The Absolute Perfect Word

It was a Friday evening when it happened. I was waiting in the checkout line at Aldi, having spent the previous 45 minutes listlessly deciding what I was going to eat for the next week, when a certain feeling overcame me. That doesn’t really sound like much, except that a) I had never ever in my life had this particular experience before and b) having never experienced it, I had no proper term to describe it. No, really. From the time the cashier began scanning my items to the time I bagged up my groceries and walked out of the store to my shitty Toyota in the parking lot, I struggled – STRUGGLED – to come up with any sort of way to properly verbalize this strange sensation!

Obviously, a singular term was out of the question since, like I said, I had never experienced this before. Sadness, anxiety, confusion, pensiveness, alienation… None of these were apt. I could only describe the physical sensation itself – a sort of tension in the gut, you know, like when you have to go to the bathroom, only I can safely say I did not have to go to the bathroom, contributing to my further puzzlement, along with the pins and needles feeling you get when you lay on your arm or hand or some other extremity the wrong way. It was that, only more subtle and instead of being concentrated to one appendage, it was radiating across my entire body. No particular thought went along with any of this, nothing like “Fuck, I wish this old lady ahead of me wouldn’t have paid in a check,” or “I wonder if I should have bought the gallon sized milk,” or “I really wish I wasn’t here right now.” The only thing I could think of was “The feeling you get while standing in Aldi checkout line at 6:45 on a Friday evening.”

I thought about this some more as I made myself a simple meal of shrimp and spinach alfredo. What a peculiar set of circumstances to give rise to such a feeling! I wondered if to have it again, I’d have to spend 45 minutes shopping for a week’s worth of groceries, and then stand in line for another 10 minutes. Outside stimuli trigger feelings, right? I pondered this hypothesis for a bit longer, until I felt it again – the intestinal stress, the light pinpricks. I felt it while I was waiting for my pasta to cook.

I woke up the next day feeling how I normally do after I wake up: groggy, moody, a bit confused. I had a cup of coffee and a bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with kiwi, blueberries, and just a bit of honey. I felt the way I normally do after I have coffee and Greek yogurt: slightly more aware, less confused, content. I decided I’d grab a shower, so I shuffled to the bathroom and turned the water on. The length of time it takes for the water to achieve proper temperature is infuriating. While I waited, I stripped and took a solid look at myself in the mirror, and I felt how I normally do when I take a solid look at myself in the mirror: I need to hit the gym soon. I checked the water again, still too cold for my taste, and sat down on the toilet. And I felt it.

Later that afternoon, I met my friend Elise at a local coffee shop. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, who was a jealous alpha-male type of guy and wouldn’t let her spend time alone with her other guy friends, so now she was trying to make up for lost time. I told her about this weird feeling as we sipped lattes and munched on scones.

“Wait, so let me get this straight. You were in line at Aldi, and suddenly you feel this feeling that you have never ever felt before in your entire life?”

“And while cooking pasta, and while waiting for my water to heat up for my shower.”

“Could you have been impatient maybe? All three of these things involve some degree of waiting.”

“I thought about that, but I mean, I’m not really an impatient person. I can handle waiting, I’ve accepted it as a part of life by now.”

“What about boredom? Were you bored?”

“Not any more than I usually am. All I know for sure is the physical sensations that accompanied it. My stomach sort of tensed up, like when you have to go to the bathroom, and a pins and needles feeling all over.” Elise’s eyes widened ever so slightly.

“This is going to sound weird, but I think I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

“What? … For real?” I said, bemused.

“Yeah!” She excitedly took a sip of her drink and just as excitedly brought the cup back to the table, “As I was getting my oil changed yesterday, maybe like five minutes before they finished. I had been flipping through a fitness magazine, not really reading it, you know? And suddenly, I felt exactly what you just described, honest-to-fucking-God.”

“Have you felt it since?”

“Twice. Again last night while brushing my teeth, and this morning while choosing an outfit to wear.”

“How strange…” I pondered her words as I downed the rest of my latte. “Maybe it’s not strictly limited to waiting. Maybe it could happen during any mundane activity.”

“Could be. But we don’t have a word for it, do we? We don’t even have any specific thoughts that correlate to it, you know? I mean, obviously we never really stop thinking, but when it happens, it’s only these fleeting little thoughts that aren’t really worth remembering.”

“Right, right…” I pondered some more, and when I ran into a dead end, I told Elise that I was going to get another latte. As I handed my money to the clerk, the feeling struck me again.

I remember in my high school German class, our teacher had explained how different languages have words which have no direct English translation. Words like schadenfreude, which is impish delight in the sufferings of others, and waldeinsamkeit, which is the feeling of being alone in the woods. There are plenty of examples in other languages. Yoko meshi is a Japanese phrase used to describe the peculiar stress experienced when speaking in a foreign language. Forelsket is a Norwegian word that describes the process of falling in love, as distinguished from actually being in love. At that time, I wondered why no one ever saw fit to come up with an English equivalent to describe these inner states. I’ve certainly experienced an impish delight in the misfortune of others, the feeling of being alone in the woods, the stress of speaking a language you don’t normally speak, and damn it, everybody knows the feeling of falling in love, so why has no English speaker throughout the history of the language felt the need to fix a term on these sensations? It seems rather absurd that we haven’t, but what do I know? Anyhow, now I had this brand new feeling that needed a label, and I realized then that this was a task easier said than done.

I experienced this feeling more and more as the days went on, and as I had suspected, it was generally brought about while engaged in some mundane, non-too-thrilling activity which is always just a little bit tedious, but also just a little bit necessary. It’s always accompanied by that tension in the gut and the pinpricks on the skin. At this point, a lot of you reading this will probably dismiss it all and chalk it up to a combination of impatience and boredom, like Elise first suggested, and I have certainly felt this before during these trite little tasks, and for this reason, I can say for certain that this feeling is neither of these things. If it were simply boredom or impatience or both, I could describe it in the those ways, but it isn’t wholly these feelings. Seeing as how a lot of us in contemporary society have to engage in these menial chores that go along with our way of life, but if we had the choice, we would be doing a million other things, I’m hoping enough people will read this and say “Well shit, I know exactly what this guy is talking about!” so that we can all come together and agree on the absolute perfect word for it.

-r. miller

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