I know it’s trendy now to pass off “liking food” as a personality trait, but I’ve really come into my love of eating. Alas, the one you love the most hurts you the most.
Friday night, my team was at Salt Lick, a famous barbeque joint 45 minutes out of Austin. Our server had just brought out our orders, and I’d been looking forward to my half-pound of brisket and of pork ribs. Across me, Teammate 1 excitedly eyed her pulled pork sandwich as I tore into a piece of moist brisket.
My first few bites burst with juicy flavor. Unfortunately, that was as far as I got.
So engrossed in gastronomic pleasure—I assume—I forgot how to chew and attempted to swallow the meat whole. The edge of the slice curled into itself and the piece proceeded to lodge in my windpipe. I coughed a couple times, thought, oh God kill me now, as I do any time I release more than two consecutive coughs because doing so brings me ineffable shame, and drank a sip of water.
The feeling was uncomfortable but manageable, like how it is when you eat something too quickly and it catches in your throat for a bit. Then I swallowed.
The meat clog ballooned like it’d soaked up the water. My coughs, previously controlled, ripped from my lungs. I lunged for napkins, curled into the table, and tried to direct the stream of brisket particles into my hands. Breathing became difficult. My heaving increased in volume to the point of a yell.
Teammate 2: Are you… okay?
Neighboring tables: *in the distance* Is she choking?
While people around me continued to ask each other “Is she choking?” I was visualizing the lump of brisket in my throat and thinking about how this was probably like reminiscent of that one scene from The Exorcist, had I ever watched any part of The Exorcist.
Involuntary tears blurred my vision. The lump kept expanding. It was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Teammate Who Knows: Should we do something? Some Heimlich maneuver?
Teammate 4: I think if she’s coughing, it’s okay.
Neighboring lady: Oh, I’ve choked on brisket before. It’s awful.
She approached me to check if I was okay and peered over. Upon seeing the state of my face—we made brief eye contact—she immediately backed away.
Gradually my choking ceased, not by virtue of anything I or anyone else did. Probably it was gravity. Maybe desperation. Throat still burning, I started slicing the rest of my brisket carefully. Teammate 1 looked nauseated, which was actually what made me feel the worst because she’d been so excited about her pulled pork.
Teammate 3: So, uh, what should we have done better in that situation? Because we all just sat there and didn’t know what to do.
Teammate 1: We didn’t even know what was going on.
Me: You couldn’t tell I was choking?
Teammate 2: I thought you were crying.
Teammate 3: I thought you were having a nervous breakdown. I thought I was seeing the next Nicole Sundays post play out before my eyes.
Teammate 1: Yeah, next time you’re about to die, try being more helpful.
A joke. Probably. The whole situation was morbidly amusing.
Me, laughing but still sounding choked up: But can you imagine if I’d died? Death by barbeque?
Teammate 4: Well, you know the multiverse theory… In some of those other parallel worlds, the other Nicole’s did die choking on brisket.
Teammate 3, helpfully: You got beaten up by a cow.
Watching Teammate 1 box up her barely eaten pulled pork sandwich, I thought about how I didn’t know what anyone should’ve done in that situation either. I distinctly remember, in elementary or middle school, learning about what to do when someone’s choking and thinking “what an idiotic way to die.”
A decade later, I’ve come to not just eat my words, but asphyxiate on them, too. So it goes.
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