I hate bananas, hate the smell of bananas, the sound of someone chewing a banana, and, I’m sure much to the interest of Freudian psychologists everywhere, the sight of a banana. Maybe it is the potassium deficiency speaking here, but I would be happy if I never saw another banana in my life. I feel very strongly about this.
As a child, I lied with a straight face to various teachers, babysitters, and daycare providers, telling them I was allergic, convinced that I was doing a service with my little fib by saving them from the wrath of my vomitous reaction to the offending fruit. Two years ago, on my last day at my former job, my co-workers and “friends” filled the trashcan beneath my desk with banana peels. Blasted by the smell, I stood up prairie dog style and accused every one of my neighboring cubicle dwellers of daring to eat a banana in my general vicinity. It took me several minutes to realize that I had been the victim of a horrible and somewhat unfunny prank.
My hatred for the banana began pretty innocently, and although I cannot remember the specific date, the memory of that day over twenty years ago is as clear in my mind as if I was still sitting there. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, and as I have written many times before, my little sister was fairly consistent about driving me up a wall.
When the doorbell rang at our house, being the one to answer it was a very high honor. Normally, I could beat my sister to the door as a result of my larger size, faster speed, and generally more well-developed intellect. Courtney would come up behind me panting after having been shoved aside into a door or wall. She would peek around me to see that the caller at the door was simply the mailman with an odd-sized package, or maybe the meter man asking that the dog be let in from the yard so that he could get back there to do his job. My sister would let out a sigh and then make her way back up the stairs still annoyed that she had been defeated once again
On this day when the doorbell rang, I was in the kitchen just pulling a banana out of the large bowl on the counter. The chime rang through the house, and I was off to the races down the hall, the banana tucked beneath my arm like a football. My sister had heard it first, though, and she had been closer. She cut me off at the top of the stairs, scampered down the steps, turned to me with a satisfied, toothy grin, and then opened the door. Her snotty little look made me so angry that I did the only logical thing I could think of; I chucked the banana down the stairs right at her.
I missed. The banana hit the doorjamb to the left of her and then fell to the floor just as she closed the door. My sister, now clutching a Speigel catalog against her chest, stuck her tongue out, climbed the stairs, and pushed past me. I stomped down to pick up the banana that had fallen on the floor. The peel had still been intact when I had thrown it, however, on impact it had split a little on the side, and some bruised fruit was oozing out through the little hole. I went back upstairs and into the kitchen where my mom was standing at the sink. I walked over to the trashcan, depressed the pedal with my foot, and was just about to deposit the banana into its final resting place when my mother turned around and asked me what I was doing.
“This banana is bad,” I said with conviction, the banana still dangling precariously over the open can.
“I just bought those yesterday,” my mom said and then held out her hand, “Let me see it.”
I stood still for a second. This was not going to end well, I already knew. We were poor, single-mom poor, and so wasting food around our house was pretty much a felony. I stared at her outstretched hand and then slowly placed the banana squarely in her palm.
She examined the fruit in the same way she did everything, which was with purpose and an eagle eye. She looked up at me and asked me what happened to the banana, which was, of course, the same moment Courtney came strolling into the room.
“She threw it at me,” Courtney said, and because she was a very experienced tattletale, she managed to look thoroughly victimized.
The story came out. I was sentenced to a punishment. I was to sit at the table until I finished eating the affronting banana, and while this was going on, I was also supposed to think about the crime on humanity that I had committed. My mom removed the banana from its peel and put it in a cereal bowl. It was now quite messy, so for good measure she also provided me with a spoon. She left the room, presumably to hunker down with her new Speigel catalog, and I sat staring at the banana. There was no way I was going to eat it. I even said it out loud to the empty dining room, “There is no way I am eating this”
I have always been a fidgeter, usually playing with my hair, or chewing a pen lid; this day, however, I fidgeted endlessly with the spoon in the bowl of banana. I mushed it and stirred it around until it became a brown soupy mess. I spooned it up, lifted it high, and then tipped the spoon, letting the banana nastiness drip back into the bowl. Now there was definitely no way in hell I was going to eat it.
My mom came back about fifteen minutes after she had left me. I was sitting at the table, head on hand, staring into space. The sticky mass of liquid banana sat below my chin, still in the bowl. Now my mom was pissed.
“Dammit, Cara,” she said, her voice beginning to take on a bit of an edge. “I am giving you ten more minutes to eat it.”
I chose this moment to make one of the first really big mistakes that I would make with my smartass mouth (obviously, this trend continues throughout my life)
“Or what?” I asked, staring her directly in the eyes.
She was no longer pissed. She was now livid. I was defying her to her face, and I was being a brat about it.
“You have ten minutes to eat everything in that bowl, or I will come back in here and …and…I will come back in here and pour it over your head,” my mom stopped there.
She looked almost scared at what had come out of her mouth, but I was relieved. The odds of a mother pouring something disgusting over her own daughter’s head as a punishment seemed small, and to me, considering the crime, sounded cruel and unusual. While my mom was always creative with her punishments, she was also fair and never cruel. I didn’t buy it, and she saw this in my eyes. Now she was stuck. She couldn’t back down.
I screwed around with the banana for the next ten minutes, and my mom watched me the entire time. At one point she told me how serious she was, and at another, she pleaded with me to just eat the stupid thing. When the egg timer dinged, we both jumped a little bit. She looked at me like she wasn’t exactly sure what to do, and I looked back at her, still defiant. She took the bowl from my hands gingerly and said the words “last chance” under her breath. She saw that I still didn’t believe her, and so she dumped it. Right over my head. The slimy ooze trailed out of my hair down the back of my neck, and into my face, mixing with the tears that had started flowing freely. Wailing like a baby, I looked up at my mom, shocked and thinking “How could you do such a thing?” My mom was crying, too. She was still mad at me, but she was also sad that she had been forced to embarrass me. Pride was a big thing in our family, and taking that away hurt her as much as it did me. She wiped the tears off of her own cheeks, and said simply, “Go get in the shower” and sat down at the table
I did get in the shower, and the banana barely budged from my hair. I got most of it out of my ears and off of my face, but I spent the next few weeks pulling little pieces of dried banana out of my hair. My hair, consequently, smelled of little pieces of dried banana. It was a sickeningly overripe smell, sometimes slightly musty and rotten. It was the sweet smell of respect for my elders.
While I learned to hate bananas that day, I also learned a valuable lesson. I obviously still defied my mother throughout my childhood and adolescence, but I learned to be subtle, almost respectful about it if that's possible. I never rubbed it in her face like that again. In turn, she never rubbed anything in my face (or hair) again, either.