There was this really skinny, exceptionally tall girl in my fourth grade class at Rutgers Prep whose name escapes me, and yet I think about her so often, it’s amazing I haven’t run into her over the years. She was the first one of us to develop, as we called it back then. She used to talk freely about what was happening to her body in gym class and I remember thinking I would rather die than admit anything personal about my body. I even kept it a secret that I peed.
Her lack of inhibitions and physical maturity were only half of it. There was something much more intriguing about her, and now that I’m reading, “A New Earth,” (Oprah made me) I get what it is that keeps her so firmly planted in my otherwise scattered brain. She was enlightened at nine. It’s true, she was. I didn’t realize it back then of course, but, because of her heightened state of awareness, I can’t shake my image of her. It’s always there, like Jesus.
What came to me while I was reading "A New Earth," was the day my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Marshall, said I could hand out the cupcakes for my in-class birthday celebration. She taught us to always serve ourselves last, something that never in a million years would have occurred to me. But there I was, proudly walking from desk to desk, handing out the cupcakes, when I came to the enlightened girl. There were two cupcakes left and one was smashed to pieces. I looked at both cupcakes and did the math. One of us was going down.
“I’ll take that one,” she said quickly, pointing to the mauled cupcake.
I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was.
“Are you sure?” I asked her. “It’s broken.”
“I know,” she said. “But it’s your birthday and I know you want the good one.”
“True, true,” I was thinking.
“Oh, no, that’s okay,” I said. “You take the good one.”
“They’ll both taste the same,” she said, reaching up and taking the crumpled up mess off the serving plate. I watched her, horrified, as though witnessing someone peel a dead animal off the side of the road. She carefully arranged the crumbs on her napkin and smiled at me, lovingly, as I quietly walked back to my desk with my perfect cupcake, beaming.
It’s been almost forty years and I’m still not over it. How come she knew it didn’t matter and how come I didn’t? How come she didn’t care that her cupcake was ugly and mine was perfect? Had she somehow read “A New Earth" thirty eight years ago?
No. She hadn’t.
She just knew.
If you’re reading this, um, whatever your name is, I just want to say that I get it now and if you were in Mrs. Marshall’s and Ms. Manton’s classes in 1969 with Joanne something and William Jazanowski and Missy Cohen and Claudine Alson and Kory Berg, and Claire something (who was very into vitamins) and the girl with the long braids whose name I can’t remember either but was at my ninth grade birthday party (oh wait! It was Judy something!! I think), can you please email me? There’s a place that just opened up in Englewood with what looks like the most amazing cupcakes ever, and I was thinking, if you’re not busy ending world hunger or off drilling for alternative energy sources somewhere, maybe I could make it up to you. Even though I know you know better.