Don’t you hate it when you wake up for the usual reason in the middle of the night, and having completed your duty you go back to bed and you lie there in the dark while your brain starts bringing up things you regret? Things that make you cringe, and even writhe, with the memory?
Peg Bracken, an American humorist of the twentieth century (she wrote The I Hate to Cookbook, a big bestseller) called these memories “spinners,” because they could spin you right out of bed.
It seems unfair to me that at my age I still have regrets. Shouldn’t all that mortification have drained out of my system, whether because I have faced it, or simply because of the passage of time?
If you think I am going to tell you any of my regrets, you are correct, but only a few old ones that aren’t spinning me out of bed anymore.
One day when I was in the fourth grade, we were all sitting at our desks, coats on, hands folded, silently waiting to be dismissed. Our teacher, Mrs. Dawson, an intimidating woman, called my name. I got up and began to skip down the aisle, assuming I was privileged to be the first one called to leave.
The look on Mrs. Dawson’s face and the horrified faces of my classmates told me I had read this all wrong.
I stopped short. Tried to save the situation by bending over, placing both hands on my knees, summoning every ounce of cute in my nine-year-old body, and saying cheerfully, “What?”
“Don’t talk in class tomorrow,” Mrs. Dawson said.
The class laughed. Mrs. Dawson did not.
I went back to my desk and sat down, burning with shame, and the class went through its regular dismissal routine.
That incident had me waking up spinning for years, and for all those years it rated as the Worst Moment of My Life.
Well, the worst moment I could attribute to my own behavior.
Then in high school came the Spanish reading incident.
In high school I took Spanish for three years, for all the good it did me.
One day I was reading out loud, and came to the word, “diarias,” which is pronounced “dee-AH-ree-us,” and means “daily.” In my fierce concentration as I read out loud, I pronounced it, “diarrheas.”
The whole class, and probably Mr. Sanchez, the teacher, fell on the floor laughing, while I sat there blinking, because I did not realize what I’d done, only that they were laughing at me.
So that burned for years.
Here’s the kicker: it was not until about thirty years later that the shame lifted enough that the incident replayed in my mind and I finally “heard” what I’d said.
Oh. Now I get it.
No wonder they laughed.
In my twenties, out of school and into the world, I came to regret falling for the totally wrong person. This is not a funny story. Everyone has flings that don’t go well, but this was a jail sentence, a train wreck, a mine cave-in.
For people who grew up in families that looked okay on the outside but were hellholes on the inside, and there are so many of us, it was easy to slip into such relationships. They felt so familiar.
Getting out was the second-best thing I ever did for myself. Marrying Rick was the first.
Meanwhile, back in the wee hours of the night, lying in bed, tossing and turning, I try to decide what the odds are that I’ll go back to sleep, or if I should turn the light on, pick up my book, and read.
Reading puts me to sleep. I tend to go to sleep reading every night. When Rick was still around, sometimes I would wake up as he gently lifted the book from my hands. Now the book either drops on my chest, or the bed, or the floor.
Those middle of the night soul searching sessions don’t happen often anymore, thank heavens. Maybe I do fewer dumb things, although I wouldn’t bet on it, but I am older and don’t embarrass as easily as I used to do when I do something idiotic. Seventy-one has a much thicker hide than fifteen, or nine. A lifetime teaches you what is the small stuff you don’t need to sweat.
Turns out it’s not all small stuff, but most of it is.
Good to know.
Oh – and Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cookbook recipes were 1950s classics and looking them over now (of course I have a copy), they’re not bad. A little heavy on meats, salts, and canned soups for current tastes, but Peg Bracken’s narration is healthy and delicious.