Crunchy Shrimp

Earlier this year I had an embarrassing moment essay published in The Dead Mule School, which is a pretty awesome site for writers. Although I didn’t receive payment for this essay, they did share it broadly.

Here is a slightly updated version of the essay, edited by Amy Bee at Lion by the Tail Editorial:

As a child, my clothes never looked the same as everyone else’s. Pants were a little too short, shoes a little too dirty. I wanted so much to be just like everyone else, but my parents were poor. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

It was what it was.

Or it was what it was until first grade, when I stepped wrong and slid down the grassy hill in front of school during a rainstorm, leaving my ass covered in mud. The office called my mom, but she couldn’t leave her shift at the nursing home, and my stepdad couldn’t be reached, either. I spent the entire day with a brown stain on the back of my jeans. Kids called me Poop-stain, the jerks.

I was now poor and awkward.

But that was long ago. I grew up and moved states and states away. I had a husband, kids, two dogs and a nice house, all gifts that came with the benefit of built-in friends. 

Weekly, we got together with said friends and our collective children. We drank our wine while they danced, jumped on the trampoline, or attempted to make slime. Everyone got along and had a good time. It seemed I had stuffed away that old awkward self and learned to be cool. 

Only … smooth conversation skills have never been my forte. Wine helps, but only three glasses. After three, I get sloppy and slur my words. It ain’t cute.

The massive granite kitchen island where us parents hovered and chatted was packed with all assortments of party snacks: carrots and hummus, cheese and crackers, and sometimes fruit. Everyone brought their own favorites. One week, among the usuals, was a platter of shrimp. Bestie poured my first glass of red wine while I glared at them. They looked crispy, seasoned with black and red specks. I scooted away from them and  grabbed a carrot from the far end of the counter because I was trying to lose weight for the pool that summer. Pale and freckled looks better without extra flab hanging out.

“You have to try one,” my new kid-induced bestie, a woman with a great sense of Lilly Pulitzer style and a sweet southern accent, urged. I wanted to say the hell I don’t. Hot and drenched in butter or sauce, shrimp are tolerable. But cold, they’re rubbery. These bottom feeders didn’t resemble any kind of shrimp I’d tried before. They looked crunchy. With legs still attached. I scanned the table and couldn’t find cocktail sauce or butter in which to drown them.

But Bestie was a pusher of cold fish. Her smile said try one, but her eyes bored their way into my soul, growling now woman, or I’ll cut you. I was stuck. It was her house, and in the South it’s rude to turn down food from the hostess.

I reluctantly obliged and grabbed the smallest shrimp by the tail and popped it in my mouth. Bit down. It crackled between my molars in a way that was all wrong. I chewed and chewed. It crunched and crunched. I kept mashing it with my teeth, determined not to spit it out. I didn’t know Bestie enough to chuck half-eaten food into a napkin. Those kinds of friendships take years to cultivate and nurture. These people were nice upfront, yes, but who knew what was said behind my back.  

I couldn’t keep the somehow still-unchewed sea bug in my mouth for another second. So, I swallowed. But the beast wouldn’t go down. I turned my back away from the snacks and people, toward the sink. I gagged once. Twice. I eyed the sink, the side with the garbage disposal. It would be the politest of all places in the kitchen to vomit. At least I could wash it down the drain with my dignity. It would be elementary school all over. It would be the poop-stain debacle all over, except this time I may never live it down. I’d be known as Puke-stain all across Virginia.

I brought my glass to my mouth and took a long swig of wine. The shrimp scraped its way begrudgingly down my throat. 

My eyes watered. Stomach gurgled. Hands trembled so hard my wine sloshed in the long-stemmed glass, which looked expensive. Nicer than the ones I bought at HomeGoods on clearance. I quickly set the glass on the counter before I dropped it. 

In the background, Bestie’s husband said something about summer and how he couldn’t wait for the pool to open. My husband agreed. Bestie was plating up snacks for the kids. Good. No one was paying attention to me. I poured more wine into my glass to look busy.

Once I was sure the whole shrimp was resting peacefully in my stomach, I found my husband and tugged on his shirt. “The shrimp are awful! Why are they so crunchy?”

“Did you peel off the shell?” He teased.

“Shell?” I asked. My cheeks flared. “I couldn’t tell because of all that seasoning.” His smile faded, replaced with mild concern.

“That’s why they’re called peel-and-eat.” He picked one up and peeled back the shell to show me. The legacy of my family struck again. If only my parents had showed me how to properly eat a fancy shrimp.

At least I didn’t puke in the sink.

Photo Courtesy of Elle Hughes on Pexels

Here is a link to the original essay, if you’d like to read it:

Categories nonfictionTags , , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “Crunchy Shrimp

  1. That made me smile and also to reach out to you with a hug.

    Like

    1. Aww, thank you! That’s very sweet of you.

      Like

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