Honesty

The empty box glares back at me.

“How do you feel you can contribute to this program?”

This question is more difficult than any I have faced.  It is worse than the complex formulas of organic chemistry and the tedious matrices of pre-calculus, combined.  It has no right answer.  No amount of studying could have prepared me for this.

I feel that I could contribute my fresh perspective and knack for finding uncommon solutions to ordinary problems, I type.  I love working in teams and readily take on leadership roles in order to get the job done, I spill a million half-truths in virtual ink.  I hope the person reading this believes me.

 ***

            The empty box glares back at me.

“Tell of an experience where you have been given a large amount of responsibility.  What did you learn from it?”

I don’t know why, but this one is easier.

One summer, when I was fourteen, I had to fulfill the role of mother for myself and my sister.  I learned to cook pretty well, and I also learned how to wash and fold laundry.  I learned that I had to need myself as much as I needed others, but what if this experience isn’t enough?  To quote my mother, there are plenty of others who have had it worse.

I leave out the tear-filled nights, the yelling about how my chores did nothing to make up for my lack of competence, the fury about my having folded the underwear wrong.  No one would believe that.  No one ever has.

The Magic of Monsieur Maurais

Imagine the claustrophobic confines of a church basement.  Fluorescent lights beam their yellowish rays onto every shining surface.  Squeaky, beaten tables are unfolded upon the tan, linoleum-tiled floor, bordered by chilly chairs that welcome all who qualify to communion. Long coats, older than the church itself, hang limp from a line of unfinished wooden hooks on icy brick walls.  The dusty, faded-pink face of the Virgin gazes into the sea of people who are herding into her domain.

I was one of those people, age twelve, wrapped in velvety red and crisp gold.  My black shoes glimmered into my black eyes, and my black hair was burnt into black curls.  I tapped along the tan, linoleum-tiled floors, following the motions of all the pious before me.  I did not know that, in that church basement, I would be ironically introduced to what the holy call “sin.”

Ghyslain Maurais is a world-renowned chocolatier, having found his love for food while working to fund his education in architecture.  He has earned delegations in both New York and London, and is a household name in both the Midwest and his native Québec.  His boutiques are frequent stomping grounds for holiday shoppers and curious tourists, as well as for children who desire something more than the typical Hershey’s fare.  If one were to look at a picture of Ghyslain Maurais, one would see a middle-aged man with an unmarked, smiling face.  He almost always wears a white suit, which has been starched and steamed to perfection.

Hardly anyone would believe he would deign to spend his evening encased in a cold, white, tiled basement, glowing beyond the hardened gazes of the godly gathering and my twelve-year-old self.

Nonetheless, there he was: jovially out-of-place and surrounded by his vibrant holiday collection.  Mousse-filled hills of sky-blue snow rose toward Heaven. Flamboyant berries brushed in crimson, veined leaves touched with piney green, and golden Christmas bells swung and sang on the branches of delicious, flour-covered logs.  Maple-speckled deer peered beyond their wooden barrier, timid toward the crowd whose sole mission was to consume. Ghyslain Maurier had done more than make chocolate.  He had created a world within which stories could be written.  He had created a work of art.

One by one, the critical audience made their circle around the basement banquet, which was more than dessert.  White bread and bland crackers swore their innocence, cracking their leathery skins to reveal the purity within.   Yellow-marbled cubes of cheese putridly proclaimed the sins of their fruity companions, whose ripened pink flesh was too much like the face of the Virgin.  Eyeless fishes glared jealously at the salamis, which were lounging languidly in the unspoken protection of Lent.  Foam plates provided percussion for the silent procession, crinkling and cracking under the pressure of nervous thumbs and fickle plastic ware.  My own dish creaked under the weight of a bronzy chocolate bell and, in accordance with my mother’s orders, several small shrimp.

I gobbled my fishy feast in greedy anticipation.  The chocolate bell tinkled as I dug my teeth into the cold, soft flesh of my meal.  Thin bones were torn away from icy meat, clattering on my plate while I slid each headless corpse into my acid-ocean stomach.  The ringing persisted in crescendo as bony tails were ripped from bodies, bringing me closer to the rich tones of finale.

The silence around me was as deafening as a symphony.  One glance bounced off of another, creating clashing notes of small talk and judgment.  Toddlers gummed their white, buttered bread and looked to their mothers for attention they would not receive.  Elderly couples sat stolidly with their cheeses, commenting on how those school girls should have left their wine-purple dresses at home.  I sat at the table my family had reserved months in advance, absorbing the scene beneath blinding fluorescent lights.  Ghyslain Maurais’ bell tolled thunderous temptation into my ear.

I silenced the earsplitting peals with a bite.  Immediately, my mouth was overcome with the complex melody of dark chocolate.  Caramel, subtle and rich, comprised the humming harmony. My taste buds rang in ecstasy.  I was tasting the design of Ghyslain   Maurais.  This was the work as well as the canvas: smooth, velvety, and temporary.  I savored it. It was the first time I had seen, let alone tasted, something so small that was so carefully crafted, yet so demonstrative of its creator’s heart and soul.

I have made many a return to the boutique of Ghyslain Maurais, however I will never forget that quiet night in the cold basement where, below a church void of music, the flavors of chocolate provided the organ’s final rumbling chord.

+++

I highly suggest you visit Mr. Maurais’ Website, and buy a bell of your own.

 

 

 

 

The Death of Thanksgiving

November 25th, 20– was the death of Thanksgiving.  That meal has remained as leftovers, though; its salted gravies and withered green beans mold and congeal in the refrigerator of my memory.  Luckily, it does not smell, so I leave it where it is.  I will scrape it from its Tupperware™ containers, one of these days.

My father was never much of a cook; and by that, I mean he never cooked.  There was a period during which he tried, serving half-done hamburger buried in powdery milk, however he abandoned his efforts when my sister and I failed to praise his creations.  We ate them, yes, however they were not conducive to awe or amazement.  They were of swallowing quality, and that was all.

His attempts to get us to the table were equally abortive.  His mouth was quick to spew hate, thus our meals were typically taken in silence.  Tension would vibrate between our foreheads like a deep-bellied cello.

No one was surprised when he decided to order take-out on Thanksgiving.

It came in plastic boxes, each which protective seals.

     Rip.  Eight drying slices of turkey.

            Rip.  A greasy garden of bacon-boiled beans.

            Rip.  Four sticky spoonfuls of stuffing (or dressing).

            Rip.  Four igloos of mashed potatoes.

            Rip.  Eight hunks of nondescript bread.

A cello bowed, and we were asked (ordered) to get our plates and sit down.  We complied, stalking into our rock-hard chairs like anxious boards.  I sat on the edge of my seat, a silent choir member, while my sister craned her neck over the wooden ledge of the table.  She was short, then.

Knives and forks made unappetizing, screeching clinks upon my father’s plates.  This was one of the only times we had been allowed to use anything but paper.  He didn’t want us dirtying things that could be used “for guests;” but the only other life we ever saw were the half-dead dust-bugs that crawled upon their once-glossy concave surfaces.  I wondered if he ever did have anyone over, to use the mugs that held well in my hands and the silverware that hadn’t been swiped from the convenience counter of restaurants.

I spooned some cranberry sauce on my plate, and no one said anything.  The cello was rather quiet, however still humming behind my ear.  I sighed.

Eventually, everyone left the table.

On Laziness

Laziness; its exact meaning is a cloudy, curious thing.

I remember when I was young, probably in middle school, being called “lazy” by my teachers, left and right.  I cannot argue I wasn’t, but the definition of “laziness,” according to their standards, was as follows:

Lazy [ley-zee] adj. :  A student who, in her honors courses, holds marks of no higher than a B+ at any time.

            Again, I shall not disclose whether or not I met the actual, set-in-stone description as recorded in the dictionary, as I believe my view on the matter would be far less than objective.  Speaking of the dictionary, here is what it has to say about my situation:

Lazy [lā-zē] adj. : Not liking to work hard or to be active.

Admittedly, I was not the hardest worker when this “adj.” was bestowed on me.  There were many times I would come home, throw down my bags, get on the computer and, as the expression says, “that’s all she wrote.”  I might not have been the most committed to my schoolwork when I was a youngster, but there were other, less academic facets of my life in which I would have earned straight-A’s: family, fraternity, and reverie.

My kin, would balk upon the lecture of the above phrase.  As much as I gave the appearance of “shock” and “rebellion,” my most intimate desire was to please them.  Sadly, their minds were not like the grade books and holistic scales of modern education: they were unpredictable and, young as I was, I could not forecast what mark in them my work would hold.  To the twelve-year-old me, I was shooting an arrow through a field of corn, hoping to catch a tiny sparrow that was perched on the stringy tip of a skinny stalk; their approval, in reach, was impossible to attain without a precise, yet flexible, tactic in persona.  I was apathetic, I was happy, I was sad, and I cried when it seemed appropriate because, as we all know, emotional slips lead to failure and isolation.

Friends of mine were few and far between and, when I think of it now, I wonder how many were actually my friends.  Ever-fluctuating, they molded my interests, like non-toxic clay, from vampires to werewolves to BDSM.  They asked me the questions and I had to answer, and how else could I answer without executing the proper studies?  I couldn’t disagree, and I couldn’t reason – that would have gotten me called “pretentious” quicker than quick – so I opened my mouth and vomited out the web page I had read the night before, in lieu of the chapters I ignored and the equations I had failed to memorize.

I was deemed a “potential dropout risk” when I was fourteen, but I didn’t let that get in the way of my one, solitary dream.  At that point, I was dead-set on becoming a tattoo artist.  I could spend hours with pads of paper, lining out designs for people who never paid and “big fans” who barely knew my name.  Bathed in the swirling patterns of my colored pencils, they were my only hope for a future.  I had to get out, I had to be something, I had to go out to the city to be invisibly there.  Art school was the only place my grades wouldn’t have mattered; and those far-off institutions, to me, were the only places I might end up. Of course, my dreams wouldn’t come true, my counselor said: I was “lazy.”  My work was barely passing.  I needed to put down the pencils and the pens and the paintbrush, and do something with my life.

Today I sit at my computer, and think about how “lazy” I was.  Sure, improvements were made after junior high.  During my four years of high school, I never had anything below an “A-.”  I wasn’t lazy, I thought, and I was going to make damn sure everyone knew it.  I spent my evenings in study, my books and my pens and my pencils and my friends eventually restricted from my iron box of academic tenacity.  I locked it tight, with enough room for myself and my formulas.

Could I tell anyone, then, what I really wanted?

Could I suppress my emotions to the point I flowed with the aura of the crowd?

To the latter, maybe, but I never got the chance to know what I wanted, or the time to know how I felt.  Want was laziness, need was a myth, feeling was the result of boredom.  The opposite of sloth is activity and, as I had been reminded, the active mind has no need.  It does.  It doesn’t ask other occupied minds to do for it.  I was active, I was the mind, I had escaped that dictionary page and had leapt onto, what?

Where had I landed?  I’m still not sure, but I can tell it’s somewhere behind the rest.

They walk ahead of me, shouting backward to ask me if I’ve overslept.