Koolaid in Cut Crystal
by Charlene Watters
It’s my birthday. The big 5-0.
Birthdays were always an occasion in the Baxter household.
We’d set the table paper plates and plastic forks and mismatched pieces of cut crystal from the secondhand store.
“Katherine, no. Pick up the fork with your left hand. Cut with your right. Smaller bits. Transfer the fork to your right.”
“Jim, they’re tired.”
“God, Mary, look at you. How am I supposed to reach the girls when you’re sitting there slouched over with your elbows on the table?”
“Erica, don’t reach. Ask your sister to pass you the peas. Katherine, dab with the napkin.”
“Both of you, pay attention! You’re behaving like animals! Chew with your mouth closed!”
Mary, one more word, and so help me god —”
It wasn’t just dining etiquette that was drilled into us. There were weekly trips to the library. Philosophy, sociology, art appreciation. A vocabulary so pretentious we got beat up on a regular basis.
Dad didn’t understand that he was creating a pair of outcasts. It broke his heart when Erica killed herself on her sixteenth birthday. She didn’t make it to dinner that day.
But I made it. I made it. My table is set with fine china. The crystal glasses are a matched set. Never mind that there’s an emptiness inside me so vast that no amount of sex, drugs or alcohol can fill. Never mind that every birthday brings a despair so deep that I long for Erica’s escape. It’s my birthday.