The apartment was shaped like an L. Walking in the front door dropped you into the living room which led down a long hallway, several doors on the left were bedrooms and a bathroom. At the very end of the hall was the kitchen. The kitchen spread out to the left, creating the L shape. Back in those days, I thought I was a bad-ass cook but I really didn’t know anything. On this particular day, I was making bread. Banana bread to be exact. From a box. I think it was the first and last time I ever tried making a boxed bread. JoDee was just shy of a year old then. She had started walking so early, it was cute to see her too tiny legs wobble up and down that long hallway; a toddlers dream being able to run up and down that hallway with no remorse.
The oven was so old. It was in the crappy apartment long before Ex Numero Uno and I had moved in. In fact, I’m pretty sure that oven had been in that apartment long before the change of the century, two centuries back. At the time, I was working second shift at a hotel, and Daddy-O had recently been laid off, so we were both home during the day. On the day I was making the bread, he was in the living room and I was in the kitchen. JoDee just kept running like a drunken soldier back and forth between to the two rooms gaining speed in the hallway with a delightful squeal. As she would round the corner to the kitchen, I could only see the tops of her wispy blonde hair, before she would come into sight. It was so cute. Now, when I am lying in bed and I can only see the cats’ tail in the air as he walks around the bed, it reminds me of that wispy blonde hair.
Banana Bread from a box takes forever to cook, normally. That it was cooking particularly fast, or burning particularly fast, should have been an indication to me that something was wrong. I kept checking the dial, making sure the temperature was accurate, which it was, but the stove seemed awfully hot. A good mother would have realized the outside of the stove was probably hot too. A good mother would have told Daddy-O to keep the kid in the living room because something was up with the stove. A good mother might have been concerned with something other than the freaking boxed banana bread burning. But apparently JoDee does not have a good mother, because none of that crossed my mind until I heard the scream. A scream so loud, I dropped and shattered the glass bowl I was cleaning out in the sink. I only caught a quick glimpse of JoDee with her hands on the outside front of the oven door, and she threw her hands in the air waving them back and forth. It would have been funny if it weren’t for the knee-weakening, ear piercing scream coming from her tiny mouth. Instinctively I knew she was burned. Badly. I put the cold water on and stuck her hands underneath them. I yeld for The Big Man, but he was already running down the hall. We quickly decided we needed to go to the emergency room; there was blisters forming quickly.
We went to the ER, where I encountered my first ER visit with a baby and the prejudices that come with it. The ER staff treated me like I beat my kid, not that I can blame them. We were poor, nineteen year old parents, with a little girl who burned her hands. I was horrified, so I called my grandparents and let’s be clear, my grandfather gave those assholes the business! And that part is not really relevant. The relevant part is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Age and experience in any situation is a base line for the next situation. Age and experience is what guides most of us through life. We learn new things as we age and we are enlightened to new ways to handle any situation after each experience. I definitely learned several things during that episode. Some lessons I didn’t even know I learned until twenty years later.
First of all, I learned that mother instinct is not as natural as people think. I should have thought about my daughter burning herself when I realized that the oven wasn’t working right. I learned that if you are young people with try to take advantage of you, i.e., the apartment manager basically told me that I wasn’t using the stove correctly. I realize I was young and inexperienced in the kitchen, but I wasn’t a complete jackass. This was in response to my request for him to remove the devil-be-gone stove as well as pay for JoDee’s medical bills since we didn’t have insurance (these were pre-everyone was must have insurance days). In the end, he tried desperate to bully me, to which he almost succeeded, and my grandfather telling me to get a lawyer. I did, he contacted the property manager, the bills were paid and I got a new stove. I should have sued but I was too young to know better and I was riddled with guilt for her injuries (which by the by, were not as bad as they could have been and she was all healed within a few weeks) so I was just happy to have the whole event behind me. There are many times since that event that I have reacted a certain way, or let something go (or not) simply because I wanted to put the whole thing behind me. That is a dangerous game. It’s called suppression. Avoidance. Ignorance. Sometimes Laziness.
I also learned that distance is clarity. I was not even aware that the ER staff were treating me differently due to age and appearance. I was way too wrapped up in JoDee’s injury that I just thought this was how people were treated in the ER. It wasn’t until my grandfather gave them all the verbal round house that I became aware of the prejudice to me and my little family. In more recent years, I have been on the other end of that spectrum. Many a night we have arrived at the ER with JoDee looking disheveled and unkempt. I am certain she is never aware of the dirty looks, the sideways glances or that she has waited a little too long for attention. I remember being a little embarrassed by my grandfather’s yelling but now I have appreciation for it. I have wondered what he would think of the situation our JoDee has gotten us into now. I can’t imagine he would be thrilled with some of JoDee’s choices, but I know he would be understanding of her addiction. He would have very little patience for those who judge a junkie before educating themselves on their struggle. And it sucks being on this side. It sucks knowing that the mere fact that my child exists, as an addict, makes others feel better about themselves. People who thrive on the pain of others can feel a little bit better about their own station in life because they aren’t a druggie, a loser, pathetic, homeless, stinky, or infected. It’s a terrible feeling knowing that people can look at my child and think at least their life isn’t “that” bad.
I cannot fight the entire world, though at times, like today, I would like too. I would love to walk out my front door and just give flying throat kicks to anyone with a smile. There are days that the happiness of others pushes me to the brink of mass violence. Luckily, I have medication, responsibility and the enjoyment of my freedom (and my cat!) to keep me from doing something I might never regret but really shouldn’t do anyway. At any rate, I cannot rid the world of asshole-ism. Or alcoholism or drug abuse-ism. So I guess the moral of this story is……. Don’t make boxed banana bread.