Quondam

April 2015
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Digested by nightmare

 

“Anything interesting happen in school today?”

Kallan walks an imaginary balance beam beside me as I wander the back yard gathering the small branches that fell from the trees in the recent storm.  Her arms are outstretched and her toes are pointed, and she says, “I was forced to chew a saltine cracker and then keep it in my mouth for five minutes without swallowing.”  She turns to look at me sadly, still on her balance beam.  “So there was that.”

“Bullies must get exhausted, always having to think up new ways of torturing people.”

Kallan giggles.  “No, Mom.  This was for science.”

“What was the point?”

She shrugs.  “Who knows?  All I know is that it was horrifying.”

I hazard a guess.  “Something about the breakdown of starches, maybe?”

She shrugs again.  “Whatever educational component there might have been has been lost in a fog of post-traumatic stress.”  I stare at her and she smiles.  “OK, there might have been some discussion of starches and their breakdown.”

“I thought so.”

“Mom, it was horrible.  Chew a saltine cracker, the teacher said.  Let the saliva soften it, she said.  Let it sit in your mouth without swallowing for five minutes, she said.”  Kallan turns to me.  “Do you know how long five minutes is?  Do you?  It’s forever.”

“It’s a long time.”

“Seriously.  After about 30 seconds, it didn’t taste like a cracker anymore … it tasted like barf … so then I have four and a half minutes left … time in which I am holding a small puddle of barf in my mouth.”

“Ick.”

“It was horrible.  I look around the room, and everybody is sad.  Every single one of us holding a small puddle of salty barf in our mouths.  All sad.  You’ve never seen such sad faces.  And the teacher keeps saying … Don’t swallow!  Keep chewing!  Get that saliva working!  Mom, it was a nightmare … I thought I was going to actually throw up right on the floor.”

“I am so pleased to have missed this.”

“The teacher keeps yelling at the boys … DON’T OPEN YOUR MOUTHS!  NO ONE WANTS TO SEE YOUR CHEWED FOOD!  KEEP YOUR MOUTHS SHUT! … so I am thinking, at least there is that … at least I will be spared having to see everyone’s drooling salty barf-mess mouthfuls.”

“Ugh.”

Kallan continues, “Somewhere around two minutes in, it became about endurance.  No one wants to be the one who swallows what everyone else knows is a vomity mess; no one wants to be the one who spits it out; no one wants to be the one who throws up on the floor.  We all just stand around, as sad as we have ever been, lips clamped shut against horror, and we endure, waiting for instructions.”

“Seriously, no one tells a story like you, Kallan.”

She nods a small nod of acknowledgement.  “And then?  Into this horror?  Into this endurance of scientific suffering?  The teacher says … and this is an actual quote … You should sense a change in flavor right about now; it should be starting to taste sweet.  Like sugar.  Mom, we all just looked at one another like maybe the teacher has gone insane … maybe this is how the Nazis got everyone on board with their plans … maybe it started with a cracker challenge and nobody thought to object … look at us … we are standing here obeying a lunatic, none of us courageous enough to swallow, much less save the Jewish people.”

“So it didn’t start to taste sweet?”

Kallan shakes her head adamantly.  “No … it …did … not.  My personal experience was that my tongue, of its own free will and completely against my wishes, starting gathering up the nasty and shaping it into a little ball.  So no … it did not start to taste like sugar … it continued to taste like vomit with a new sensation added … the sensation of holding a little ball of damp poo on my tongue.”

“Bleagh.”

“You don’t even know, Mom.  You do not even know … it was so awful.  The teacher starts going around the room handing out folded paper towels but she says … One minute to go!  Don’t swallow!  Don’t spit it out! … and she keeps yelling at the boys not to open their mouths … No one wants to see your chewed cracker, mister!  Mouths closed! … and I am all thankful for that small favor but I’m wondering about the paper towels and enduring and holding this small round dampish poo-ball of vomit in my mouth, and my mouth will not stop making spit no matter how hard I try to tell it to stop and everyone in the class is all sad and ready for their Nazi outfits and then …”

“Yes?”

Kallan turns to me, her eyes filled with horror at the memory.  “And then the teacher tells us to spit the cracker mess onto the paper towels she had given us.”

“OK, ick … but at least it’s not in your mouth anymore, right?”

“Yeah, but guess what?  She tells the boys that as long as everything landed on the paper towel, she doesn’t care how it gets there.”

“Uh oh.”

“Yeah, so some of the boys are spitting across great distances, trying to hit their paper-towel targets, because what is the teacher going to do if they miss?  Nothing, that’s what.  And then some of the other boys stand up tall on their desks and on the tables and drool great strings of spit and cracker-slobber from great heights onto their paper towels, and the teacher just keeps saying … I don’t care how it gets there … just get it on the paper towel … and the rest of the girls and I are just looking at one another like … OK, she said no one wanted to see chewed food when it was in their mouths but now apparently this … this which is so much worse … is perfectly acceptable … and then some of the boys start drooling and then sucking big long strings of spit back up into their mouths because OF COURSE THEY DO.”

“Ack.”

“People spitting.  People drooling and dribbling from atop the furniture.  People sucking strings of spit back up into their mouths which seriously … was like watching endless rewinds of vomiting.  People gagging.  It was like the end of the world if the end of the world is just all of us being digested by nightmare.”

“You do have a way with words.”

“And the teacher is all cheerful … talking about iodine and black and blue and digestion and starch breakdown and I don’t even know the rest … I was all queasy.”  Kallan sighs.  “It was kind of depressing, Mom … they’re always talking about resisting peer pressure and thinking for ourselves, but then they put us in situations where there’s no way out but to submit.”

The entire time Kallan has been talking, she has been walking back and forth on an invisible ground-level balance beam, from which she now leaps, and as she sticks the landing, she throws her arms out in triumphant greeting in the direction of her sister, who has emerged from the house to join us in the back yard.  “Want a hug, Maj?”

Maj grimaces.  “Not even.”

I gather the last of the fallen branches and I say to Maj, “Kallan was just telling me about chewing a cracker for five minutes in science class.”

Kallan is curious.  “Did you have to do that when you were in 8th-grade science?  Wasn’t it awful?”

Maj shrugs.  “I didn’t do it.  I just ate the cracker.”

Kallan is astonished.  “But you weren’t supposed to eat the cracker.”

“Whatever.  I make my own decisions.”

“What about when everyone started spitting?”

“Did they spit?  Gross.  I must have left the classroom by that point.”

“YOU LEFT THE CLASS?”

“I’m not staying where I don’t want to be.”

“MAJ, YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY!”

Maj stares at her sister incredulously.  “You actually chewed the cracker for five minutes?  And then spit it out?  Why would you do that?  Wasn’t it disgusting?”

Kallan steps sideways back onto the balance beam.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Maj is unexpectedly sympathetic.  “You don’t have to do everything people tell you to do, you know.”

Kallan does not respond.  Instead, her arms outstretched and her toes pointed, Kallan walks carefully along the imaginary balance beam as her sister walks alongside her on decidedly more solid ground.

So there is that.

 

    One smooth patch of agony

     

    Mark hands me a piece of chocolate … one of those foil-wrapped liquor-filled chocolates that’s meant to look like a tiny bottle of whatever alcohol is contained within. I’m chewing a piece of gum I am not inclined to swallow, and so I take the gum out of my mouth and hold it …One smooth patch of agony

    Tan Performo Plasti-Dip Camo

     

    To: Younger daughter Regarding: Your presentation entitled “Our family goes to Hawaii” Subject: Counterproposal

    Let me start by saying … again … that we are not going to Hawaii. The reasons for this decision are many, and we have been through them with you. Please submit a request in writing for a transcript …Tan Performo Plasti-Dip Camo

    Armload of kittens

     

    Kallan and I walk out into the back yard with two of the three dogs. We watch as Persie the Labrador sinks heavily to the earth and arranges her body in a parenthetical arc; more and more these days, she appears to be waiting for someone to show up with the closing curve. …Armload of kittens

    Encased in hive

     

    During a summer when I wasn’t here on Pretty All True …

     

    We’ve driven the boat to a lake we’ve never visited before, and Mark backs the boat (still on its trailer) down the ramp and into the water. The girls and I are standing on the dock. As Kallan hops into …Encased in hive