Isolation drills at Celia's

When I get depressed, I usually isolate myself from everything. I retreat from friends, family, neighbors, roommates, pets, even books. No reading for me; I get lost in television. Often I don't actually know that I'm down until I realize I've been by myself for days, ignoring my ringing phone and beeping computer. The kind of sadness I'm talking about is a disease that runs in my family. My grandmother was a bona fide shut-in. When she died in her upscale Pasadena neighborhood, her toenails were long and curly, her hair matted, and her robe mangy.

I feel that pull toward a troll-like existence myself, a slow suicide of detached living. I keep it in check, but it is always there, like the dull ache of a loose tooth. When I was a kid I used to get some sort of pleasure in wiggling my baby teeth, forcing them slowly out with the push of my tongue. It hurt, but I couldn't stop. It's the same with my depression. I push at its edges and coax it out at times. It's painful, but familiar and strangely cathartic.

I was indeed isolating myself again last week. I knew this. So when my friend asked me to spend the day with his dog while he was at work and then join him and some friends for drinks and dinner later, I said that I would, even though the troll wanted to curl up in front of a Kolchak the Night Stalker DVD marathon. But I figured the dog would be a good segue into actual human company.

I knew we'd be going to Celia's on Judah for dinner, because that's pretty much the only place this group patronizes. For some strange reason, I've had the dubious honor of visiting every single Celia's location in the Bay Area, which is odd when you consider how much good Mexican food there is around here. Why do I waste my time at a place that puts Velveeta in its burritos? It's pretty much the Denny's de Mexico.

When we go to Celia's, we generally sit in the bar so that the guys can watch whatever game is on. Like Denny's, every Celia's is inherently the same, the only uniqueness coming from the size and shape of the buildings. You can count on the same Dos XX signs, ass piñatas (the donkey, not the body part, unfortunately), carved wooden doors, mariachi music, and the steady whir of blended margaritas in the background.

We all sat at a big round table: me, John, Garrett, Erick, and Erick's date, Jen. We ordered a round of tequila shots and margaritas and drank a toast to the Oakland A's on opening day.

"You look glassy-eyed," Erick said to me, pushing up the bill of his baseball cap and giving me the once-over. This, in true Erick fashion, was said in an accusatory way, not out of concern for my general well-being. We give each other shit all the time; it's like second nature at this point. I had indeed been drinking for most of the afternoon, and I suppose I was duly dulled. But I also had to deal with losing another friend to a relationship. My best friend got married last year, and I haven't seen her since. Erick, my partner in crime for most things, has been seeing Jen, and things have actually progressed beyond two dates. He would soon be lost to me as well. I was lonely. I had been wiggling the proverbial loose tooth on the couch for most of the day, sipping Sierra Nevada and watching 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s. Ergo, glassy-eyed.

I handed Erick my margarita and told him to drink it instead. Everyone sort of chitchatted while I just sat and listened. Every time I said something, Erick reminded me that I was drunk, so I just shut up. They all ordered another round of drinks, much to the delight of the waitress, who was quickly realizing she would be delivering the mother of a check to us. Every time we go out, I can't believe how much it costs. I generally grab for the check and Erick tries to get it before I can see, but I catch a glimpse of the total and make an astounded face. At this point Erick usually says, "Jesus, you always do that," and I say, "But dang, $200?!" and everyone shakes their heads at me for living in a world where I expect dinners to cost $15. Tonight was no different. Erick rolled his eyes and swiped the check.

They were encouraging me to go to opening day with them the next afternoon. "I have to bake a cake," I said, which was true, as it was my friend's birthday on Saturday. "Oh, God, you are so drunk," Erick said, assuming that "I have to bake a cake" is something only a drunk person would say.

"Harrumph," I said. "Well, then, I hate sports, so I ain't going for that reason." Actually, there was even a third reason. I had overheard Jen saying that my ex-boyfriend would be joining them in the parking lot for tailgating. Seeing myself participating in such an event with that assemblage triggered a very clear response in my head. I pictured Nell Carter, big and black and waving her finger, shrieking, "Oh, hell no!"

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