Before I get into the actual story, a brief introduction. About a week ago (you may have heard) my Tar Heels lost. Not only did we lose, but we lost to Dook. And not only did we lose to Dook, but we gave up a 14-point halftime lead. As I shambled out of a friend’s house, head down, shoulders slumped, shoes scraping the gravel, my friend (also heading to his car, albeit not in such dramatic fashion) said, “Hey Lori, you should start a blog in the next two weeks.” This was a strange enough statement that I perked up a bit. As it turns out, several of my friends had decided to do a “synchroblog,” all blogging on the same topic once every two weeks. Knowing that I was a writerly type person, he thought I might like to play along. Or perhaps this was his small attempt to keep me from flinging myself off a cliff. The world may never know. Our first topic: guilt.
I find this childhood incident instructive for the pattern guilt cuts in my life.
I was probably seven, maybe eight years old tops. Back in the day, we kept a school lunch menu pinned up on the fridge. Every other Sunday my sister and I were supposed to look ahead at the menu for the next two weeks and put our initials on any days that we wanted to buy the school lunch. On those days, we came downstairs in the morning to find $1.40 (eventually inflation put it up to $1.60, but remember, this is back in the day) and a homemade cookie. Dad never forgot the homemade cookie. On days we left the menu blank, we came downstairs to find a complete lunch (sandwich, fruit, cookie), and $0.40. Why $0.40? My parents were conscientious and they knew we needed our calcium, so the $0.40 purchased a carton of 1% milk. I won’t take the time now to get into the perils of digging for unexpired milk in the cafeteria line, but suffice to say, I am an expert.
On this particular day, although I had not put an “L” on the menu, I came downstairs to find an entire dollar. Dad was running low on change that day, it seemed. I put the dollar in my lunch bag and headed on my merry way to school. Things went as planned—I set my lunch bag on the table and headed for the line to pick up my milk, like every other day. I excavated the crates and came up with an unexpired carton. Score. I made it all the way down the line to the register and handed my dollar to the lunch lady. She smiled oh so brightly at me under her hairnet and said, “Why, you’ve got a lot of change! Don’t you want to get a little something extra? How about a Dixie cup?”
I froze. Heat flooded my face and stomach, radioactive. Did I want a chocolate Dixie cup? Of course I did. I’m a dessert and chocolate fiend, then and now. But I never got extra desserts from the lunch line. I had homemade cookies waiting for me that could blow any pre-packaged ice cream out of the water. But in that one small moment, chocolate Dixie cup ice cream had never sounded better. I craved the weak chocolate, the taste of wooden scoop against my tongue, the fun of breaking through the layer of ice crystals that protected the ice cream below. I knew I wasn’t supposed to get ice cream. Dad was expecting exactly $0.60 change from me. If he didn’t get the change, he would know something dastardly had gone awry, that I was fleecing change from him. I couldn’t get the Dixie cup.
Here’s the problem though. I do not know how to say ‘no’ to people. I would like to say that the lunch lady pressured me—that she yelled at me like a drill sergeant until I took the mother fucking Dixie cup—but she didn’t. She just offered the merest hint of suggestion and smiled at me and I couldn’t figure out how to say no. I paid the extra money, took my Dixie cup, and returned to my seat.
What followed next was the most excruciating lunch period of my life. I was on fire. How could I have taken the Dixie cup? It was wrong! I already had dessert! Mom and Dad were going to be so mad. This was a betrayal of trust of the highest magnitude. Why oh why couldn’t I just say no? These were the thoughts playing on a loop in my mind as I forced down the Dixie cup, one painful chocolate scoop at a time. It hit my stomach like a sledgehammer. I deserved splinters on my tongue for this transgression.
I resented the lunch lady. It was her fault for pressuring me. Where did she get off, trying to get innocent, unsuspecting kids to sink their parents’ hard-earned lunch money on useless, unhealthy dessert? No wonder there was an obesity epidemic in this country! (It went down exactly like that, I swear).
I spent the rest of the day angsting, hardcore, about that Dixie cup. Here’s the funny part though. I don’t remember how the story turns out. This probably means that I came home and tearfully declared what I had done and my parents didn’t care at all. Maybe they told me not to do it again, all the while trying to hold back smiles. The only lasting repercussion is my stunning ability to place massive levels of guilt on myself for the stupidest things possible. Seriously. Did I mean to go to the gym this morning, but was really kind of tired so I slept in? Guilt, guilt, guilt. Buy two scones from Foster’s in a given month instead of one? Guilt, guilt, guilt. Did someone ask me to do something and I agreed to do it even though I didn’t really want to, all because I am incapable of saying no? Guilt, guilt, guilt, and a healthy serving of lunch lady-inspired resentment.
By the way, I’m feeling kind of guilty that I’ve broken the word limit set for this week’s post, so I should probably stop here. And maybe I’ll buy a Dixie cup at Food Lion tonight.
My fellow Synchrobloggers: