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Guilt Trip to Nowhere

January 6, 2013

‘Rats! I forgot!’ I jumped up, ran into the kitchen and cranked the oven up as high as it would go, then shoved the meat inside. Mom told me to put the roast in the oven right after school and I forgot.

They’d be home in half an hour and expect supper to be done. Maybe they wouldn’t notice, I thought, but it my heart, I knew they would, just as sure as I knew they would blame me. Which made sense…I hadn’t done as I was told. And it was my fault.

That morning, as I was eating my breakfast, mom told me that she wouldn’t be home when I got home from school, and that I needed to put the roast in the oven. Dad was picking her up after work and they were going downtown for a beer before supper. So I was responsible for supper. Again.

But my mind was on other things…like my third period history test. History was my hardest subject. It was interesting, but there was so much to memorize. All those names and places…and dates. The dates were what tripped me up the most.

This one had been a tough test, an essay test, and I’d worried about it all day, rehashing each question in my head…looking up answers when I had a chance. And our scores wouldn’t be posted for a couple of days at least. I’d have to sweat it out until then.

At the beginning of the year, Mr. Johnson told us that all of his tests would be in essay form. He said that was the only way he’d know if we really knew the material. Said he didn’t believe in multiple choice…they were too easy, he said, too easy to guess the answers. And easier to copy, too, he’d said. So essay tests were the norm.

My transition into Junior High was proving to be difficult. There was so much more responsibility; so much more to keep tabs on. Running from class to class and getting to each on time was a challenge in itself. Especially when classes were at opposite ends of the building, like third hour history and forth period science. And just five minutes to get from one to the next. But I was learning a few tricks…I was catching on. I was bringing both textbooks to history, and speed-walking close to the wall to avoid getting caught up in the throng of students moving in the other direction. It was working for me.

After school, my brothers got home before I did…they raced each other down the alley while I walked. So by the time I got in the house, the TV was tuned in to the Brady Bunch, then the Andy Griffith Show came on, and Mayberry RFD. That’s when I remembered supper. An hour and a half late.

Mom and dad walked in the door, and there was nothing to be done except to accept the consequences. I was in trouble.

Dad cut the meat as we sat and watched. And it was red in the middle, oozing blood. It looked nice on the outside… My heart sank

‘What the Hell?’ He glared at me. ‘When did you put this in the oven?’

I slunk down in my chair, whispering ‘Five o’clock.’

I sat there as both my parents berated me. It made me wish they’d spank me and get it over with. But that wasn’t the way they operated. They preferred a well-aimed guilt-tipped barb. Right into my heart.

‘Can’t you do anything right, Girl?‘ Mom asked. She used my given name so rarely, I wondered if she remembered what it was. I was Girl to her. Anonymous. Insignificant. Unimportant. My brothers had names. She used them, maybe because there were two of them. But not me. I was Girl.

And I felt terrible that I‘d let my family down. Pork was not a meat that should be eaten rare. And this roast wasn’t just rare…it was raw. It oozed blood. And I was responsible. Mom and dad made sure I knew that.

Slowly, dad rose to his full five foot eight inch height; he held his chin high and his shoulders back, looking every bit the army sergeant. He’d made his decision and was about to deliver the verdict. I braced myself for what was sure to come. I wished for a physical blow. A slap, a punch, something. But that wasn’t his style. He preferred intimidation. And guilt.

After a moment of silence, just to be sure he had our undivided attention, he delivered his decree…we would eat this raw pork, he said, all of us. And if anyone got sick and died, it would be my fault.

He turned to me, and gave me the stare that was sure to reduce me to tears. Then he declared that, for the rest of my life, I would have to live with the fact that I gave my family trichinosis, a fatal disease caused by eating under-cooked pork.

Then he slapped a generous slab of raw meat on each of our plates, the largest for me, and ordered us to eat. And he dug into his. Heartily. And with each bite, he reminded me that if he contracted trichinosis and died, it would be my fault.

The rest of us, including mom, picked at our food. In comparison, my history grade, which seemed so important that morning, was so insignificant by nightfall.

Four lives, not counting mine, hung in the balance. I didn‘t think my life counted at the time…if anyone died, it would be my fault, so I didn’t think my life counted for much just then.

No one died or even got sick from the raw pork. But still, I carried my guilt for that incident and many others for decades.

Yes, I should have put the roast in the oven on time, but I didn’t. I was a kid. There was no note to remind me; no phone call. That’s not a cop out. It’s the way it was. Hours had passed between breakfast and the time I got home from school. And I’d had a history test that day. As a seventh grader, my focus was supposed to be on school…not making supper for my family.

I was certainly capable of making dinner if need be, but that’s not my point. On that day, to my parents, beer was more important. Mom and dad went to the bar every day except Sunday. They went to the Moose Club on Sunday because the bar was closed.

I wasn’t asked to make supper because they had to be at the doctor’s office. Or work. They were at the bar. Drinking. I was about twelve years old and was given the responsibility of making dinner so they could drink more beer.

Then, when I dropped the ball, an enormous guilt trip was laid squarely on my shoulders.

After that disastrous meal, my folks told the three of us to clean up the dishes, do our homework and go to bed on time. Then they went back to the bar.

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From → Growing Pains

One Comment
  1. I like to believe our parents did the best they could with the parenting skills they had. That is the adult thing to think, the Christian way, and probably the truth. The broken child in me just believes that I must have been such an annoyance to my dad, a cry baby, maybe even a mistake ( I was born 5 days short of their 9 month anniversary). I do not understand parental abuse but until we are made perfect in Glory, we will continue to hurt our children. Some do it with intent but most of us do it in ignorance. I wish my little girl could have been friends with your little girl so we might have made it thru the bad times not so alone. I am so grateful that today we are friends so we can help each other now. You are a woman of greatness and strength and in a perfect world your parents would be damn proud of you!

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