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Summers in my late teens and early twenties involved a lot of travel to and from a large(r) town to enjoy a choice of movie theaters, a tiny mall, and the Neptune Diner. Convenient to the largest cinema, the Neptune stayed open late enough to allow me and my friends snacks and boisterous conversations after whatever summer action blockbuster debuted.

On one of these occasions, as our server took orders for burgers and sides, one of my friends dared me I couldn’t finish a large salad. I should’ve suspected that he possessed advanced knowledge of this salad’s volume, estimated the far smaller space of my petite body’s
stomach, and made a bet that he couldn’t lose. To me, the feat seemed achievable, compared to eating a 48-ounce steak, for example. I wasn’t wholly prepared for what awaited me, and I confidently accepted. When I ordered it, I might have heeded the waitress’ raised eyebrows. She must have figured I knew what was in store. As long as I paid for it, she likely didn’t care if I managed to eat the whole thing.

I remember the bowl seemed large enough to comfortably contain a school of goldfish. The Italian dressing, I requested on the side, arrived in a coffee mug. Iceberg lettuce, tossed with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, and cheddar cheese, filled most of the bowl. A scattering of obligatory croutons dotted the leafy expanse. I tried to keep a nonchalant demeanor in the face of my challenge, but my shock was evident by the grins on my friends’ faces.

I refused to be cowed by the immensity of the task at hand and instead poured the dressing and forked with gusto. Eating mechanically, I closed my eyes as if to will myself into hypnotic gluttony. When I opened them, there barely seemed to be a dent in the greenery. I could read the doubt in the eyes of my peers.

As I’ve gotten older, I find less reason to be stubborn. It’s not something to be proud of as much as it is to be ashamed. I feel better about times when I’ve managed to work out a compromise or let something go. I save the stubbornness for the causes that mean most. Lately writing has become that cause, with its frequent rejections that can frustrate to the point of hair loss. I can call it determination, but in the end it’s the same thing.

I don’t like anyone to tell me what I’m not capable of doing. I have limitations, sure, but I want to be the one to decide when I’ve reached them. I finished that salad, and I felt like I might explode, but I ate a few fries from my friend’s plate afterward. It was a statement: Think twice before betting against me. How childishly dramatic, but it’s funnier, now that I think back on it.

I’ve been lucky enough that no one has ever voiced their doubts to me about my writing. I’ve received patronizing nods and smiles when I mentioned my goals, but at least they stopped short of verbal discouragement. Maybe I would be writing more prolifically if they hadn’t.

What’s your giant salad? I’d love to hear about your stubbornness in pursuit of your dreams in a comment.