The Blame Game

I’m eight years old, give or take. It’s a quiet summer afternoon and I come downstairs with a book in my hand. My mother is working in her office off the dining room and my brother is upstairs playing in his room.  I take my book into the living room, as far away from the roaring and crashing noises coming from my brother’s bedroom, and curl up on the couch.  From my position leaning against the arm of the couch, my book is casting a shadow over part of the page, so I reach up and turn on the lamp on the end-table.  After reading for a few more minutes, my eyes start to strain a little from the glare of being so close to the light.  I try re-adjusting myself a few times, to no avail.  Frustrated at my inability to achieve a comfortable reading atmosphere, I look around the room for inspiration.  I get up and walk across the room to the small plastic kitchen in the corner and start rifling through the pretend cookware on and around it.  I pick up a small, yellow bowl and eye it curiously.

This will do.

Bowl in hand, I go back to my seat on the couch and get comfortable. I reach the bowl up under the lampshade and place it gently on top of the lightbulb.  Settling down into the arm of the couch again, I look at my book and hold my head up triumphantly. Perfect.

I continue reading, proud of myself for being such a problem solver – I hadn’t needed to bother my mom at all – and enjoying the perfect lighting.  It was direct but not too bright and the pages were devoid of shadows.  My joy moved with me through another chapter before I was startled by something falling into my peripheral vision and landing with a soft thud.

I look to my left at the end-table, where the mystery object had fallen, and saw that it was the yellow bowl.  I reach my hand out to pick it up, intending to return it to its new home on the lightbulb, when my eyes widen in horror. Lifting the bowl to get a closer look, my fears were confirmed – I held in my hand a mangled version of the bowl I had held not too long before.  Still confused as to what had taken a giant bite out of this hard plastic, I look up under the lampshade to see a yellow blob clinging to the lightbulb, exactly the same size of the gaping hole in the plastic bowl.

My heart starts racing as I quickly shut off the lamp.  Berating myself for not foreseeing this outcome, I try to quell my panic over how much trouble I was sure to be in.  There had to be a way out of this. Maybe if I hid the mangled bowl, no one would even notice. I mean, who looks at lightbulbs anyway? I dart over to the play kitchen area and shove the lump of plastic behind it, hastily covering it with other toys. I rush back to the couch and quickly turn off the lamp.  Grabbing my book, I high-tail it to my bedroom, where I try to continue reading but can barely manage to continue breathing as I tried to calm down.

Not too long after my mishap, I hear the back door slide open, indicating my father had returned from work.  Having convinced myself by then that I was in the clear and that there was no way my parents would find the evidence of my wrongdoing among toys, I run downstairs to greet him.  After a few minutes of chatting about what we did all day and the dinner we would have tonight, my mother looks up and says, “Can you smell that?”

My father and I look at each other and back at her, shaking our heads.  She heads into the living room and fear wraps its hands around my heart as I realize what she must be smelling.

“It smells like…like burning plastic or something.”

I could feel the color leaving my face and I start to feel a little lightheaded before I realize I had been holding my breath.  I let it out slowly as I watch my mother head over to the small plastic kitchen in the corner.  This was it. This was the end. I was dead. I couldn’t even fathom what the punishment for this would be. Would I be locked in my room? Would I never be able to watch TV again? Or worse, read?? I had never destroyed something like this before, so I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I was sure to be in trouble and I was not excited about it.

My mother finds my hasty hiding place all too easily and holds out the warped bowl in front of her, the confusion in her face evident. She turns to me and asks, “Do you know what happened to this?”

For a second, sure I was defeated, I was ready to burst into apologies and explanations.  Then a tiny voice inside my head points out that she’s wasn’t accusing me of anything, she’s just asking. Still not trusting my mouth, I kept my lips firmly pressed together and shook my head.

“Are you sure?”

I nod yes, still silent.

She takes a step closer to me and looks down at me, her dark brown eyes locking into my lighter ones.

“This looks like it was an accident, so you can tell me if you did it. You’d be in more trouble if I found out you lied to me.”

There was no turning back now, I had decided to lie and I was going to run with it. Having resolutely chosen my path, I opened my mouth and let the words spill out, fervently blaming my younger brother.  “It must have been him, I saw him playing at the kitchen earlier.”

“Okay.”

We head back into the kitchen and my mother tells me to go play, that she’ll call me when dinner is ready. I run back up to my room and sit on the edge of my bed, still trying to steady my breathing. I had done it. I had lied to my parents and they had believed me. I was not going to get in trouble for this. They wouldn’t be too hard on my brother – he’s only four, he’s always breaking things.  I had gotten away with it.

Then, why did I still feel so bad?  The tightness in my chest hadn’t faded at all and a dull ache had started to accompany it.  I could hear my mother’s voice ringing in my head, “You’d be in more trouble if I found out you lied to me.”  What had I done? I had blamed my innocent baby brother for a stupid mistake I made and had tried to cover up. I had lied to my parents, even when they gave me the chance to come clean. The pain in my chest had swelled and was starting to creep up into the back of my throat. I hadn’t felt this feeling so strongly before. I didn’t quite know what it was. It was fear and it was panic, but it was more than that. My heart beats faster and faster over what felt like hours but was probably only minutes, my mind racing just as fast, until finally I recognize this searing sensation.

It was guilt.

I fly downstairs as fast as I can, stopping short when I reach the kitchen and my parents both turn to look at me. Tears come before words and I try to speak through my sobs.  My dad pulls out the chair nearest me and sits on it, drawing me into his lap. He holds me for a moment until I catch my breath, then he sits me up straight and looks at me, “What’s wrong?”.

“I did it I’m so sorry it was me I blamed him but I did it but I didn’t mean to it was an accident and I’m so sorry and please don’t hate me I’m really sorry I didn’t mean to do it.”

The words come out even faster than they normally do and as soon as I stop, the tears start again and I bury my face into my father’s shoulder.  He again waits for me to stop before sitting me up again. Now my mom is sitting next to us and also looking at me. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

I explain my lighting predicament and my seemingly good idea and the consequences of said idea. My sobs had resided but my story is still punctuated with quick, involuntary, post-cry breaths.  I finish my story and look down at my hands in my lap, unsure of what the reaction would be.  My mother reaches out and puts her hand on my leg and explains that this was just an accident and that I should have told her right when it happened instead of trying to hide the evidence. She also explained that I could have started a fire, which is why it’s so important not to hide things.  She asks me if I understand, and I nod, my eyes still trained on my interlaced fingers.

“Look at me.”

I look up to meet those dark brown eyes again.

“You shouldn’t have lied to us, honey. ”

“I know.” I looked down again. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, just remember that for next time, okay?”

“Okay.”

My mom stands up and turns back to the counter to finish dinner. My father plants a kiss firmly on the top of my head and lifts me to the ground. “Come on, Punky, let’s help set the table.”

As I walk around the table, placing a plate in front of each of the four chairs, I realize my breathing has returned to normal.  I took a deep breath in and notice, with much relief, that the tightness was no longer constricting my insides.  I pull out my chair and sit down, and listen to the story my father had just started telling, happy to replace the tightness with the much more familiar warmth and comfort.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 07/10/2011.

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