“If you don’t stop eating those, you’ll get diarrhea!” my mother used to warn. One of my brothers would accompany her dire prophecy with the appropriate sound effect, at which point we’d all collapse into giggles. And we always ignored the warning. How could we not?
Black cherries were and are one of my favorite things about summer and road trips.I loved the gleam of their Cabernet skins, how their firm, round, sun warmed shape felt in my mouth and the rush of tangy, rich juice as my teeth burst their taut skins. My siblings and I ate and ate, spitting their stones out the window at the passing cars until, at some point, Mom cut us off. She claimed there would be nothing left to put up when we got home and that we’d get diarrhea if we ate too many. None of us care about getting diarrhea, but we did know that we liked eating canned cherries in February.
There were two girls and two boys in our family at that point. Judith and I were older and definitely more sophisticated. David and Joseph were five and seven years younger than me and three and five years younger than Judith. They were constantly noisy, in the way, creating messes that they didn’t clean up, not willing to do what I wanted them to do, always given the benefit of the doubt and didn’t have to weed as long as Judith and I did. They inevitably woke up earlier than we girls and every morning we could hear them gearing up for a long and violent session of make believe. “ Hey! Hey Joe! Wanna play with GI Joe guys?” “Yeah! Hey! Guy! Look ooooout! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch! Ima chop off your head! Ahhhhhhh!”
At that point in our young lives I could see nothing redeeming about them and regarded their presence as a nuisance. And if I could trust my perception of the preferential treatment they received, which I did, I was also pretty sure that mom and dad liked them more than they liked me and Judith.
At the end of this particular odyssey, we crunched into the gravel driveway and piled out of our maroon Ford Econoline van, grateful to be freed from its sweaty and crumb-littered confines. Crickets were chirping and it was nearing twilight. I bolted across the yard to the garden to check on my tomato and cucumber plants and to see how much they had grown in my absence. The warm ground was hard and the tough stems of tall weeds got stuck between my toes. When I returned to the house, David was standing outside. White blond hair stuck wetly to his head in the humid July evening and his seven year old eyes were earnest. He held out his hand.
“Here, Naomi. I have something for you.” He handed me a round, dark object, about the size of a walnut. Without even inspecting it, I knew instinctively that anything purposefully given to me by one of my brothers had to be rotten or disgusting and probably both. Without glancing at it, I pitched it as hard as I could into the overgrown, weedy side yard. His face crumpled and he began to cry.
“It was the biggest cherry! I saved it for you! And you threw it away!”
My heart sank. I ran into the yard to find it, but the damage had been done. I looked and looked in vain.
I don’t remember if I dried his tears or was able to make amends in some way. I don’t remember what I said to him or what he said to me. I don’t remember if I felt bad about it for the rest of the night or if I was able to push it out of my mind. I do remember feeling my heart shrivel and a wash of shame cover me. And I know that I have purposefully not thought about that evening for years and years and years.
I don’t remember exactly when I first mustered up the courage to tell David this story, ask him if he remembered my unintentional cruelty and request his forgiveness, but I do remember that he forgave me readily and claimed he didn’t remember the incident at all.
Two days ago, during the four-hour bus ride from the port of Mindoro back to downtown Manila, we reminisced about that day. Despite him repeatedly telling me he couldn’t remember it and that all was forgiven, I still felt profoundly ashamed. As if every time I remembered it, I was repeatedly and intentionally spurning the sweet and spontaneous gift of a small boy to his big sister.
At one stop, several vendors boarded the bus and walked up and down the aisle selling bags of sliced green mango with shrimp paste, pineapple empanadas, coconut candies, peanut brittle and hard boiled eggs with salt. Conveniently, each bag of eggs contained three. One for each of us – me, David and Jenny, his wife. We bought two bags.
I laboriously peeled my egg. Its shell refused to let go of the egg beneath and my finished product was scabby-looking and significantly reduced in size. I hungrily dipped it in salt and devoured it in two bites. The rich yolk was bright yellow and flavorful. It seemed to me that Filipino chickens must be much happier than their American sisters.
David leaned over. “NaeNae – want another egg?”
I declined, not willing to go through that much work again on a crowded and lurching bus.
Moments later, he held up a perfectly peeled, gleaming white egg and handed it to me deliberately with a kind and knowing look. “Hey – I have something for you.”
I reached out and took it from him. My eyes filled with tears.
This is what forgiveness tastes like. Self forgiveness.
Like a hard-boiled egg.