suggestion that someone may be applying the same rationale to their dessert conversation about you and everyone you love. But maybe it’s too precious, too earnest and sincere, to even think this way—I mean seriously, who cares what you think? About anything?

The bus groans on. You sit and mope and wonder, sucking the last of the sugar off your teeth.



  1. My mom always says, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t talk about other people.”

  2. How many boys in this group…??? Let me guess… 0%…???
    If this homogeneous group of girls cannot find anything nice to say about a person, was a golden silence ever considered a viable alternative…??? Probably not, not enough fun… but cutting down someone, did REALLY make you feel better…??? Search your heart…

  3. oh chiara – bravo for you to have the courage to write about this. I love how you bring it back to jr high. we are all stuck there in some ways. there’s that judge in our heads, that reminds us that we will never measure up – so what can we do but look around and pull other people down just a bit…

    here I am almost 40 – still wrestling with that judge in my head, trying to be kinder to myself, kinder to those around me and trying to waylay those impulses to over analyze other people’s actions to make me feel ok about my own.

    thanks for keeping it real. I seriously think you should write a book – you have a way with capturing people, conversations and speaking from a place of truth!

  4. This is so true, but as usual you put it so much more eloquently than most.