Danielle Dayney: Memoir: May 2021


Southern Legitimacy Statement : Southern Legitimacy Statement: Though born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, where I started my writing career for a small music magazine, I have lived in rural Virginia with my husband and two children for the last four years. It’s now my home, and my favorite place of all.

Crunchy Shrimp

As a child, my clothes never looked the same as everyone else’s. Pants were a little too short, shoes were a little too dirty. I wanted so much to be just like everyone else, but my parents were poor. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

It was what it was.

Or it was what it was until the time in first grade when I stepped wrong and slid down the grassy hill in front of school during a rainstorm, leaving my ass covered in mud. The office called my mom, but she couldn’t leave her shift at the nursing home. Naturally, my stepdad couldn’t be reached, so I spent the entire day with a brown stain down the back of my jeans. Kids called me Poopstain. Jerks.

So then I was poor and awkward.

But that was so long ago. I’ve grown up. Moved states and states away. I’m not a child anymore. I have a husband who loves me, and now we make friends through our kids. 

Weekly, we get together with said friends and all of our collective children. We drink our wine while they dance, jump on the trampoline, or do crafts. The kids get along well, so it’s my job to stuff away that old awkward self and be cool. 

Only … smooth conversation skills are not my forte. Wine helps, but only three glasses. After three, I get sloppy and slur my words. It ain’t cute.

There are always snacks on the massive granite kitchen island where the parents hover and chat. Carrots and hummus, cheese and crackers, and sometimes fruit. 

Today, among the usuals, is a platter of shrimp. They look crispy, seasoned with black and red specks. I grab a carrot because I’m trying to lose weight for the pool this summer. Pale and freckled looks better without extra flab hanging out.

“You have to try one,” my new kid-induced bestie, a woman with a great sense of Lilly Pulitzer style and a sweet southern accent, urges. I want to say no. I don’t love cold shrimp. They’re bottom-feeders. Hot and drenched in butter or sauce, they’re tolerable. When cold, shrimp are rubbery. I scan the table and can’t find cocktail sauce to drown them with. 

But she’s a pusher of cold fish. Her smile may be saying try one, but her eyes are saying now woman, or I’ll cut you. I’m because it’s her house and in the south, it’s rude to turn down food from the hostess.

I begrudgingly oblige and pop it in my mouth. Bite down. It crackles between my molars in a way that’s all wrong. I chew and chew. It crunches and crunches. I keep mashing it with my teeth anyhow. I don’t spit it out, because I still don’t know those people enough to chuck half-eaten food into a napkin. Those kinds of friendships take years to cultivate and nurture. These people are nice, yes, but they could be judgy to my face or mean behind my back.  

I swallow half my crunchy shrimp before it’s fully masticated because I can’t keep it in my mouth for another second. I turn my back away from the snacks and people, towards the sink. I gag once. Twice. I consider puking in the sink, the side with the garbage disposal. It would be the most polite of all places in the kitchen to vomit. At least it could wash down the drain. Then I reconsider. It would be elementary school all over, but this time I might never live it down.

Instead, I bring my glass to my mouth and take a long swig of wine. I swallow more shrimp with my drink. 

My eyes water. Stomach gurgles. Hands tremble so hard my wine sloshes in the long-stemmed glass, which looks expensive. Nicer than mine I bought at HomeGoods on clearance. Like a smart girl, I set the glass on the counter before I drop it. 

In the background, bestie’s husband says something about summer and how he can’t wait for the pool to open. My husband agrees. Good. No one is paying attention to me. I pour more wine into my glass to look busy.

In one final hurrah, I chomp more and swallow the rest. 

When I’m sure the whole shrimp is resting peacefully in my stomach, I tug on my husband’s shirt to whisper, “the shrimp are awful! Why are they so crunchy?”

“Did you peel off the shell?” He smiles at me, teasing.

“Shell?” I ask. My cheeks flare. “I couldn’t tell because of all that seasoning.” His smile faded, replaced with mild concern.

“That’s why they’re called peel-and-eat.” He picks one up and peels back the shell to show me. Coming from a poor family strikes again. If only my parents had showed me how to properly eat a fancy shrimp.

At least I didn’t puke in the sink.