I've always been a little hard to contain. Some people call it joie de vivre, others, my psychiatrist included, call it ADD. One of the mainstays of my personality, and arguably a symptom of the disorder, is extremely impulsive behavior. I've had more than my fair share of face-squished, hands-over-eyes immediate embarrassment or guilt -- gritting my teeth on the subway after remembering some ridiculously obnoxious comment I blurted out to my buttoned-up aunt, or bellowing someone's deepest secret back to them in the middle of a crowded party.
One summer on Martha's Vineyard when I was about seven, my sister, cousins and I were burying my cousin Andrew on the beach. Since Andrew had grown to about 6 feet tall by the age of 11, things were becoming increasingly hysterical. When he was as buried as he could possibly be, I had a brilliant idea. Scooping up two handfuls of sand, I yelled "OPEN YER MOUTH." Which, strangely enough, he obeyed. In one fell swoop each grain of sand between my sweaty palms arched up and disappeared right into his gullet. Both Andrew and I realized what had just happened at the same time. In what felt like slow motion, I stared at my handiwork, mouth gaping, as Andrew's eyes bulged from their sockets as if attempting escape. My poor cousin struggled out of his sand-bed and sprinted to the water's edge, my panicked uncle right behind him, as he gasped for air, clutching at his throat.
In the midst of the chaos, my father turned to me, face contorted like a villain from the animated Hercules movie, dramatically pointing towards the dunes, and bellowed "GO HOME!" My face burned with humiliation, and deep in the crevices of my brain and heart, I knew I had really fucked up. As I raced home on my bike, though, the tears streaming down my face, a curious thing happened. I started to get really, really mad.
Why couldn't Andrew just have kept his mouth shut? Didn't he get that the joke was that I would be throwing sand in his face? How could he be so dumb as to listen to me? I was furious with the rest of my family for not reacting when my dad banished me off the beach. How could I know that this idea would end up so disastrously?
Somewhere in my embarrassment, anger and resentment had replaced shame, and annihilated any empathy I had felt, safely scrubbing away any responsibility for the poorly thought out sand blast to the face. I settled into the victim's seat and waited for the rest of my family to return home.
When the rest of my family showed up at our house, I was sulking on the porch reading Junie B Jones in a hammock. "Annie," my mom cautiously approached me, "you need to write a letter apologizing to Andrew." I rolled my eyes and closed my book. I let out a bored sigh, reached out and without looking back at her, asked "pen? Paper?"
What I mustered felt heartfelt and true. I folded it up, stuffed it in an envelope, wrote 'Andrew' in my fanciest script, and handed it to my mom to be delivered.
In five minutes I found myself on my bike en route to my aunt and uncle's cottage. Apparently it was also my job to make sure the letter landed in my cousin's delicate little hands. I rolled up and dropped my bike, swinging the screen door wide open to announce my presence. My aunt solemnly greeted me at the door and led me to where Andrew lay recovering from his ordeal.
"Here Andrew, I wrote you this" I said, with what I imagined to be a look of pure sympathy. Then I left him to open it, swinging the door wide open, hopped on my bike and went home, good deed completed.
Back at his house, Andrew opened my apology.
I'm sorry you got sand in your mouth.