As promised, my first of many writing assignments courtesy of Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir. I hope you enjoy it. All constructive criticisms are welcomed and encouraged.
Matilda’s Coffee Shop
Towards the rear of Skyline Trailer Park in Moses Lake, Washington, stood a brown and white striped, single-wide mobile home. A narrow sidewalk divided the lush grass to and fro, and led to a decent sized deck. I cannot recall the details of that day, but reflecting on it now, I’d like to think it was a beautiful occasion, with a slight breeze which almost accentuated the full, azure sky.
Then I ruined everything.
“Screw you.” Before I realized what I’d whispered to my sister (who was younger by three years,) the damning statement was out of my mouth and into the world. There was no taking it back. Even now, thirty-plus years later, I cannot quite fathom what overcame me. Did I think that by saying what I did, she’d somehow see me in another, better light? Did that make me cool? Was I that desperate to fit in?
Seconds later, I repeated those same words. You know, the worst of the worst; the first being glaringly controversial, and cause for offense even today, in 2021. I said the most ugly and fearful four letter word in the world, the equivalent of adulthood to most kids growing up in the 1980’s and early 90’s. That’s right, the big F-you.
The phrase rolled from my mouth again and again. I don’t know how many times I said it, and frankly, the quantity doesn’t matter. It was the fact that I said in the first place. I’d also like to think that upon that revelatory moment, my cheeks flushed in shock, embarrassment, and ultimately, shame.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my dad and stepmom overhead the whole thing, as the only barrier between us was the screen door, standing ajar, and the aforementioned metal sheeting.
The immensity of what I’d done must have sunk in hard then (I can practically feel the frenetic pitter patter of my accelerating heartbeat,) and though the memories are vague, I do know I was desperate to keep my sister quiet. It had to be a secret.
Surely, I said something to the effect of, “Please don’t tell. Don’t tell dad and Denise. Please. I’ll do anything, really, I’m begging you, I’ll…”
There might have perhaps been a few tears. I don’t know. I don’t remember most of my childhood. I also can’t recall what, precisely, happened next or how I was reprimanded, though surely I was. They wouldn’t have let that slide. I probably heard about it from my mother, as well. As a matter of fact, most of what I do recall came courtesy of numerous family orations.
But hindsight’s 20/20. As adults, we tend to view things we’ve done much differently, and realize the foolishness of those choices. We criticize ourselves for what was, in all likelihood, some ploy to make ourselves feel better. Or an attempt to be, from that moment on, revered.
“I still can’t believe I said it.”
I muttered, then looking up into Carrie’s eyes. They looked a little sad, but mostly concerned. Caring. The delicious aroma of our freshly brewed coffee beckoned, and I took a sip. The concoction was the perfect mixture of a fine, deep roast and French Vanilla creamer. Matilda’s was our go-to place. Whenever we needed to vent or were feeling particularly stressed out, Matilda’s was our place. Plus, they served some of the best coffee in town.
“I feel so dumb sometimes.”
“Why?” The concern had transcended from her expression to her voice. “You were only a kid. We all do stupid crap.”
I said nothing. Instead, I thought about the tale just told (she’d heard it several times,) and reflecting on its implications in ways I hadn’t before, I stirred my coffee again and took another sip. It was so well-made that I insisted on savoring it.
“I’m not sure, really.” I chose my words wisely. “I don’t think it’s necessarily what I said or the fact that I said it, but that I thought I could get away with something so childish. Even more so, I must have felt, on a subconscious level at least, some need for her approval. Some desire to be liked more than I already was.
“Don’t get me wrong, I knew she liked and loved me. I did not feel unloved by my parents. It’s not that. I think I wanted her approval. Anybody’s approval. I think I wanted to make myself feel better, even at her dispense. Anyone’s dispense. Earnestly, I doubt it was anything planned, it just sort of happened. The words escaped my lips before I could stop myself.” I paused, contemplative again.
“What is it?” Carrie asked, then sipped her coffee and dabbed her mouth with a napkin.
“I keep questioning my motives. What if it wasn’t almost accidental? What if I did it to hurt her feelings? And why does it matter now? Why must I dwell on the past, all the time?”
Carrie shook her head. “You need to find a way to forgive yourself. Not just for this, but for the other shit, too. And the best way, maybe the only way, is to write your memoir. Just be completely honest with yourself and write. Your mind and heart will shine through. Forgive yourself and others, too. Your words, your personal story—your journey, will be epic and beautiful. It will change your life, and the lives of your readers. I just know it, Dustin. I feel it…in my gut and my bones.”
Expressing my gratitude was not enough, I knew it never could be, but they were all I had.