There’s a strange thing that happens when you have a party and invite your school friends, church friends, and whatever-else-you-do friends. They tend to stick to talking to the group they know. But even worse, sometimes they talk to each other, and the results aren’t pretty. At the end of the night you sigh and face-palm yourself for letting them meet, and tell your mom or your husband “Well, I can’t ever invite Paul again.”
I feel certain this is why I don’t get invited to parties.
I am terrible at small talk. Horrible awful wretched pathetic! I tend to clam up and just stare awkwardly. Or I spew a bazillion bits of bizarre trivia at a stranger until they run away. Or I do things that make absolutely no sense and accidentally offend the person forever. This story is just one example.
I had been friends with Justin* for a long time, and at one of his high school birthday parties, I found myself in a conversation with Lane**, one of his friends I didn’t know. As usual, I had no idea what to say. I think I asked her about school and maybe complimented her t-shirt or something. She asked me how long I’d been friends with Justin. Then she asked me a simple question.
“How many siblings does he have?”
And I said, “Three.”
Except that wasn’t true. I meant two. For some reason I was frantically thinking that Justin was one of three siblings, and “three” came out instead of “two.” And unlike a normal person, I didn’t correct myself.
“Three? I thought he had two sisters,” she said.
“Yes, Kelly, Mindy, and Duncan***.”
To this day, I have no idea where “Duncan” came from.
“His little brother.”
“He has a brother?” Her eyes popped wide, and her jaw actually dropped.
“Yeah, you’ve never met Duncan?” I said, surprise in my voice that convinced even me.
“Really? You haven’t met him?”
“No! Where is he?”
I wanted to stop, but the snowball was rolling over me.
“Well, he’s not very social,” I said.
“He’s pretty quiet. And a little weird.”
“Oh,” she looked a little sad. “Really?”
“Yeah, I’ve met him, but I guess most other people haven’t. He’s doesn’t really like people.”
Doesn’t like people? What was I saying? Lane just nodded as if she understood, and I shrugged like I felt sorry for this imaginary hermit brother. Here I was, inventing a younger sibling for one of my closest friends, and I made him warped and antisocial. And then I made it worse.
“His room is in the basement. I think that’s part of it.”
“They have a basement?”
I was starting to scare myself. Justin’s parents did not have a basement!
“Yeah, they do.”
“Where is it?”
“You know the closet under the stairs back there?” I pointed to a room behind us. “There’s a little door inside to the basement.”
The door part was true. I knew it from playing hide and seek. The small door in the stair closet led to more storage.
“Oh.” She gave me a look, but it faded quickly. She still believed me.
“It’s not a bad room. A little dark, but he likes it,” I said.
“I totally didn’t know they had a basement!”
The snowball was now the size of a house. Or a room in a house.
“Yeah, he’s probably down there now. He wouldn’t like this party.”
There was beat there where she just stared at me with wonderment, and I just stared back.
“Wow, I had no idea he had a little brother,” she said finally.
“Neither did I until about five minutes ago.”
She told his mother on me.
I stood there laughing like I’d done it on purpose, but inside I was wondering why I didn’t just say, “Oops, I meant two.”
*Justin is a pseudonym.
**Lane is also a pseudonym.
***Kelly and Mindy are also pseudonyms. Duncan is not a pseudonym. Why did I pick Duncan? I ask myself that every time I think of this story.