Some of you might know that I went back to school recently. I am required, as part of the standard curriculum, to take an English class. I thought about testing out of the class, but decided to go through with it because I don’t exactly have a ton of experience writing the kind of things college professors probably want to see, and so maybe I’ll learn something about writing for that particular audience. I have to look at it the same way I looked at studying SEO and things like that. I submitted my first weeks essay notes (some of my answers were “a bit brief;” according to the professor’s feedback; he has a point, and I know now that one thing I need to work on is padding my responses), aced the grammar diagnostic (which looked frighteningly like what my kids did around grade four) and finally, this week, got around to writing the first real paper that was assigned. The instructions were to write a descriptive essay; the description could be of a person, an object, a place or an animal. I’m not sure that what I wrote is quite what the professor was looking for, but I’m still learning here. I shared it with my mother (you’ll see why) and she laughed so hard she cried, and then apologized (again, you’ll see why). I thought since she enjoyed it so much, you people might as well. Here, then, is my first official piece of college English writing.
It sits in front of me, silent of course, and motionless, but somehow still mocking me. It knows that it has come down to me versus it, and only one of us can win. I know from experience that I will likely lose again, like I have so many times before. Still, I have to fight. I have to try.
The drab browns and greys do nothing to reduce its similarity to some fetid swamp, rank with the stench of those who came before me, tried to brave the horror here, and failed. The smell is nearly suffocating: flesh and earth and over it all, some vague smell that might have once been appetizing, in a different time, under very different circumstances. Now, it only adds a cruel layer of sweetness to the vile mess before me. Not even a strawberry muffin can overcome the travesty that is liver and Lima beans, cruelly placed before me by my mother. The bright red berry bits have been overshadowed, tainted by the ugliness beside them. What was once an eagerly anticipated treat now tastes like bribery, a pale attempt to make me think this meal might be worth eating.
“This isn’t food,” I say, indignant in the way that only nine-year-olds can be. “It’s guts.” I’m right, you know. It’s a liver, straight from the inside of a cow and cooked on the very same stove on which my mother made me pancakes that morning, back before she lost her mind and tried to poison me with the innards of some poor unfortunate bovine.
“Eat your guts,” says my father.
I ponder the wisdom of rolling my eyes or arguing, but while I may be a picky child, I am not a stupid child, and I err on the side of being allowed to watch The Cosby Show that night rather than being sent straight to bed. Instead I stomp pout-faced into the kitchen, retrieve the barbecue sauce and return to my chair. The ancient green vinyl of my padded seat seems to sigh in sympathy as I sit back down and cover the guts on my plate with a quarter-inch layer of the pungent condiment. Sauce oozes down the sides and I think, “This must have been what it looked like inside the cow.” Somehow, I manage not to vomit.
My father, unamused, offers me the bottle of ketchup he just poured onto his own Lima beans. This whole not-vomiting thing is getting harder by the second, and I squeak out a “No, thank you” before washing the bile back down my throat with a giant swig of milk.
My mother, the very woman who created this situation, glances at me. Her eyes are a lovely blue, her hair fluffy in curls around her shoulders. You’d never suspect this tiny, sweet-natured lady of making her children eat guts and beans. And yet, here is the proof: “Eat up, sweetie. Try your muffin.”
I am expected to eat this; all of it, the liver and its accompanying onions, looking like nothing more than neatly segmented parasites, translucent worms just waiting to infect me with some horrid cow disease I’m too young to know about just yet. Anthrax, maybe, or AIDS; I’m nine, I don’t know the difference. The muffin, oh, the poor abused muffin, placed there only to entice me to the table, now rendered inedible by its proximity to one bean that slid away from the rest and is now, in a vulgar display of affection, nestled next to it… this too must be eaten, along with the offending bean and its compatriots. There is no way out of this. I will sit here till the butter on the beans congeals, till my milk goes sour, till, Heaven forbid, I fall asleep face-first into the slab of worm-infested guts sitting squarely in the middle of my Strawberry Shortcake place mat.
I have no choice. The enemy has won again. Knife in one hand, fork in the other, I make the first cut. There is no going back now. Defeated, I begin to eat my dinner.