This morning I cried while buttering my bagel.
And while yes, I believe butter on a bagel is that beautiful, that’s not why I cried. I cried because I felt lucky to have the bagel. I felt, believe it or not, proud to have this bagel — and the five or six other bags of bagels that I know are on top of my fridge and in my freezer. And yes I’m crying while I write this. Again. Dear reader, please keep some tissues around. I cry a lot, unwillingly.
There was a time in my world when walking through the grocery store was just an exercise in anxiety. My husband’s grip was so tight on everything both financial and otherwise that I was terrified to shop without a calculator and a very specific list. I did everything I could to whittle our grocery budget to almost nothing. Every purchase scrutinized. Every price debated. Even if we had a bit of money or just wanted to have an Oreo — like a name-brand Oreo — I would be mocked for my consumerist ways and then the Oreos would be taken from the child’s hand and reshelved in favor of whatever off-brand cookie was just within reach. And he would always claim that those were really the better cookie and how dare we waste his precious dollars — time is money and we were wasting his…always — on brand names. Now, we were pretty poor most of our marriage (until I was finally allowed to work full time), so we didn’t buy a lot of store cookies anyway. I made almost everything from scratch because I had to or there wouldn’t be any dessert or snacks. I learned to make everything from Pop-tarts to breakfast cereal by hand and I always made sure the kids knew that it was my idea and that it was fun! Because if you don’t put a fun spin on that stuff, kids won’t buy in and eat it.
Once in a while, maybe near Mother’s Day or on a Sunday, he would buy or let me buy bagels. As a child, we always had bagels in the house and they were just my favorite breakfast always. So when it became such a big deal to get them, I maybe started to covet them a bit more — but also didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Why was it so important to not have bagels?
Well, of course, I know now it was all about control. Financial control. Food control. He loved to control everything and look how much control you gain by controlling both what we spend and what we eat. A quick taste of bile jumps into my throat as the feeling of anxiety just in shopping comes back. The taste is pushed back by the lump forming in my throat. But don’t worry. I’m not going to cry again (at least not right now). Instead…I look up into the window of the toaster oven. I watch as my bagel slowly becomes the perfectly toasty receptacle for butter. The timer dings (ok, I may have forced it a bit) and I open the door.
The smell brings me back to joy as I pop that lovely, wonderfully toasted Everything bagel, onto my plate with a swift flick of my wrist — you know, the move that you make when you don’t want to burn your hand. The bagel now sits before me on my plate and I slowly open the silverware drawer and pull one of my favorite bread knives out.
Do you have a favorite piece of silverware? I do. There is a certain length of tine or blade and length of handle that lends itself to a certain weight and certain feel. In my hand is my butter knife and on this morning, I feel the heft of its handle in my hand as I spread the butter I bought on my bagel. And I smile to myself, knowing that that’s enough.