Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


First Betrayal (and Other Stories)

During family time after a recent funeral, my eldest aunt shared a story from another extended family gathering. It was out of state, and she was staying at someone's house along with her husband and brother (my uncle). They woke in the morning and got themselves ready for the day, had a group breakfast, and headed out for the activities. Soon she and her brother both found themselves with splitting headaches. They shared that fact with each other and learned the coffee at breakfast had been decaffeinated. They were so accustomed to their morning coffee that they were getting caffeine withdrawal headaches by mid-morning.

That's always been the practice for my mom and her siblings. Since my earliest memories, she has had coffee throughout the day, from first thing in the morning to relaxing at night. So it makes sense that one of my first memories involving a sense of betrayal would involve coffee. I'm sure it wasn't actually my first time experiencing the emotion, but for whatever reason it's a memory that has stuck with me.

I must have been around five years old. Maybe a bit younger, if five isn't quite right. My parents were getting their first automatic coffeemaker. It was a fairly new product at the time and entirely new for them. Their excitement and anticipation were tangible, and I absorbed the feelings and made them mine. It was going to be the best thing ever. I'm not sure if this is accurate or simply the epic moment the unveiling seemed to me at the time, but my hazy memory includes having people at the house and making the first brewing an event. I danced and sang the way kids do when they can't contain themselves while we waited for it to be ready.

In my faded recollection of those moments, I enjoyed the aroma of the brewing coffee. I had never been allowed the drink before, but my parents had decided to let me try some as a special treat to commemorate the moment. There is nothing hazy or faded about that first taste. It was awful. It was disgusting. How could my parents be so excited for something that tasted so absolutely horrendous? Reality didn't align with expectations in that moment, and the feeling of betrayal was scarring.

For at least 30 years after that, I found coffee abominable. The smell turned my stomach. There wasn't enough sugar and cream possible to disguise the taste. It's only been in the last 5-10 years, with age dulling my taste buds and chronic sinus issues stealing my sense of smell, that a desire to cut sugary beverages as my preferred source of caffeine has allowed me to finally develop a taste for the drink. Though I now drink coffee daily--most often black--I had to start slowly and gradually and work very hard to find it tolerable. My initial experience of betrayal with it was that strong.

So recently, middle of the afternoon, a patron walked hesitantly into the library looking confused. He stood in the middle of our open space in front of the reference desk and looked around, checking out all the other people in the building, the lights overhead, me at the desk.

Then he walked over and said, “Are you closed?”

“ . . . Umm . . . you mean, right now? You’re asking if we’re closed right now?”


“No, we’re open just like normal.”

“Oh. I just wondered because your door was locked and I wasn’t able to get inside.”

“ . . . Umm . . . okay . . . I’ll go take a look at the door . . . “

Turned out one of the two double doors on one of the two sides of our entrance hadn't been unlocked that morning. I guess everyone else just shuffled two feet to the side and used the other door.

"[Two-and-a-half year old], can you tell Mommy and Uncle about our adventures at the park tonight?"

"I played with the rocks with our friend, then we walked on the trail, then Daddy said go this way and I went the other way, and then then then a goose tried to GOBBLE ME UP!"

He missed the first half of our night playing on the playground equipment, but highlighted the friend joining us and wonderfully dramatized his lesson learned about why Mommy and Daddy always tell him not to chase the geese, as this one chased back and gave him a horrible (and well deserved) scare.

The young lady Valeria Luiselli, a mediocre high school student, stammered and overused the suffix -ly. As her parents, Mrs. Weiss and Mr. Fischli, wanted her to give a speech at her fifteenth birthday party, they sent her to singing, elocution, and public speaking classes. Her party was to be a very elegant celebration in the neighborhood dance hall, and the girl needed to prepare herself for the occasion.

For the elocution and public speaking classes, they hired the famous teacher Guillermo Sheridan. The first sentence that Professor Guillermo Sheridan taught Valeria Luiselli to say was: “Titus Livy had a conk like a coconut and Octavia Paz was a big head.” Despite the shortness and simplicity of the sentence, it took the young girl a lot of effort to pronounce it correctly. Every time she made a mistake, Professor Guillermo Sheridan would hit her on the palm of the hand with a cane. The girl had to repeat the same sentence 112 times before her teacher called an end to the first session.

That night, while they were eating a dinner of octopus a la gallega with white rice, the girl’s parents asked her how her first public speaking class had gone, and if she had learned anything useful that she would like to share with them. The young girl said:

Titus Livy was a cokehead.

What’s that, my girl? asked her father.

Titus Livy was a cokehead, repeated the adolescent.

Valeria Luiselli’s parents looked each other in the eyes and ate the rest of their octopus in silence.

That night, the young girl’s progenitors put on their plush rat and mouse costumes, and, instead of reading or watching television, as they did almost every other night, they committed an act of outlandish, noisy, uninterrupted coitus. When they had finished, still half-dressed in their costumes, the couple lay silently staring at the ceiling.

This one's not mine, but from Valeria Luiselli's interesting and unusual book The Story of My Teeth. It is an "allegoric" the protagonist, an auctioneer, composes to sell a pair of rat and mouse costumes.


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