Maybe you can tell a lot about a person by the type of shampoo they buy. The girl with the waves wouldn’t try smooth and shine goo unless she thought her hair was breaking the rules. Just peek in her bathroom cabinets to uncover the bottles of self-perceived deficits lined up on a shelf. I have blackheads-cellulite-wrinkles-pimples that I must remove-smooth-erase-pop.
When I was less than double-digits years old, I would choose the kids’ shampoo for curly hair. Besides the fact that it had the best scent of the whole collection (watermelon), I truly believed that once I used it all up, I would emerge from the shower with perfect ringlets.
In my fifth grade class there was a boy that combined a most vivid imagination with an encyclopedic knowledge of speedboats. He would squat in his chair, hands up at the steering wheel, providing the sound effects for his cruise through the bay of his mind.
Our teacher would call him back to chalkboard words, calling his name, but never telling him to stop. She would ask him to please bring his boat in and park it at the dock. The rest of us would listen as he revved his motor, slowed down as he approached the classroom coast, and reversed perfectly into his spot before shutting off the ignition. Now he was back with us, and ready to learn.
One day, my everyday-after-school, lived-across-the-street playmate and I decided to stage an elopement. After (very) briefly discussing some wedding details, we agreed to meet under the cherry tree in my front yard in ten minutes.
When the big moment arrived, we faced each other under the flowering branches. I proclaimed us husband and wife, kissed this French neighbor of mine on the cheek, and broke apart a Kit Kat to share at our (very intimate) reception.
By the time we turned eight he had already moved to California, never to be seen again.
My first husband was a black Great Dane named Alex. The ceremony took place on the porch of my grandmother’s house, with my sister wearing a gypsy skirt and pretending to be a mother appalled by her daughter’s choice to marry a dog. I wore my aunt’s communion dress; he went nude. Once everything was official and my “mother” had gotten over the shock, instead of carrying me over the threshold, Alex let me ride on his back across the yard.
I claim that I only started experimenting with cooking and baking in my (falling-apart)ment during my sophomore year of college, but really I was already doing it when I climbed up onto the counters in the kitchen at age 5. I dumped the entire contents of a can of peaches into a bowl of Rice Krispies, and flavored the whole thing with a generous dash of almond extract from the tiny glass tubes my grandma kept in a plastic container.
Obviously the “dish” was disgusting, but I’m glad I was either left unsupervised for the amount of time it took to put together this concoction, or deliberately allowed to figure out what doesn’t work, on my own.
I am 7 years old and lying under the covers on Dad’s side of my parents’ bed. I am watching my mother in the far corner of the room, on the phone with our pediatrician. “Oh, scarlet fever? Yes, mmhm… ok.” Before she even hangs up I am already crying.
She comes back to the bed, sees my tears, looks shocked and asks what is wrong. “I don’t want to die,” I whisper. The scene of Beth’s collapse in the front hall from the old version of Little Women is playing in my mind.
Once I explain, my mother looks relieved. “Monika, people don’t die from scarlet fever anymore. They have medicine for that now. They’re called antibiotics.”
I had forgotten the flavor of weak Polish sun in delicate fruit. The flavor of sitting on the kitchen counter with my sister when we were both home from school for break, polishing off a plastic container of the Driscoll’s kind between the two of us.
So when one of my research team members brought me a jar of homemade raspberry preserves from Patagonia, simply labeled FRAMBUESA, I couldn’t stop myself from eating it by the spoonful, and remembering.