The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party

Story by Mary Ruth Coffey, Artwork by Emily Calvo

August 23, 2014

I invited them all, yep, every one of them, all seven.  Why not?  I had the space in my beautiful dining room, since the extra table, the one from the kitchen, was still there, still there from January, seven months ago, the table I temporarily moved in after having to take it completely apart in the kitchen, and put it back together again in the dining room, even though the two rooms were right next door to each other, because it wouldn’t fit as a whole through the doorway between them.

Both tables remained there for seven months, side by side, waiting for this next dinner party, stuck in time, in moments, memories of events or words or news or shunnings, like capsules containing powder waiting to explode and rain onto the dining room floor, flooding the room with a growing cotton candy until it was at least comfortable to be stuck, like resting on clouds for eternity.

While my tables didn’t want to budge, I wanted to move on, desperately, hungrily.  My heart pounded daily in Edgar Allen Poe-like Tell-Tale fashion, but I couldn’t tell the tale so it just got larger and louder in my head.  It screamed for reconciliation and forgiveness, but with and of whom?  So, I invited them all and brought them to the two tables that had now become one.

Trauma was the first to arrive.  She was wearing my beet-red, crocheted, mermaid halter dress that, when it appeared in a fashion show years ago, I imagined would someday be worn by Minnie Driver at the Academy Awards.   It hadn’t yet, but no matter.  Trauma wore it magnificently, and I felt immediately grounded as she handed me her potluck dish of roasted root vegetables.  We sat in the living room, the yoga studio, in two adjacent rocking chairs, and silently but together moved forward and back, in one moment our feet on the ground and in the next, the rug completely swept from beneath us, free-falling backward.  She leaned toward me and whispered in my ear, “Get shaken by the earthquake.  While you know I love to plant myself in your root chakra, Muladhara, she advises not to keep your feet on the ground too long.  Rock back and forth.”

The doorbell rang and, given Trauma’s message, I pranced rather than dragged the soles of my feet to the entry buzzer.  I felt a bit lighter and hadn’t yet even had any wine.  When I opened the door to my apartment and sang, “Hello”, I was warmly greeted by a beauty clad in my tight, black pencil skirt with the orange, Asian-angled sweater I crocheted – a favorite of mine.

Her deep voice resounded, lifting me up, “Hi, it’s me, Fear.”  Oh yes, I thought, I remember you.  I remember how you entered with skill and resilience and mastery, artfully, until you were the background music of my childhood.  Now smiling at me like a long-lost friend, Fear handed me a green rimmed, clear bowl with her potluck contribution, Cut-glass jello, the one my mom made for every holiday occasion, and I wondered if it was from Fear that she got the recipe.  I introduced her to Trauma, but they embraced, laughing, saying they’ve known each other for years.  I stood holding the painful tinge in my lower left side, and Fear came over to me, placed her hands gently on my lower hip points and said, “My dear, you know how I desire to nest in your second chakra, your sacrum, Svadhisthana, enveloping and controlling your creativity, limiting your innate sensuality, but she has told me to tell you to begin to move these hips and dance in the color of orange, the one that makes you think of the burst of the essence of tangerines in your mouth, the one that you paint on your toes on mornings you ignore me, the melon-hued one in your box of 64 crayons.  While I will continue to harbor burnt orange into your sacrum if you let me, surrounding you with flames of painful memories, glass shattering and violence, Svadhisthana wants you to relax your second chakra, and be free.”

As I carried Fear’s dish to the dining room tables, I could hear her and Trauma, laughing and sharing stories in the living room, rocking forward and backward.

My next dinner guest snuck in like fog under the door and slowly transformed herself into the tallest woman I have ever seen.  She was wearing my yellow-crocheted Spring Goddess dress and my mother’s large gold-beaded necklace with a plastic shell pendant, and mom’s gold and white checked square earrings that almost covered her entire ears.  She handed me a plate of unleavened bread, manna, and told me it was a gift from those who were now gone from me.  She said they baked it together in that place where souls go and conference with each other, scheming ways to keep her out of my belly, squeeze her from my life, like wheat from bread.   And then she laughed so colorfully the room echoed, and Trauma and Fear stopped rocking, but only for a moment.  She leaned down into my face, her breath so poignant that I could feel it moving into my own nostrils and traveling down to my core, my third Chakra, Manipura, and sitting there like an immovable rock.  She said, “You and I both know, however, that they have not yet found a way to keep me out of you.”  At which she strolled into the living room, extended her hands out to Trauma and Fear, and said, “Ah, we meet again.  You remember, of course, my name is Pain. “  Pain sat in the large, strong stable, immobile wooden chair next to Fear, turned her gaze back to me and said, “Really darling, They try so hard, even calling on Manipura to give you shingles and cysts to let you know I’ve again arrived, and you still allow me to settle into you.  Manipura begs of you to smash my solid state into ashes that she can blow away to make room for the sun, her color of yellow, to illuminate your belly once again.”

I walked away, placed the bread on the first of the dining room tables, and heard a new sound from the living room guests – silence.

Sadness came in through the back door, as she always does, quietly, shyly, garbed in my forest green crocheted dress, dark, sullen.  She placed her platter of freshly baked scones on the speckled green kitchen countertop and warmed her hands from their freshly baked heat.  She placed those hands onto my heart and said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t want to come over so much.  I wanted to leave you alone some of those times, but your fourth chakra, Anahata, your heart, has too many holes, like the moon when you thought it was made of cheese, and they had to be filled so that it didn’t fold into itself and completely disappear.  Maybe now, now, we can collaborate with Anahata to take one plug out at a time and fill it with something else?”

When she walked into the living room, I heard her say to Trauma, Fear and Pain, “It’s you.  You are the reason I’m here. “ She gently moved into child’s pose on the yoga mat next to Pain’s solid chair, ensuring that her heart was not exposed to them.

When I next entered the living room, my fifth guest had arrived and was sitting with a tall spine, on the piano bench next to the yoga mat where Sadness now had breathed into Cobra pose, lifting her heart to the rest of the group, who all looked expectantly at our new guest.  Trauma and Fear were rocking again, Pain had shifted slightly but so immeasurably that her strong presence continued to pervade the room.  She glared at the girl on the piano bench, whose chin rested on her chest and whose eyes gazed toward the floor.  She wore the first sweater I had ever made, deep blue, almost gray, velour with my midnight blue skin-tight jeans.  Her toes were painted silver and through her thin, brown wisps of hair, I could see the glimmer of my mom’s rhinestone earrings.  The guests waited for her to say something, but I knew who she was, and I knew she would not speak.  I wanted her to be Visshuda, my fifth chakra, my voice, but she was her oppressor, Anxiety.  She brought nothing to the potluck, just presented herself, as she always does, whenever she wants, wherever it suits her, provoking all the others in the room.  Everyone thought she was ‘effect’.  But I knew she was ‘cause’.

Anxiety lifted her head and eyes toward me for a moment, one she shouldn’t have risked, one that made her, just in an instant, vulnerable, and I saw my blue crocheted necklace with cream and peach pearls around her neck, the one whose pendant was a radiant cat head on one side and on the other, the side most don’t see, the words “Goddess of Sensuality – Approach with Caution.”  I knew then that my fifth chakra, Vishuddha, had snuck in with Anxiety.  I met her gaze and smiled, demurely, knowingly.

It was in that moment that Self-Doubt barged into the room, handed me a bag of unpopped popcorn, laughed and shouted, “Late bloomer, my foot!”  She was wearing my indigo spaghetti strap, mini crocheted Law School graduation dress, with black patent leather spike healed shoes and, as she moved toward the chaise lounge next to Anxiety, I saw a shadow, Anja, my sixth chakra, center of intuition, inner wisdom, insight, follow in her footsteps.  She was faint, but she was here.

All the chairs in the room were occupied when Depression, my last guest, arrived.  She had brought a pot of lavender tea.  Before entering the living room, this sometimes yoga studio, she chose a purple yoga mat , placed it between Self-Doubt and Trauma, and went into headstand.  I knew she was trying to block Sahasrara, my crown chakra, as she manages to do often, more often lately than I’d like.  She wore my violet go-to, form-fitting dress, the one I know I look stunning in, one so tight that she could stay in headstand without it moving up her body at all.  She was stunning in it too, which, I thought, is probably why she gets away with blocking my 7th chakra, taking away my access to my brain, my good, good brain.   While still upside down, she winked at me and said, “Oh honey, I brought fresh blackberries.”

The table was now complete with roasted root vegetables, cut-glass jello, unleavened bread, warm, fresh scones, unpopped popcorn, lavender tea and blackberries.

I called them into the dining room and they took their places around my tables.  After the eight of us sat, we all looked toward the chair, a ninth chair, at the head of the table, a heart-shaped wicker chair from my childhood, that sat empty.  A question lingered in the air but no one asked.

Before we began to make toasts or pass dishes or even place napkins onto our laps, the door opened and in floated the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.  She was wearing my gorgeous, sophisticated black wool, open backed, crocheted dress that I had made for myself for my 45th birthday with my red, patent leather high-heeled pumps.  Her hair was pulled back and she had straight, short bangs that highlighted her green and gold eyes.  Her tiny, gorgeous hands displayed Mom’s silver engagement ring and my paternal grandmother’s gold ring embedded with her children’s birthstones.  Her open, free neck was gently encircled by my gold necklace with my brother’s ‘love’ pendant dangling from it, and my teal sparkling earrings dripped from her lovely ears.  In the center of the table she placed a whole, perfectly cooked rainbow trout.

Before sitting in the 9th chair, the extra chair I placed at the table every night hoping, waiting, she looked into my eyes and said, “I’m sorry I’m late.”  She sat down with me and my seven guests, Trauma, Fear, Pain, Sadness, Anxiety, Self-Doubt and Depression, and said, “I’ve known you for a long time.  Now its time for you to get to know me.  I’m a friend of our hostess’ seven chakras, Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Anja, and Sahasrara.  I come representing Chakras 8-12, the enlightenment chakras.  While you have occupied our lady’s chakras, her body, spirit and mind for a very long time, now you will take less space and I will slowly move in. “

“My name is Joy.“

Author Mary Ruth Coffey, Chicago IL

Mary Ruth Coffey, MBA, JD is the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Illinois (MHAI), a certified yoga instructor, and a published memoirist and artist. For over 20 years, Mary Ruth has served individuals, families and communities in their journeys toward wellness and recovery from trauma, homelessness, violence and poverty through mindfulness, storytelling and art. She is the designer and curator of MHAI’s current peer-led, anti-stigma project, Manifesting Healthy Futures: 24/7 Voices and Visions of Wellness, in which 24 creative nonfiction stories by writers with lived mental health experience are being interpreted through visual art. The Project is being exhibited at venues across the country in the style of ‘community conversations, engaging community members in the dialogue about mental health and stigma. Please view the Project at

Artist Emily Calvo, Chicago IL

Emily Thornton Calvo, daughter of an artist, grew up in an environment where creativity was the norm and attended the Art Institute of Chicago while in high school. Later, she studied watercolor at the Oak Park Art Center in Oak Park; at the Palette & Chisel; and with Chicago artist, Ed Hinkley. Her work has been featured at August House Gallery in Chicago; John G. Shedd Aquarium; at the Palatine Evening of Art, Palatine IL; and in Fontenay-Le-Comte, France, Her latest book, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd includes her poems and paintings. Calvo is married, has two grown daughters and thrives in Chicago, IL.