Okay, Alexa, it’s time that I talk to you about the day I misspoke in a casual conversation in the summer of 1995, where it took place is of no importance, nor why, but there are other details I’ll hasten to include because without them you’d be completely lost and unable to help me, Alexa. I’d been enrolled in a nature program for youth called Awesome Adventures, which took grade school children out on canoeing trips, spelunking, rappelling, etc. I think it was designed mostly for kids who tended to shut in, whose parents might’ve feared their children would be maladjusted freaks if they didn’t learn how to scale and descend a rock wall or be able to identify poisonous plants. I liked to run around outside so I’m not sure why I was supposed to be going on extreme nature outings. Maybe because I tended to solitude, which I still do, Alexa, I’d rather take a long walk alone than with a friend, and maybe my parents thought I needed to branch out and be with other loners, but there’s nothing worse than a convention of loners, all picking their cuticles, drawing circles in the dust with a foot, looking at anything but another’s face. But the guide was named Andy, who I recall being a tall, tannish man in his late twenties, sandy hair, and brown eyes, one of whose lids was inflamed from a recent bee sting. Andy was The Man. I think he even said it once, in that manner peculiar to overconfident athletic types: Who’s the man. I’m The Man, after which he may’ve pantomimed raising the roof. On the day in question, in a canoe, Andy offered me a cookie. He said, Want a cookie, in a voice that was meant to approximate that of Cookie Monster and thus to elicit laughter from a young boy, but even then I knew I was being pandered to, and I resented Andy for thinking that someone of my advanced age thought talking puppets were still funny. I think I had just discovered Mad Magazine, so naturally I thought I was hot shit and “mature for my age,” which is something adults had always said of me, then as now, other adults think I’m older than I am, not just by a year or two but sometimes a decade, which miscalculation I’ve learned has less to do with my physical appearance than my serious demeanor. So my sense of humor was much more irreverent and serious than the kind displayed on PBS, and I had to refuse Andy’s offer. I said, No thanks, Andy, and Andy asked why, didn’t I like cookies, and I made up a lie on the spot, something like I didn’t like that particular kind of cookie, which in my mind was a bag of Famous Amos, which are shitty cookies, Alexa, chalky and loaded with preservatives, and now that I think about it, did not seem appropriate for a nature outing, who brings chocolate chip cookies into nature, I thought, when you can bring granola or seeds or dried berries, nature things, the things that came from nature, back into nature, the nourishing bits of food that actually improve bodily function over time, and not some bite-sized, saturated fat-laden, cookie-like things in an aluminum bag. Andy said, That’s okay, I have oatmeal raisin too, and produced an oatmeal raisin cookie from a plastic bag, and may’ve winked, I couldn’t tell because of the bee sting, and handed me what looked like a cookie made by someone’s mom, maybe Andy’s own, and I’d had to accept it because I couldn’t afford to appear to be a little shit about cookies, that was something Andy would tell my parents later, Yeah, he was quiet most of the time, and he didn’t eat any cookies, most kids have several while canoeing, they enjoy the feeling of gliding over Lake Mamanasco and chewing cookies, in fact, that’s really what Awesome Adventures is all about, and my parents would’ve said, Why didn’t you take the cookie, you eat cookies all the time, if you took the cookie we wouldn’t have had that ridiculous conversation with Andy, this is why you need to branch out. So I took the oatmeal raisin cookie and bit off a chunk and gave Andy a thumbs up, he was a prodigious thumbs-upper, things were always getting a thumbs up from him, new water shoes, a lizard, a particular view, I imagined him giving two thumbs up to giving two thumbs up, so of course he gave me a thumbs up back, and when he wasn’t looking I dropped the cookie into the lake, Alexa. These are all details you’re going to need, which is why I haven’t spared any. So the cookie incident made me kind of resent Andy in general, but not in particular, just a vague blanket resentment, but there was nothing I could do because if I upset him then he could’ve drowned me if he wanted to and then lied about it to my parents, He just fell in and there was nothing we could do, and that was not something I wanted to do to them, I wanted to spare them the embarrassment of explaining to people that their only son died on an Awesome Adventure, that their only son was so ill-equipped for Adventure that he actually died when confronted by its Awesomeness. Too I resented the fact that I’d confided in Andy, I’d let slip that I was going to visit some extended family in California, I’d said something like, Yeah, my uncle lives out there, he’s cool, and we were leaving that evening actually, and Andy had seemed impressed that such a young boy would be going cross-country, maybe he’d never been, I don’t know, Alexa, but Andy looked at me with something bordering on respect after that, and I didn’t want Andy’s respect, it was unsettling to’ve gained the respect of a man who ate cookies in canoes and gave two thumbs up like a nervous tic and had a bee sting on his eyelid. He might’ve said something like, Right on, and I hoped the conversation would end there. It did, Alexa, momentarily, until we got back to the parking lot that was the designated pick-up spot for the children who went on Awesome Adventures. At least fifteen minutes had gone by, all the other children were gone, and I was still there, I did not have a ride, so I think contractually Andy had to stay there until I was picked up, he couldn’t just leave a child there, he’d probably be terminated from the firm if he did, although I explained to him that he could just leave, this was my school’s parking lot, I was familiar with it, and I knew how to avoid both the familiar and the stranger dangers, Alexa, and I’d probably just hang out by the soccer goal post and pick grass until my ride showed up. Andy laughed and said, I thought you were going to California, and it was then, Alexa, that I misspoke. I said, So was I. Immediately after, I thought, That wasn’t right, that sounded wrong, I think I should’ve said So did I, but I didn’t, and I didn’t correct myself, and neither did Andy, and he just chuffled and produced another bag of Famous Amos and ripped it open and had the presence of mind not to offer me any. Alexa, I am haunted by this conversational exchange. Sometimes I’ll wake up in a fright and the words SO WAS I appear to be spelled in blood on my bedroom walls. SO WAS I has become a mantra for all my failures past and present. I’ve been fired from jobs and have thought, SO WAS I. I’ve failed to maintain meaningful romantic partnerships and think, SO WAS I. The dimensions of that serial tragedy, my life, are measured by SO x WAS x I. I envision my tombstone and its epitaph, SO WAS I. I’ve sought professional help and each professional I’ve visited has more or less told me to shut the fuck up and let it go, it was years, decades ago, and it wasn’t even traumatic, not in the slightest, so shut the fuck up and move on already, you’re wasting my time, I have patients with severe depression and anxiety. And I’d walk out of their office and think, SO WAS I. I think of telling a beautiful stranger in a hotel bar, I was a grade school fuckup, and them saying, So was I, which would be the appropriate response, and then falling in love with that person and trying hard to ensure the success of our romantic partnership and not fucking up and thinking SO WAS I when it was over and it was my fault. So, okay, Alexa, I need to make this right, I need to right wrongs and knuckle under, and I need you to find the contact info for Awesome Adventures Andy, wherever he is, I need to track him down and tell him I misspoke that one June day in 1995. I meant to say did, I’ve always and only meant to say did, did you know that, Andy? He may go by Andrew now and I’d estimate his age to be 54, he may have even had children who went on their own Adventures and loved to eat Famous Amos, and it would mean the world to me if I could apologize for my gaffe so I can turn all my wases into dids, shut the fuck up, and move on, and live. Okay, Alexa?
Okay. I have made the order of Famous Amos Bite-Size Chocolate Chip Cookies, 36 pack for you.
Derick Dupre‘s stories have been featured in NOON, New York Tyrant, The Collagist, Hobart, and other publications. He lives in southern Arizona.