Oh my God, man! What are you doing?

Followed by two hemorrhages, three seizures, 17 acts of contrition, and a few laps in a pool filled with holy water.

What did I do again? It must have been something…awful! Something so dreadful that it would make the whole world hate me! I’ll be ostracized forever. Living on an island not even discovered yet, surviving on berries and coconut! It’s the end. For sure.

What? No, I was talking to Josh. He was using a fork to eat his ice cream.

Ah yes. Fork…to eat ice cream. That’s worthy of exile. Worthy of being Lord II of the Flies. Worthy of death, deserted, alone, bitter, jaded, resentful, hurt, utterly in despair.

Alright, I take things too seriously. I spend far too much energy resisting a string of words, or a carefully placed laugh, for the great fear that it might somehow unhinge somebody. And in my worst nightmares, it would release a hatred hitherto unknown. I would crawl away dejected, my wavering confidence smashed to in comprehensible pieces.

And this is why whole afternoons are consumed with worry. At lunch I asked a co-worker about her boyfriend. She said he was struggling with school. I laughed. Because it seemed like the right thing to do, I mean, he’s always done well in the past and she talks about how successful he was in college and all these scholarships he got and how he was the top of his class so I thought it was funny but maybe I shouldn’t have laughed O God O God what did I do she’s not saying anything she hates me she hates me forever and she will never again speak to me. I have failed her.

She left the conversation awkwardly. I stood there, knees probably shaking, palms sweating, eyes bulging. I should have been pulling out my hair. But instead I stood, a ghostly white, paralyzed. Somehow, in the debilitating fear and self-loathing of that moment, I made it back to my desk. How could I?

The afternoon was spent in panic, rustling papers on my desk. I couldn’t concentrate. Nothing would get done. My shirt felt wet, probably from the sweat that wouldn’t stop to flow from my pores. My head spun. No—it was a calculated churning that dropped to my gut and left me in the bathroom at least five times.

Until, after such moaning and aching, I shakily stood up from my desk, and hobbled over to hers. I had to grab the wall, the railing, the pictures, the recycling—anything that could hold me up. And then I stood behind her. Minutes ticked by. What should I say? What should I do? I can’t possibly right the injurious wrong I had given her just hours earlier. I hadn’t given her time to recover. And more than likely, she still abhorred me.

But I mustered the courage, and I tapped on her shoulder, and she…she…didn’t respond.

So I tried again, tapping harder this time, clearing my throat, tapping my shoes together, clapping my hands, and a combination of all four. Finally, she took her iPod earbuds out of her ears and turned around with a smirk.

What’s going on back there? That’s what she had to ask. Couldn’t she see that it took so much bravery to stand there and hang my head, asking her to ready the guillotine?

I…I…just wanted…to apologize.

The words came slowly and with significant upset. They were jagged, harsh, and utterly incomprehensible. I sounded like a perpetually dumping dump truck.

What?

Such lack of consideration! So I cleared my throat again, closed my eyes for a moment to compose myself, and opened them to a reserve of calm. But it wouldn’t last long, so I went right for it—

I’m sorry I made fun of your boyfriend.

I slurred the syllables and spoke faster than I remember being able to. She laughed.

What?

Your boyfriend…I laughed when you said he was having problems with school. And then you left.

And suddenly, in a show of utter callousness of heart, she laughed back at me. An eye for an eye, isn’t that what the BIble says? I deserved it, and so the guillotine blade was released, was falling, was shrieking against the wind—

No, no, I just remembered I needed to call someone right away. It is kind of funny he’s struggling. No need to apologize.

—STOP. And the sheen of the scored blade, the honed edge and silent faces in panic that looked on, all ushered a breath. A pardon had been issued.

Mustering some semblance of composure, I forced a laughed myself. All was well. I was saved. I was saved!!

And as I walked back to my desk, I wasn’t sure whether to thank God for a heart of cellophane, or to curse him for the crater that now took its place.