Yesterday, I had my husband make me a cake. I asked him to, of course, and he did it, because even though my heritage has several great bakers in it, I did not inherit the baker skill along with the baker gene.
The cake came out perfectly, and it was great. But it was also bittersweet.
Not in taste, but more because it reminded me of another cake. A cake which pretty much sums up my personality and by extension, my high school experience.
When I was high school several years, but not that many years ago, I had an AP History class which was two periods long. Inbetween the period break, my teacher, Mrs. Smith, let us sign up on a calendar to take turns bringing in food so we could eat it.
Is it any wonder I loved her class?
One month, I realized that no one had had the chance to sign up for the calendar, because the month started on a Monday (we usually signed up on the last week of the previous month), so no one was going to have food when we went back to class. We had had one incident where this same situation had happened before, and no one was happy about it. I didn’t want that to happen to them again. As much as I didn’t really like my peers all the time, I wanted their approval, and on some level, I think high school was my version of Stockholm Syndrome. I loved some of them, in a quirky, non-traditional way. I still love some of them that way.
I decided I would make something, and my younger sister and I, who were in the mood to bake anyway, decided to make a fun cake. Our idea of a fun cake was getting a strawberry and orange cream cake mix and cream cheese icing. I think we might have even put sprinkles on top. It was beautiful when it came out and she finished putting on the icing (she was always better with that part than me).
The next morning, I felt sick. I don’t know why, or really remember. I just remember feeling dizzy and sick so I had my sister drop off the cake in Mrs. S’s class, and I checked in at Homeroom, and then spend first period at the nurse.
When the period was over, I had to go to class, because my mom couldn’t come get me, and the nurse had some kind of tirade against keeping students who weren’t leaving for too long, I guess. So I went to my AP History class anyway. I at least felt good that I had brought in the cake, and I was happy they would be able to enjoy it.
When I got there, tragedy sort-of-struck.
Mrs. S asked me, “Did you bring in this cake? We weren’t sure, and wanted to make sure someone wasn’t trying to poison us.” She was being her funny, engaging self, so it wasn’t an insult. But that’s not how my teenager mind took it.
I didn’t realize it till later, but they hadn’t even tried the cake. But I thought the students had eaten it and hated it. I mean, it was high school. It was pretty easy to take down the little self-esteem I had. I mumbled, “NO,” and headed to my desk. I put my head down and tried not to cry.
After all, I’d had such good intentions to make people happy, and they thought I was trying to poison them! It was terrible. They hated what I’d tried so hard to make special. They hated all the fun that had come from me and my sister spending time together on a project.
Turns out, a bunch of them ate it anyway, after Mrs. S told them I didn’t bring it. They all loved the cake. And then I was trapped, because I had brought it in, lied, and was wallowing in self-pity while they were happy with it. I felt even more terrible.
After class, I went up to Mrs. S and told her what had happened. She laughed easily, assuring me everyone loved it regardless, and told me she wouldn’t tell them since I felt bad about the whole situation.
Something I’d planned to make people happy backfired and made me feel terrible. I thought people didn’t want the work and art that I had to offer. I thought they hated it.
It was a terrible, terrible experience, but one, because I kept trying to do nice things for people, repeated itself quite frequently in middle and high school. That’s part of the reason I think people who only think about themselves really enjoy high school, while people who think of others tend to hate it. If I’d just cared about myself, I wouldn’t have made the cake, and I wouldn’t have felt terrible, and I wouldn’t have to wonder if someone from my AP History class is going to read this and comment on it.
I told my husband this story while I was icing the cake he made for me. He kissed my forehead and told me he loved me, and he was glad I cared about the others even if it had caused me pain. Then he smiled at me and reminded me what I often say to him: “Love suffers long.”
C. S. Lewis says to love anything means to be vulnerable in some way. It is part of the human experience. When I look at people who only love themselves, I have trouble not secretly hating them, because it’s easier not to care, and it’s less painful, even if more lonely, in the end.
A cake, to be properly baked, has to go through mixing, and beatings, and whippings (gotta love cooking language) and finally heated in the oven to be its final form, for others to enjoy. But if you eat cake batter without cooking it, you can get sick from it.
As I ate my cake, later on, I thought about how good it was to have Ryan, my husband, know my story, and how he loved me despite it, maybe even because of it. Now I’m going to go eat another piece, because Ryan’s the reason I get to have my cake, and eat it, too. Catharsis and closure have never tasted so sweet.