Eight-year-old Forgets Ponies, Considers Fame and Vegetarianism
Ponies were the thing back then and all of my friends wanted one. On birthdays and Christmas, one of them would inevitably ask her parents to buy her a pony, usually a pink one like the plastic figurines we played with during lunchtime in the second grade. I don’t know any girls whose requests were fulfilled that year, and I myself never asked for a pony at all.
I was a little more realistic as a seven-year-old: I had a giant pink tee-shirt with a pony printed on the front, and that was enough for me. I also knew that the odds of finding a pink pony at the Jamaica Bay stables were about as slim as the odds that I’d be able to keep one in my Brooklyn backyard. When my friends oohed and aahed about ponies, I rolled my eyes and congratulated myself on my outstanding maturity.
I dreamed bigger.
Instead of a pony, on my eighth birthday I asked my parents to move to Los Angeles with me so that I could be a television actress. I knew that L.A. was the place to be and that a girl had to start young if she ever wanted to make a name for herself. I had a career plan and I wanted to get a move on. I presented this idea to my parents over my birthday dinner at home: sweet and sour meatballs with thick gravy and mounds of orzo. I had wanted to go out for dinner but my birthday unfortunately fell on a Wednesday, a school night, so I was stuck at home, mashing the meatball into crumbs I could hide under the orzo without my mother noticing. Every time I succeeded in making a meatball disappear, my mother plopped another one onto my plate.
I had been thinking about my silver screen career all week and I was sure my father would support my plans. He was a big broad-chested man with dark messy hair and a full beard. A stage actor in New York for 20 years, he cursed a lot and quoted Shakespeare around the house. He was part of Actor’s Equity but the last two agents he’d auditioned for had told him they had too many other big bearded Shakespearean actors to take him on as a client. Eventually my father stopped acting and turned to directing. He knew how hard it was to break into the business later in life and I was sure he would commend me for having the foresight to get an early start.
“Where on earth did you get an idea like that?” he asked, and stuck a fork into the meatball atop my pile of pasta.
“She should eat one of those,” my mother said as my father took a bite. I didn’t like meatballs. I also didn’t like pork chops or hamburgers or chicken or fish sticks. I was skinnier than the girls my age and my mother was concerned I wasn’t getting enough protein.
My father shrugged. “If she doesn’t want to eat it, I’m not going to force her.” He finished the meatball.
“Don’t you want to eat just one of them?” my mother asked. Her eyebrows were meeting at the bridge of her nose. I think she was insulted.
“The sauce is good,” I said. “I just don’t like meatballs.” I’d been practically vegetarian from the age of four, after I walked in on my mother slicing an entire cow tongue on the countertop. A tongue! The tongue was bigger than my head. I’d run out screaming and hadn’t been comfortable with meat since. I liked pasta, potatoes, soup, string beans, and salad. My favorite vegetable was broccoli; you’d think I’d have been a parent’s dream.
My mother put her fork down, smearing sauce across the placemat.
“She asked me to make this,” she told my father. “Now she won’t eat it.” I hated when my mother talked about me like I wasn’t there.
“I can hear you, Ma,” I said.
“Don’t talk to your mother like that.” My father ate another meatball.
“She started it! She’s talking about me like I’m not here.” I hated it when my father scolded me, and he only scolded me when he was defending my mother.
“Don’t call your mother ‘she.’”
“What do I call her?” I never understood this. “She’s not a he.”
“What do we do with her?” my father asked my mother.
“I want to move to California to be an actress,” I announced. It seemed as good a time as any to restate my birthday wishes. I hoped my obvious determination would cut the tension in the room.
My father laughed heartily, his mouth wide and the corners of his eyes crinkling. My mother put her head in her hands.
This was originally published in Grayson’s blog, Writer’s Gastronomy.