With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.
I’m taking my tarts to the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the product harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake it as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.
Can’t I call him and cancel, start over and wait until I produce something remarkable?
I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new plan, scheme and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, it’s paralyzes me.
I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”
I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot bear a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.