Jelly not Jam

It’s December and I’m turning seven soon. My friends are coming over for a sleepover party and it’s going to be a night filled with wild imaginations, laughter and constant moving. Birthdays are everything to a kid turning seven.

The week of my birthday is shared with that holiday on the 25th. My day is five days earlier to be exact. Hosting a party this week is borderline insane but at nearly seven years old, I’m oblivious to the stress that having a holiday birthday might add to the week. I spend my time daydreaming of friends, cake, and presents. Maybe I’ll even get a Barbie. We’ll tell ghost stories and have popcorn! Birthdays are conscious streams of perfection to a kid turning seven.

Preparations are on their way to ensure a good time is had by all. At home, birthday gifts arrive under the Christmas tree with “Happy Birthday Jennifer” written in black sharpie over the red poinsettia holiday wrapping paper. Mom has been busy in the kitchen pre-making the sleepover breakfast.

She pours the batter filled spoon over the hot shallow pan and as it touches there is a sizzle. At the exact moment of sizzle, she lifts the pan and rotates it in a circular motion. She waits a minute then gently flips the paper thin and slightly crisped batter. She waits another minute and then carefully places it onto the pile of crepes which are individually protected with wax paper squares.

The process in which the crepes are made is methodical, deliberate, and time consuming. They will be served with strawberry jelly, not jam. I even get to eat one as it was torn during the delicate turning process. I happily eat the torn cast off while picturing my friends sitting around the table and spreading jelly onto their crepes. We all laugh as we roll them up and then eat them until the pile shrinks. One by one my friends exclaim how they’ve never had crepes and how delicious they are.

Pour, sizzle, rotate, and flip. The pile gets higher and higher as does my excitement in sharing one of my favorite foods with friends.

A loud siren outside wakes us up. Heads pop up from pillows to look around and I immediately jump onto the couch and look out the window. From there I see a large white truck with lights and men slamming doors shut. Their feet rush up the sidewalk pushing a bed on wheels. I watch them race past the window I’m peering from and I quickly look at my friends. It seems that everyone is fine.

My dad rushes down the few steps to reach the bottom floor where sleeping bags are sprawled out in all directions.

“Your Mom is going to the hospital,” he says.

Hearing steps back towards the window, I turn to see the uniformed men now have my mom on the wheeled bed and rush back down the sidewalk. They put her in the ambulance; slam doors shut, and pull down the driveway in what feels like a slow motion movie.

I don’t understand what is going on. Did she hurt herself in the kitchen. Maybe she fell. Maybe she cut herself cutting breakfast fruit.

Parents come get their children early that morning with rushed actions and swooping motions of arms filled with bedding and overnight bags. There are hurried whispered words said among the parents and their children. They too walk away down the sidewalk left with questions unanswered while hunger builds in the stomachs of those not yet fed.

Everyone is gone and I’m left there dissecting what happened. I slowly scan my surroundings for clues but they are not physically there. My eyes catch the table where plates are set and I see for the first time.

I see plates and neatly folded napkins that I placed on the table the day before while being yelled at for not helping. It was my birthday after all and who do I think I am for deserving a party during the holidays. Don’t I know how hard this is to do?

I see glasses filled with juice that was rushed to be purchase at the store while I trailed behind trying to keep up while being scolded for wasting her time with this birthday party. I wasn’t even supposed to be born, you know.

My head naturally gravitates to the left and the kitchen counter appears. There the pre-made crepes sit arranged in a stacked pile of clarity. Each layer barely balances the additional weight from above while gravity pulls from below. Some are slightly hidden while other layers protrude with defiance. It somehow stays together even if it seems like any moment it could fall apart.

I’m only seven and yet I feel an enormous weight of uncertainness overcome my being. The intense emotions felt that morning emblazon my heart with sadness that won’t be truly be decoded for many years. This defining moment in my life becomes the ground level of internal realization that my mother was broken by mental illness.