"Dear Prudence" by Amanda Grieme

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Are you there Briar? It's me, Ana!

The Evening of 4/4

Are You There, Briar? It’s me, Ana.

Do you remember that book? Well actually, Judy Blume entitled it, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret?" Did you read it, or did you sneak a copy from your sisters and read it with a flashlight beneath the sheets? It was considered borderline racy when we were able to read beyond Dick, Harry, Jane, and Spot ran to the park. It was about the “P” word; as Eugene described with a heavy Brooklyn accent in Neil Simon’s great “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” pew-buh-dee, a.k.a. puberty. It was Margaret’s coming of age story. For any parent who wasn’t particularly well-versed in the art of talking about anything pertaining to pubic hair, menstruation, cramps, crushes, erections, or budding breasts, it was a saving grace; a pre-pubescent elixir to help understand the crop of zits that were sprouting on our cheeks, especially mine. My parents had a very interesting approach to talking about adolescence with me; they simply didn’t. Sex Ed. took care of that.

Remember those horribly embarrassing videos that we watched in sixth grade? Boys were in one room, and girls were in another, but we all came together for the childbirth video; I think that it is safe to say that was education’s vain attempt to prolong abstinence. It was bloody, graphic, full of screams, and one girl even had an epileptic seizure in our class when the baby crowned. Do you remember?

Although I don’t blame my parents for tiptoeing around the subject; I was pretty difficult to talk to at that age; I didn’t speak at all, or I yelled. But most of the time I was being yelled at for my indignant behavior; no one knew it was the unfolding of a disease, not even me. My family simply thought that I was becoming a stereotypical teenage girl, much to their chagrin.

Oh, I forgot ...there was a sex talk. When Jesse and I were about 15 or 16, right about the time that you and Jesse drank strawberry wine and you sucked a ring of hickies around her neck that we tried to pass off as poison ivy to my mom (we were wild as March hares), we were sitting together in the front of my parent’s van, while my mom was driving us somewhere. I remember that Jesse and I were speaking in code, planning our drug/boy fest for the evening, and my mom pulled over the van, turned to us and said, “I’ve got one word for you girls; abstinence.” She then pulled back onto the road, and turned up the radio. Jesse and I looked at each other, shaking with hidden laughter and I whispered, “what does that mean? Jesse replied, “I have no idea!”

The sex talk that really backfired was when I was about five. I remember climbing into my parent’s big, brass bed on a Saturday morning, having already been up for two hours, watching cartoons. The day before we had been swimming at our neighbor’s house, and there was a woman there who was very pregnant and applying Bain de Soleil to her exposed skin; her belly defied gravity. And being the precocious little girl that I was, I sat down next to her, touched her tummy, and asked if a baby was growing inside. She smiled and said, “sure is,” and pinched my cheek. I remember not being satisfied with that. “But, how . . .” I asked. She smiled, putting the cap back on the orange tanning gel, leaned back and shook her straight blonde hair behind her tanned shoulders, winked at me and said, “it’s magic.”

That did it for me, although she wasn’t aware of the depth of my young imagination. At that age, I was convinced that Barbie, who I worshiped, was secretly plotting to end my life via Barbie perfume, and that when the lights went out at night, that the red carpet in my bedroom was a place where all demons resided, and if I stood on it longer than two seconds, I would be dragged down into the fiery recesses of some hell, but my sister was immune. So if I jumped quickly into the room, then onto her bed, and fell into mine without touching the ground beneath us; I was safe. When my sister would growl, “why must you jump onto my bed every night... I’m trying to sleep,” I would simply say, “sorry.” I couldn’t have possibly explained what I thought. I was afraid of reactions even then.

So the evening before the “sex talk,” I had cried myself to sleep, rubbing my tummy, and hiding the tears from my sister. “What if I’m pregnant? She said that it’s magic.” I remember that I convinced myself that there was a baby growing in my tummy just like her; I believe in magic. I crawled between my snuggling parents and my mom said, “what is it sweetie?” “Mommy, how did I get here? Was it magic?” My dad giggled and climbed out of bed, adjusting his boxers and v-neck t-shirt, and lumbered down the hall to fulfill his morning ritual; first stop, the can, second stop, the kitchen radio, third stop, the coffee maker. My mom watched him go, and they glanced at each other knowingly, but she had the look of “thanks a lot Harry,” in her eyes.

So she climbed up in bed, and I snuggled into my dad’s side, still warm from recent slumber. “Well,” she said, rolling over toward me, pulling the cover over her shoulder and smoothing it around me, “You see,” she was searching, “I have a beautiful garden inside my tummy.” She placed her hand on her stomach, and all I could picture was my Nanny and Poppa’s strawberry patch and peach orchard. “Your dad,” she said endearingly, “has a special seed ...and he planted his seed in my garden.” She smiled softly. Thank god she told me that before I discovered Cabbage Patch Kids, or I would’ve wondered why my bum hadn’t been signed. “And that’s how Amber and I were born...” I leaned back and stared at the hairline cracks in the plaster ceiling that looked like my Fischer Price United States puzzle. “In a round about way, yes.” My mom has always loved to speak in metaphors.

I remember that I was satisfied with her response, and began to climb out of their bed, “So there’s no chance that I am going to have a baby?” My mom started laughing hysterically, “No sweetie, don’t you worry.” I didn’t worry for a long time Briar, until one day, a year later, in our first grade class, the same class that we had the circus parade. We were doing an agriculture project, and learning about farmers, do you remember? Each of us received a paper cup from Mrs. Overdorf, and we had to fill it with dirt and corn seeds, among other things. We were going to plant our seedlings outside after we had nurtured them in the window for a while.

I received my cup, filled it with dirt, and panicked when the student teacher, Mr. Santiago came around and gave us seeds to put in our cup. He placed them in my palm, and I kept counting them over and over again, making sure that I knew how many I was putting in my cup before I placed it on the windowsill with the rest. Somehow, I was distracted; I cannot remember if I fell, or if Mrs. Overdorf began to give directions, but I had forgotten how many seeds I had in my hand; I panicked. “Oh no,“ I thought, “I ate one! I’m going to have a baby!”

I swore that I felt the seed trapped in the back of my first grade throat, and I started to cough terribly, in an attempt to dislodge it. When the teacher came over to me asking what was wrong, I started to cry and looked at her desperately, “I think I swallowed a seed!” She ran and got the packet of seeds to look up whether or not they were toxic, while Mr. Santiago comforted me, and Chris Lieberman a classmate and neighbor of mine growing up came up to me and said, “what’s wrong?” “I swallowed a seed,” I said, as if he knew the consequences. He started to laugh and said, “Uh oh, your going to have a big watermelon growing in your tummy and corn stalks growing out of your nose and ears!” With that I cowered even more, and Mrs. Overdorf had to escort me to the nurse’s office, where they asked me why I was so upset; the seed wouldn’t hurt me. “Honey, accidents happen,” said the nurse with the beehive that I always thought was detachable. How else could she have slept at night?

I proceeded to explain to them that I felt that I was too young to have a baby, and I wasn’t ready. They all held back their laughter, and asked me to explain to them why I thought swallowing a seed would make me pregnant ...so I did. I was escorted into another room and given a snack and a blanket to calm me down, while the nurse called my mom from her office. I remember I could hear the nurse speaking in muffled tones between hushed giggles, and 20 minutes later my mom was there to take me home, and to reassure me that I wasn’t going to have a baby. On the ride home, I remember feeling so much better, until I began to doze off and I swore that I felt corn creeping up the back of my throat, and I had a funny tickle in my nose and ears, too.

Who says that physiological ailments cannot be caused by the mind, or healed for that matter? If all else fails, they can definitely be helped by a mother’s kind word, a snack and a blanket. That should be one of the universal truths. Do you agree?
Love, Ana

And to avoid any misunderstandings such as above... Required Reading Recommendation!

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