I could hear the laughing getting closer and closer before they busted through the door of the drama lab, shouting out, “Ms. Clayton, do you want to know how to eat a peanut butter sandwich in one bite?” They tumbled in like puppies, these two freshmen from my Drama I class.
“Hmmm,” I considered for half a second. “How can I not?”
Tracy jumped in with the instruction. “First you make a peanut butter sandwich then you flatten it. Completely flat,” she emphasized, making that part crystal clear. “Then you fold it in half and you just keep folding it in half and half and half until it’s this size. ” She held up a compact cube.
She then handed the cube over to Tammy for the demonstration, who popped the whole thing in her mouth and swallowed it down in just a few exaggerated chews. They both looked at me like, see?
And that was lunch. All done.
It was 1985.
It’s now 2019 and I’ve held onto this one-bite peanut butter sandwich story for 35 years. I’ve held it in and held it in and held in and now here it is coming out. What does it all mean? And why is it coming out now? I eat peanut butter almost every day, so there’s nothing unusual about my peanut butter consumption that would bring this clue forward now as to how to go about living.
So maybe it’s the bread, symbolizing something. Of course, it doesn’t have the gravitas of a boule and a dagger, but it’s still bread. Maybe the whole staff of life thing? Also not to be overlooked is how it’s flattened down to almost wafer form. Body of Christ? A sacramental delivery via Tracy and Tammy? That seems a stretch, even for me. But maybe not.
Then I think of how puppy-like they were, and how I’m so charmed by kids on the cusp of maturity as they teeter back and forth between being clearcut children and teenagers. They are so silly and unselfconscious in their childishness one minute, so composed and arranged in their worldly sophistication the next.
But then again, I was also charmed by that malapropism Tracy committed in class once, so maybe the peanut butter was just a vehicle leading me back there. I love malapropisms and Tracy’s was adorable. Raising her hand to answer a question I’d put out there, her response centered around a pedal stool. I didn’t know what she was talking about and asked what a pedal stool was.
“You know, the way we hold things up, like how we put cheerleaders and football players on pedal stools.
So malapropisms…hmmmm. Is there something here? Like how I get things wrong in that excruciating catastrophe in which you are both wrong and an unwitting fool? Honestly, could it get worse than that? So much to clean up about myself. But haven’t I covered this housekeeping ground sufficiently? Why double back? On the other hand, I do love to pound in a point as Ellen has made ever so clear over the years.
“Mom!” Stop talking! You’ve said that five times!”
“Well, if you responded in a way that indicated you have received and assimilated the message, then I wouldn’t be required to keep driving my point home,” I am compelled to say. Of course.
“You’d still keep at it,” she says. She’s not wrong.
But this is my memoir, which, by definition, is all about me — legitimately so, thank god — therefore I should be pounding in my points to be true to the truth of who I am. At the same time, I’m also terribly insecure, so I’m really not sure about the malapropism connection.
Still, surely this bite-sized sandwich must mean something, because why else has it stuck with me over the years when I haven’t been able to remember vital things like the antibiotics my kids are sensitive to? I’ve got to find some meaning in why I remember this and other silly things — or at the very least manufacture some meaning — to redeem all my lapses in truly important memories (to say nothing of all my big lapses in behavior that could use some redemption, as well). For me, I’m pretty sure meaning and beauty is what I have to work with, what I’m down to. So I am now driven, utterly driven, to make something big and meaningful and beautiful out of my life because I am 56 years old and time is running down.
I just need to go walk this out and then what to make of this peanut butter sandwich business will come to me — or come close enough to let me jam a meaning on some memories and randomly string them together if I work my transitions craftily enough.
So please god — my god with the little “g” — where is the beauty and grace here in this compact cube of peanut butter and bread? Redemption has to be here somewhere! Please, I implore you — I beseech you — help me locate it! Tell me what this peanut butter sandwich means! It might be the key to who I am!
On the other hand, maybe this was just a very silly lunch.