As I recapitulate, it’s winter, near Christmas time. My friend Cathy and I are babysitting for friends of my parents, people my mother considers intelligent and worth knowing, people they are going to a party with, carpooling with them. Cathy is there because we have made plans for a sleepover at my house and I have asked the family if she could babysit with me. The family has been assured that Cathy is a nice girl, like me, reliable, a trustworthy babysitter.
The kids are asleep. Cathy and I get hungry. We make macaroni and eat it at the kitchen table. Sitting on the table is a massive ornate wreath made of, funnily enough, various kinds of dried pasta shapes, spray painted gold, kind of tacky, but at the same time I can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into making it. It’s beautiful simply because of its size and intricacy. The thing is huge, a foot and a half in diameter at the very least, and it weighs a ton!
After eating we become bored. Babysitting is boring. We stare each other in the eyes and without saying a word begin pushing the wreath toward the edge of the table. First one of us gives it a nudge, then the other, which is more like a shove because of the heaviness of the thing. Goading each other on, the excitement grows. Do we dare? The wreath makes it to the edge of the table, then it’s teetering on the edge, half on, half off. One more push and over it will go. Who gives it the last shove? Me, of course!
That imp inside me, and the imp outside of me in my friend Cathy both ask me the same question just before I give it one final shove.
“Are you really going to do it? Really?”
How could I not?
It is one of the most thrilling moments of my life. The moment I shove it and watch it soar over the edge and hear it crash to the kitchen floor, golden pasta shells scattering all over the place, is one of the most exhilarating of my life. I did it! I feel a tremendous rush of energy. A devil-may-care attitude sweeps through me and my heart jolts as I realize I have actually done it! Me! I’ve done it! We laugh like crazy and then panic sets in! We have to fix it, somehow! What are we going to do!
Frantically checking the clock, the driveway, listening for the door, we set about righting our wrong, our big wrong! No glue is to be found, though we search through every drawer in the house. So, resourceful being that I am, I cook up a glue of flour and water. We pick up the shattered thing, pieces and all, and try to repair the damage. It’s not easy and it’s not very successful either. It’s pretty obvious that something has happened to the wreath.
“Well,” I say, “let’s leave it on the counter, the bad side turned toward the wall. Maybe they won’t notice.”
We clean up the kitchen, leaving it sparkling, go upstairs and check on the children, hoping they have not been disturbed by all the noise we’ve been making and then we go into the living room and sit on the sofa. It’s a cold house, an old farmhouse with stone floors and walls, low ceilings and thick dark beams. We sit there on the sofa in our coats, shivering. What’s going to happen? Will they notice right away? Or can we get out of the house before they do? Our plan is to be ready to leave as soon as they come home.
“Oh, how cute you two are!” the mother says as she and her husband enter the house well after midnight. We jump up and stand there ready to go, schoolbooks clutched to our chests. They want to talk, to hear how it went. We just want to get the heck out of there!
My parents are waiting in their car outside. It’s snowing. We make uncomfortable small talk as we drive slowly home in the falling snow. It’s the longest ride I’ve ever taken. We get home and Cathy and I go right to bed, fearful of what tomorrow will bring. Maybe we did a good enough repair job that they won’t notice. We discuss our possible fate, worrying for a long time, and eventually fall asleep.
Seven in the morning my mother hammers on my bedroom door, shouting.
“Mrs. So-and-So is on the phone and she’s very upset,” my mother says. “What have you done? What did you girls do?” My mother is livid.
“Jan, do you have something to tell me?” Mrs. So-and-So says when I pick up the phone.
“Nooo, I don’t think so,” I say.
“Well, I think you do,” says Mrs. So-and-So, “what did you girls do to my wreath?”
“Ohhhh, thaaat. Well it got accidentally knocked off the table by an elbow when we were cleaning up.”
“I don’t believe you, Jan,” she says, and then Mrs. So-and-So goes off on me, telling me that she doesn’t think I’m the culprit, that it must have been that other girl, because she knows me and doesn’t know Cathy. She knows I would never do something so terrible, so it must have been Cathy who did it.
“No, you have it wrong,” I say. “It wasn’t Cathy, I did it.”
I refuse to let Cathy take the blame. I don’t at all like the way Mrs. So-and-So is skewing the story. What she is saying is just not true. I persist in telling her that it was completely my fault, that I knocked it onto the floor, “by accident” I insist, because I just cannot cop to the real truth. No matter what I say she just won’t believe me. In the end she delivers the final blow.
“You will never babysit for me again.”
But that is not the end of it. My mother is waiting. She screams at me. I’ve embarrassed her. I’m a disappointment. Cathy has to leave and never set foot in our house again. I’m grounded. I go back into my bedroom and tell Cathy what Mrs. So-and-So said. I tell her what my mother said. We’re both scared. She’s scared she’ll get into trouble at home too. We’re both shaking with shame as she gathers her things and leaves.
News of our disgrace spread fast. It seemed as if half the neighborhood already knew. All our friends knew, other girls who babysat and were secretly happy that we, the perfect ones, had screwed up. All the other mothers whom we regularly babysat for heard about it and for a long time we were off the babysitting list. Even though we only got paid 50 cents an hour, and a dollar after midnight, it was our only spending money.
We had to bear the shame, humiliation, and embarrassment for a long time. Eventually, the hubbub died down as someone else did something worse, boys stealing mail out of mailboxes, one of my brothers involved, my parents ashamed and embarrassed again. And Cathy and I did become trusted babysitters again, but never for that family. But after that incident the trend was to never have two girls babysitting at the same time. Bad things can happen!
In recapitulating this vignette, I once again encounter the imp inside me, her thrill seeking spirit and how I consciously let her take possession of me. I chose to allow her to act, that’s pretty clear, and the draw was the numinous thrill of bringing down that massive structure, sending it crashing to the floor. The imp opened the door to a sense of power that clearly compensated for the good girl persona I had to uphold and the utter powerlessness of the years of sexual abuse that dominated my life.
I see and experience the imp as a pure nature spirit, a lightning bolt, a storm of energy that is thrilling to engage, absolutely thrilling. That thrill is a powerful draw in its own right, but my fascination with her was also connected to the compensation she offered. She did not overtake me; I signed up to go with her. No blame for the imp. In fact, she may have kept me sane.
I am well aware of this character in my personality and appreciate her daring spirit still. She, in an integrated way now, is part of what enables me to channel every day or write honest books and blogs about the truth of my life. No more need to smash any wreaths, now I’m just telling the truth.
That imp is an essential part of my being. In communication with her I get to live life to the fullest. Gotta’ love her!
A blog by Jan Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries