By Susan Schwartz
In this series of vignettes, reading about the woman who stayed in the hot yoga room, no matter how awful she felt, incited two flashbacks. First, I thought of a sleepover birthday party I went to when I was about 6 years old. The girl who invited me lived in the same apartment complex I did. One of my parents walked me over to her place, helping me carry the gift, plus my pillow, sleeping bag and overnight bag.
I enjoyed the spaghetti dinner that was served, but I didn’t drink the glass of milk that had been set in front of me. I hated the taste of milk. And now the birthday girl’s father was telling me I had to drink it before I could leave the table! What? My mom forced me to drink milk at dinner every night, but this was supposed to be a party! I told him I didn’t like milk, but that didn’t matter to him. I didn’t know this man and I didn’t feel I could argue with him. So, being the only kid left at the table, I gulped it down quickly to avoid the taste as much as possible.
When I joined the other girls they were in the birthday girl’s bedroom, coloring. I picked out a coloring book and then picked up a crayon. Birthday Girl immediately told me I couldn’t use that color. Then she listed the few colors she allowed.
I was already on edge from being forced to drink milk. Now Birthday Girl was bossing me around about a crayon! Party over! I stood up, grabbed my pillow and overnight bag, opened the front door and stomped out into the dark. The father called out for me to wait a minute so he could walk me home, but I was having no part of that family anymore. I got home before he caught up with me. My parents were surprised when they saw it was me who rang the doorbell. Milk-pusher came running up to our porch and handed my parents my sleeping bag. I didn’t stick around to hear their conversation.
Looking back, I realize I never had any regrets about leaving that party. I never ruminated about the possibility that I’d hurt anyone’s feelings. I never contemplated I might lose friends over it. I simply had taken care of myself. Little Susie wasn’t smart enough or sophisticated enough to outwit the milk-police, but she damn well wasn’t allowing a kid to tell her what crayon to use!
Right after that flashback, a second one hopped on the thought-train. The summer before my senior year of college, I met a guy and soon we were engaged. The wedding plans were already going full-steam ahead by the time I graduated. I moved in with him, already knowing he was completely wrong for me, but my self-esteem had been eroded throughout my childhood. My thinking was that I should marry him because I may never again be proposed to.
I went on with the charade of being the happy bride-to-be, even though living with this guy was a nightmare. What saved me was my maid-of-honor flying out from Michigan to spend a few weeks with me before the wedding. She was a straight-shooter and very soon asked me, “Can you look me in the eye and honestly tell me you’re happy?” I started bawling. I called my parents that night after my fiancé had gone to sleep. “The wedding is off,” I told them.
In part, I hadn’t called off the wedding sooner because I thought doing so would cast a bad mark on me that I could never erase. Like a scarlet “I” for “Idiot! Why did you agree to marry him in the first place?” Or a “J” for “Jilter!” Six-year-old Susie had better sense and boundaries than my 21-year-old self.
Yet, as Doyle addresses in the vignette, “Feel”, I have learned that horrible experiences force me to rise to a better understanding of who I am, what I want and how I need to change. Working through pain makes me stronger, and then I can better deal with the next challenge. Not ready to say my first reactions to the next challenge will be “curiosity” and “excitement”, as Doyle embraces. That’s a BIG ask! I’m not that evolved! Most likely I’ll first react with “misery” and “fear”, as usual.
[I had a chuckle because after I had my almost-wedding memory, the next vignette was “Dragons”, where Doyle writes about her friend getting married, knowing the guy was wrong for her even as she walked down the aisle.]
Were any memories sparked for you from reading this week’s section?