When I was in the second grade, we had a class party. Everyone was told to bring in goodies and like any group of kids, we were all excited about the coming sugar-fest, anticipating with great delight the feasting and tasting of massive amounts of sweets.
My Mother was a stay-at-home Mom my whole life, and while she wasn't much of a cook, she was known far and wide throughout our family and our neighborhood for her brownies. Nobody could make Betty's brownies but Betty, and they were amazing. My brothers and I were usually digging them out of the pan the second they came out of the oven, scalding our mouths on them and fighting for the corner piece.
So, of course, I had to bring brownies. My mother made a double batch, carefully laid out on two sturdy plates wrapped in aluminum foil, and drove me to school that day. I couldn't wait. I knew they'd be the hit of the party. Surely I, the girl nobody seemed to ever notice, would be the reigning queen of the classroom and everyone would be singing my praises as they shoveled little squares of chocolate heaven into their mouths.
Party time arrived, and the goodies were unveiled and everyone was so sugared up we were seeing halos around the fluorescent lights.
And then it happened. Her name was Clarissa, and she was popular. She was also a real bitch, not that I ever said that word in the second grade, but she was. She also, quite unreasonably, hated me and I'm not sure why still to this day. Probably because she knew how much it bothered me that she did.
So Clarissa asked me what I brought for the party and I pointed to what was left of the brownies and I smiled very big and I said excitedly, "You should have one! They're so good!"
She picked up a brownie, shoved it in her mouth, and a half-second later she made a horrible face, rushed over to the trash can in the corner, and made a great, loud show of spitting the brownie into the garbage, all while choking and retching and assuring me (and the entire class - she was that loud) that this was the worst brownie she had ever had in her life. In her life.
And I felt about two inches high. It was like the entire room whirled around me and closed down into a tunnel with me at one end, ant-sized, and her at the other with a megaphone, screaming so loudly that the walls vibrated with it. I don't remember the rest of the party, or the rest of the day. But even now, decades later, I can still remember her face and her words and that horrible feeling of being not good enough.
I arrived home after school to find my Mom ironing in the kitchen. Before she could even ask me how my day was, I rounded on her, screaming in helpless rage:
"Mom! Those brownies were awful! They were bad! They tasted terrible and everyone hated them! I was so embarrassed! They were the worst brownies anyone had ever tasted!!"
I'm going to pause here a moment and tell you that my mother is no longer with me. I lost her at Christmas, eleven years ago. And right now, I wish more than anything I could call her up or email her or just see her face so I could tell her I'm sorry. Because I still remember, all these years later, the look on her face when I screamed at her. Maybe I just hurt her feelings because she was always so proud of those brownies. Maybe she was hurting for me because she knew somehow, that something else must've triggered my need to hurt her. Whichever it was, the way her face shifted from a smile of greeting, to shock, to hurt still plays in my memory.
It was just a plate of brownies, but I wish I could undo it. Oh, how I wish. And today, I am reminded of a phrase.
The sins of the fathers....
Or, in this case, the daughters.
Some of you who read me might know that I've been pounding away at the keyboard, trying to hash out a novel in the YA genre. It was slow going for awhile, but I really hit a creative streak these last few weeks and I finally managed to get the first draft completed. I was inordinately proud of myself, too.
Early on in the process, I was picking my daughter's brain about some of the characters, making sure I was using terms a teen would actually use or getting her valuable feedback on some of the story outline and if she thought it sounded interesting. She was a big help. And now, the first draft is done and I waited with great anticipation for her to come back from her visit to her Dad's house, so I could tell her it's ready to read.
And I want her to read it. I really, really do.
So she came home and I told her I'd finished it (!) and I said "Hey, I'd love for you to read it!" and she gave me a look that really didn't need the words to go with it. She said them anyway.
"Do I have to?"
And I know exactly how my face looked. She tried to backtrack immediately.
"It's probably good and all, but I only read fanfiction now. I don't like books anymore."
"Okay." I said.
"No, I understand. It's okay. I just thought you might want to."
She looked at me a moment longer, like she was going to say something, and then she walked up to her room.
I know what she said is true. Anna is big into fanfiction now and that's pretty much all she reads, unless it's something assigned for school. And at twelve, it probably doesn't even register that this is a serious accomplishment for me, and I wanted her to be the first one to read it because she is also one of my greatest accomplishments.
At twelve, she won't get that.
But someday, she will. Maybe when she has a kid of her own. Maybe before. But I know, because I know my Anna and her usually kind and often sentimental heart, that she will remember my face when she told me no.
She'll remember, and she'll wish she'd said yes, even if she had to lie about actually having read it. She'll wish she'd said yes, just because.
I wish I could tell the future her that it's okay and have her believe it. Because a few decades down the road, with the wisdom of the years and experiences of a life polishing those memories, she'll feel bad about it. I know she will.
And if she wants to tell me so, I'll hug her tight, and then I'll bake her a plate of Betty's best brownies, and we'll talk about these little moments that can haunt you in big ways.
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