I am so proud that I am counter height now. Actually, taller than the counter, I can rest my armpit on the corner. If I lay my head down on my arm, it’s an arm sandwich. The countertop and my head are the bread. Stale cigarettes lay in the hexagon-shaped brass ashtray. I think the ashtray came the whole way from China, it has dragons on it. Her cigarettes aren’t like my cousins, white, soft, and squishy. The butts are hard and have a chunk out of the middle, the word Vantage with a single gold stripe. I like the way they feel. “Stop touching that!” she yells “either go outside or go to your room”. Her hair is wet from sweat. Not all of it, only the underpart. She is cleaning up the house and I can sense that she is not happy. I drop the stinky butt into the ashtray from foreign lands, unmake my arm sandwich, and head towards the door.
There is an island countertop in the center of our small kitchen, which divides the table area from the cooking area. The table area is where the unpleasant things go down; homework, the eating of vegetables, the arguing with my sister. I have two sisters but only one that argues, the other one hardly says a word. I feel an insane amount of responsibility for the quiet one. The loud one really gets on my nerves.
The cooking area is where the magic happens. This is where my best friend and I learn to make peanut butter cookies. Unsupervised. We use a fork to press decorations into the cookies before we bake them. We taste our first wine. Unsupervised. Oh how I wish we would have been busted on that endeavor, it was cooking wine. If you didn’t know, cooking wine is flavored oil. I don’t recommend it for gulping. When we finally found the good stuff, scotch, we were hesitant. We curled our tongues and slipped it into the top of the bottle. It burnt. On that side of the kitchen, we could eat it all until it was gone. Unsupervised.
The door that leads to the backyard is on the bad side of the counter and the stool that she sits on is on the good side. I open the door to head out and I pause as she lights up a Vantage, blowing a big puff of swirly smoke towards the ceiling. The ceiling has texture, I wish I could touch it. Her stool sits on the right side of the kitchen but there is no magic in that space for her, not now anyway. She cleans the house a lot, she yells a lot. I would yell too if I had to clean up so much. I wonder if we will ever go to China where they make cool ashtrays with dragons on them. Why would my cousin smoke squishy cigarettes with white butts? I am going to smoke the ones with the hard butts. Hard butts are better than squishy.
“SHUT THE DOOR!!!” she reverberates “you’re letting all the cold air out”. I jump through the threshold and slam the door behind me. She must want her sweat to dry up.
The magic is back. She isn’t yelling, she is laughing. The Judds are coming through the speakers of the big silver boom box. This boom box is special, I’m not allowed to touch it. The speakers can slide off and slide back on. I broke the metal antennae and that is why I can’t touch it. I bent it back and forth watching it get flat and wide until it broke off.
When she is happy, we no longer appear to be kids fraught with attention deficits. When she is happy, we cannot take our eyes off of her. Even the loud sister is lovely.
She tells us that we should never, ever, ever depend on a man for money. The only way to do this is by getting an education. She will tell me this a thousand different ways over my childhood.
She shows us a picture of Disney World from her People magazine, the one with Cyndi Lauper on the front. I love her. Cyndi Lauper. In the picture of Disney, Pluto is there with all the others standing in front of a huge castle. There must be a million balloons. She tells us that we are going and we all squeal with excitement. My heart beats fast and this is the best night of my life. I fall to sleep on my homemade waterbed, dreaming of Pluto and all the magic we are sure to experience.
Different countertop, seven years later.
There have been many countertops. My school changed every time the countertops did. I no longer lean over the counter daydreaming into an ashtray. I don’t have time for that, I have my own cigarettes now. Parliaments. My butts are funkier than hers. I get my affinity for strange cigarette butts from my mother. She still sits on her stool, she yells a lot. Happiness has turned to drunkenness or perhaps that is what it was all along. The loud sister gets louder and my fear for the quiet one gets stronger.
My very own formica countertops, ten years later.
Find the magic.
Don’t smoke cigarettes.
Dont repeat behavior that no longer serves you.
This is my prayer for us.