Maybe I can have gluten one day a month.
As long as I’m being honest here — and, really, I find when discussing my intestines for roughly half a million of my closest friends, honesty works best — I would’ve happily wallowed in anger for a lot longer than I did if not for Meaghan Habuda, CL’s intrepid food editor and my appetizer BFF.
See, I’m familiar with anger. I’m comfortable in it; I know how it feels against my skin, and, yeah, it’s like an itchy wool coat that doesn’t flatter my figure at all, but I know where to find it. So staying there would’ve been easy, except Meaghan made me feel bad. We had decided to go grab something to eat and get a drink after work, and — for reasons not at all related to anything we stand for at CL, like local, fresh ingredients or innovative dishes — found ourselves at the Tyrone Square Ruby Tuesday (we judge us more than you ever could).
Meaghan wanted to write about a new ice cream something-or-other in the area, so Calypso and I sat on the dog-friendly patio and perused the menu (well, OK, I perused and she lay down, bored with life and unable to get to any of the good crumbs). Certainly something here would be gluten-free, right?
At this point, I continue to cling to the idea I don’t have to tell people I have celiac and that I can find workarounds with maybe a little gluten here and there to accommodate what I still refuse to admit is a disease.
By the time Meaghan arrived, I’d found a compromise: some sort of dip with Parmesan, and we’d get it with corn chips instead of pita. Still unwilling to utter the words “gluten” or “celiac” in public, I ask in what I thought was a casual tone if the topping had breadcrumbs in it, and if I could get the corn chips instead of pita. The waitress answered my questions — she didn’t think so, and of course I could — and she walked away, turned back and fixed her gaze on me.
“Are you gluten-free?” she asked.
I felt the white rage bubble up.
She nodded and disappeared inside.
“You were so mean to her,” Meaghan (unquestionably the nicer of us; see above) said. “She was only trying to help, and you yelled at her.”
I only had a moment to ponder what a jackass I’d been before a man with a walkie-talkie wire in his ear came over to our table, introduced himself as the manager, and informed us the cheese dip we’d ordered likely had come into contact with gluten and, as such, wouldn’t be set down in front of me.
My anger dissolved into abject horror. It was as if a secret agent from the bowels of the Ruby Tuesday lair had come out with a top-secret gluten warning. So much for trying to surreptitiously order gluten-free food. So much for walking a thin line between gluten and gluten-free without anyone noticing.
To his credit, he tried to help me find something for a pre-dinner snack. I settled on cauliflower, which tasted nothing like cheese dip.
I didn’t apologize to the waitress, who came over and apologized for not being able to bring me the food I wanted. I started to strategize in my head.
Maybe I can have gluten one day a month, I told myself. Like a cheat day.
Then I floated this past my medical team.
“No,” said Dr. Gorgeous’ PA. “If you have celiac — and you do,” she said, seeing the look on my face, “you shouldn’t have gluten. Ever.”
Nevertheless, I persisted.
“OK, but, I don’t get sick, right?” I didn’t wait for her to answer. “So, if, say, I had gluten every now and then, or in small amounts, how much could I have before it damaged the villa in my intestines?”
“With an actual celiac diagnosis, the amount of gluten you can have,” she said, and my eyes widened with hope, “is none.”
“Even if I don’t get sick?”
She didn’t sigh with great patience, which is to her credit.
“So, here’s the thing: Gluten may not make you sick now, but once you’re gluten-free for a few months, if you have gluten, it will probably make you sick.”
Next up: Depression.
This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing.