Simple conversation. Complex lessons.

RemembeRED prompt. Image source.We weren’t what you’d call friends. We walked the same halls, knew each other’s name, but little else about each other. I’m not sure how we struck up a conversation in the first place. I think we ran into each other at a baseball game where our younger siblings were playing. Neither of us had any of our respective friends to hang out with, so we gravitated toward each other. Actually, she probably approached me. I was too shy to do more than wave and smile.

I had a vague idea of the type of person I thought Maggie was. I’m sure she had ideas about me, too. Ideas based exclusively on reputation - whatever mine happened to be, I honestly couldn’t say. Hers was the reputation of being a fun girl. Popular, but not necessarily the most popular. She was friendly and had boyfriends at the ripe old age of 12, whereas I did not. Unfortunately, having boyfriends at that age sometimes meant gaining the wrong kind of reputation. 

It’s unfortunate that there was so much judgment that went on between different groups of kids. If you didn’t wear the “right“ brand of clothes (I didn’t) and hang out with the “right“ people (I didn’t), you were not in the “in crowd”. I always perceived Maggie to be part of the in crowd and not someone I could ever be friends with. I didn’t realize it then, but I suppose I had a bit of an inferiority complex. I wasn’t unhappy about my place in the grand scheme of things, but I knew I was considered an outsider.

I thought I was an outsider to Maggie until I actually had a chance to talk to her. Then I found out that we had something in common that was important to both of us. We were concerned about family members smoking. I gained a respect for Maggie that day that has stuck with me for over 20 years. At a very young age, she told her family that she was going to start smoking if they didn’t quit. I was stunned. I gasped and said, “Didn’t they get upset?”

Her reply that they didn’t get upset and that her family members who smoked had stopped was a revelation to me. I had no idea I could actually say things like that to adults and not get into trouble. I admired her courage to say how she felt.

I don’t think Maggie and I ever spoke again after that day, but I never forgot the conversation we had. I learned - for the first time in a meaningful way - that reputations don’t always accurately reflect the character of a person and what they truly care about. And, though it took me years to figure out how to do it myself, I learned that it’s even more important to stand up for what you believe in with your family and others you care about as it is to do so with people you don’t know.

*****

Sweet, succulent freedom

The shuttle bus drove us throught the hills of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, introducing me to this strange California terrain. The bus driver peppered the drive with information about our surroundings. These mountains were “hills”? Seriously?

What am I doing here? How do I get through the next three months alone?

I trudge to my room, meeting people but not processing names or faces. Will I even remember any of this?

It’s cold. How is it cold in June?

The dorm is nice. Do I have to use a communal shower? What time is dinner?

Is there time for a nap?

I collapse on my bed, wishing I could go to sleep.

My new roommates want to talk. 

“What tour are you on?” W.

“Where are you from?” Florida.

“You just graduated?” Yes.

When is dinner? When is bedtime?

Dinner is a blur. By lights out I’m practically comatose.

Within about a minute someone is yelling out last call for breakfast. I drag myself out of bed and head to the shower, wasting time doing makeup - this is my first day to meet Tour W after all - and head to the cafeteria.

There are people everywhere. 200? 300? I don’t know. Lots.

The food.

Oh, the bountiful food that awaits me on the counter and tables. I walk through the line, filling my plate with eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast. As I get my juice and head to the tables, I pass a tray loaded with fruit. 

I pick up some canteloupe - one of my favorites. A strawberry or two. 

What’s this? Pineapple?

It looks different. Lighter. Sweeter. Full of flavour. Fresh.

I sit down with my new friends, listening as I sample the tasty morsels I’ve amassed on my plate. 

The eggs need salt. The bacon - perfect. (When is bacon not perfect?) The potatoes. Mmmm. I miss grits.

The salty foods finished, I move to “dessert”. The canteloupe is perfectly ripe. The strawberries could be from a commercial. And then…

The pineapple. I timidly bite into it, not knowing what to expect. The flavour explodes and fills my senses. The smell as tart and sweet as the fruit in my mouth. My eyes see the remaining bites and I know I must go back for more.

I have travelled 3,000 miles to find out that I will never eat pineapple from a can again.

*****

Write about your favorite fresh fruit or vegetable. Share a memory of when you first tasted it, where it came from, when you last had it, a favorite way to prepare it, and such. As you write your piece this week, think of it as writing a scene. Be sure to engage our senses, make us feel, see, taste, hear, and smell. Pull us in with your description. If you’re new to RemembeRED or you’d like a refresher, here’s our list on the basics of memoir writing. Your word limit is 700 words.

The most beautiful sweater in the world

As the leaves fell from the trees and the wind turned cold and blustery each year, my mom would drag out her traditional Christmas sweater.

I used to borrow it from her, putting it on and feeling cozy, wrapped in the scent of my mother. I loved the way she smelled. Subtly sweet, not overpowering. It was as if every thread of that sweater was infused with her, keeping me warm.

It was the perfect sweater to curl up in and watch a movie.

Years went by. My view of the world evolved. I began to look at the things I’d once enjoyed in a different light.

I began to see what was attractive to the world as more important than the people and things I cared the most about.

And

That once-comforting sweater became ugly.

Mom’s caring and generosity became commonplace, expected.

Unappreciated.

I became cold and complacent to family, taking them for granted.

I took her for granted.

This is what teenagers do, right?

Eventually, the sweater made fewer and fewer appearances. I’m not sure why. Maybe newer clothes took its place. Maybe she just got tired of it. I don’t know. I never thought to ask.

This is one of the thousands of little things I didn t notice until she was gone.

It only hit me after she died and I found the sweater in her things. I picked it up and smelled it, hoping to recapture that feeling from my childhood. Hoping to feel her embrace me as I slipped it on for the first time in almost 20 years.

I look at this sweater and it evokes a bittersweet, beautiful longing for the one person I cannot have.

***** 

This non-fiction post was inspired by The Red Dress Club red writing hood prompt: to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it. (Concrit is welcome.)

Discomfort Zone

It’s a cold December evening. I pull into the parking space and get out of my car, locking the doors. I hear the faint blare of music from the dance hall above, but all around me in the darkness, the night is still and silent. Apparently, winter formals aren’t terribly popular when you get to university - the area is like a ghost town. Peaceful, yet menacing. Why did I let them convince me to go?

In my dress and high heels, with careful steps on the uneven pavement, I make my way up to the dance.

It isn’t too late. There’s no one around. I can leave and they wouldn’t know I came. Alone. The third wheel.

My friends - the couple - are inside waiting for me. I think. I hope. I doubt I’ll know anyone else. Is anyone even here? With every step, my doubts grow. I want to turn and run back to my car. 

I want to go home, change into jeans and a sweatshirt and lounge on my bed with a hot chocolate. That is my idea of a rockin’ Friday night.

I approach the door, pull it open and step in.

*****

This prompt is inspired by the memoir prompt “When meeting someone for the first time, what do you want them to know about you? Describe a scene that shows your true self” at The Red Dress Club.