As evocative as this title appears, these three seemingly unrelated objects shaped a sizable chunk of my youth. How? Oh, I’ll tell you how. And I’ll share with you the remnants of a tormented soul, a child who lived in fear nearly every single day of that anguished era—a time when a little girl’s conscience should be free to laugh, to play, to sing, to dance, and dream—but instead, was reminded every morning that this could be the very day when the truth about the mark on the bedspread would be revealed.
Remember those sweet years in elementary school when teachers would lovingly prepare their young charges for St. Valentine’s Day by asking them to construct a Valentine’s box—a repository of love promises, chalky hearts, and the occasional marriage proposal? The year was 1972, and I had just turned nine years old. I remember that I was nine because my mother, in an uncharacteristic burst of ‘Best Mum in the ‘Hood’-edness, had thrown me a birthday party, complete with guests, games, prizes, treat bags, and an amazingly luscious cake adorned with all eight characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Stop counting—she left the Evil Queen out of the tableau. After all, my sister Becky was already in attendance.
But more about Becky later. The cake with the figurines was truly my favorite part of the one and only birthday party my mother had ever thrown (in all fairness to the other two sibs, she never threw them even one birthday party), and I treasured those little plastic friends, even going so far as to bring them to school with me one day and stash them secretly in the back left corner of my desk. When Miss Eaton wasn’t looking (or wasn’t chewing off some other poor child’s face—more about her later), I would take out Snow White and talk to her, tell her a little about my day, what we were having for lunch, and who had just let a really bad stinker over in the third row. Remember, I am the one who, a few years earlier, spent most of my waking hours with my imaginary friend Robin, so don’t judge.
That afternoon, Miss Eaton described for us our task. We were to construct, out of found items (nothing bought!), a Valentine’s box that—and this was the most important thing—was decorated to reflect something about ourselves. We would then play a game and guess who had created each masterpiece before depositing our hand-written Valentine greetings into each others’ repository. Oh, what fun!
If I do say so myself, I was quite the creative little artist when I was a child, and, fortunately, my mother, too, had an artistic flair, so our house was not going to lack for “found items”. That night, I began planning my creation, my tour de force, my Snow White Valentine’s box.
That you already knew that my box would be adorned (last time you’ll see me type those words—ever) with the Snow White characters (sans witch) means that you are an attentive reader. That you’re wondering how the three items in my title created an everlasting hell during my formative years means that I’ve kept you in suspense. Here’s what happened:
Becky and I shared a room. My mother, ever the artist, had recently re-decorated said room for about the fourth or fifth time. Part of the re-decorating budget was dedicated to the purchase of two matching bedspreads with accompanying pillow shams. The bedspreads were red with yellow ruffles, each color adorned with a small flower print pattern. These bedspreads had to be special-ordered from the JCPenney catalogue (light years before Bed, Bath, and Beyond, my blog-readin’ friends), and Susan had threatened us with a painful and embarrassing punishment if we so much as left an errant booger on any part of these newly purchased and quite beautiful bed linens.
In fashioning my masterpiece of a Valentine’s box, I was fortunate to have in my possession an entire rainbow of magic markers—a birthday present from Ronnie C., I think—that I was going to use to fabricate some of the original artwork that would adorn the Valentine’s box. The box had already been wrapped in sky blue—yes blue—tissue paper (daringly original? I think so), and plans to glue Snow White and her little boyfriends on top of the box were already cranking away in my nine year-old brain.
In my haste to release the vivid, vibrant, and permanent magic markers from their plastic prison, I tore open the package whilst sitting on my bed, resulting in a shower of markers exploding all over the place and landing upon that sacred bedspread.
Panicked, I scurried to my feet and snatched up the markers, careful to not un-cap any of them. Now that I had no home for them, I simply opened up my newly assembled Valentine’s day box and tossed them inside, quickly, as if that would erase the fact that they were ever on my bed in the first place. I did not realize until it was too late that one single, stray, brown marker, sans cap, had nestled itself under my stuffed bunny rabbit.
Since brown wasn’t a color I wished to feature on a beautifully crafted Valentine’s Day box, I didn’t miss my little nut-colored friend, not until I sat back down on my recently purchased JCPenney red and yellow ruffled bedspread with the accompanying pillow sham. Blissfully unaware of how my life was about to change, I rolled atop Mr. Brown, causing him to leave a decidedly dark, bleeding, and permanent memory of himself right smack dab in the middle of the bedspread.
Remember, I shared a room with Becky; ergo, as luck would have it, Becky was present when I, in horror, gasped in disbelief at the recently minted and clearly visible brown splotch, searched in vain for the marker’s cap, and began sobbing uncontrollably at my astonishing misfortune. What had so lovingly begun as an exercise in creativity would forever remain, indelible as that stain on my bed, as the fateful night that Becky took possession of my very soul.
How? Simple sisterly blackmail. I became, in present day patois, her bitch. There wasn’t a thing that I could do about it or she would tell Mum about the mark on my bed. In fact, as I write those words—the mark on my bed—I still get a sick feeling in my gut that my careless blunder might even today launch the planet into Armageddon so indelible were those words she uttered lo’ those forty-one years ago: “I’ll tell Mum about the mark on the bed.” For months, ‘the mark on the bed’ represented my tortured psyche—she owned me spot, cap, and marker.
Utterly brutalized by her daily reminder of my shame, after nearly a year, I caved. Seeing no other possible way out of my servitude, I tearfully confessed my egregious sin to my mother, shakily handing her one of her Puma tennis shoes so that she could turn me over her knee and beat my ass with it (I thought that if I assisted her in my punishment that it wouldn’t be so painful). Gulping, sobbing, with rivers of snot running out of my nose, I told her how sorry I was for ruining my new bedspread.
Her response? “Oh, honey, don’t worry, I know it was an accident. Becky told me all about it months ago. Why are you crying?”
Magnanimously, and because I have a loving and gentle heart, I managed to forgive my sister Becky for the mirthful ease with which she tortured me that year. Doubtless, she was probably getting even for my being the only child in our family to have had a birthday party. I get it.