Step by Step By Grace Fetterman

Guiding Hands from City Life collection by Allen Forest, first published on the cover of the 2016 winter issue of Two Cities Review

*Featured Artwork: ink drawing Guiding Hands by Allen Forrest, previously published as the Winter 2016 cover of the Two Cities Review

Step By Step

Grace Fetterman

I say sorry sorry sorry over and over as she pulls back into the traffic. It’s okay, she assures me. But I know it is not. Nothing during that time comes even close to okay.

The Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie was like a breath of fresh air in Los Angeles, the place polluted by smog, dietary vigilance and epidemic proportions of body dysmorphia. My mother first acquired the recipe from Thin-Lynn at her weekly Mommy and Me class.

Thin-Lynn, the self-professed “endorsing wife of the endodentist!”—an occupation no one had really ever heard of—was assigned to bring the snacks that week.

“How do they taste?” Lynn, edgy, and oddly ebullient, asks my mother. “I’ve never actually tried one before,” Lynn confesses, “I don’t eat cookies, any sweets, really. It’s the only recipe I know.”

Just then, her baby, Quinton, the one with the nanoscale nostrils, who cries the most out of all the infants, crawls over to his mom, thereby accomplishing Teacher Kathy’s “Second Milestone.”

According to Teacher Kathy, I at three years old, was two years behind in physical development, and a year ahead in speech and language growth. My mother says I never actually crawled, but rather, rolled from room to room, like a tubby tumbleweed, mingling with friends old and new. Back then, as now, I had a lot to say, but nowhere really to be. I started babbling at three weeks, and when I was five months old, spoke my first sentence, “Thank you,” after my mother brought me an afternoon collation of Cheerios. “Clear as a bell,” my mother asserts.

After several trips to the Orthopedic Specialist (in the same building as Thin-Lynn’s Endodentist Husband) I was finally fully ambulatory at the rather delayed age of three and a half. At this time, my mother was also pregnant with her second child, another girl who was going to be named Ella.

Teacher Kathy had just started offering an additional “Sibling Class” through Mommy and Me to help the eldest child prepare for the new baby. My mom and I practiced changing diapers on my teddy bear, Toffy, and I made various “Welcome to the Planet!” construction paper cards. We refurbished the guest room into a nursery, put the crib back together and bought a black and white mobile to hang above. My mom says that a couple weeks prior to her due date, she overheard me giving a tour of the house to an invisible guest:

This is my room, this is the family room, this is the kitchen, this is the room the baby will sleep in, this is the bathroom…

On the night before my mother left for the hospital, we made the peanut butter blossom cookies. I fell asleep when they were baking in the oven, not seeing the finished product until the next morning. My parents had already left; the cookies sitting on a wire rack to cool.

Several hours later, my mother endured a uterine rupture in labor. A, nine-pound, full-term baby who never took a breath of her own.

Months later, my mom and I return to Mommy and Me. She opens the classroom door a fraction, looks inside, and then slowly shuts it. She closes her eyes. She asks me if we can sit at a distance from the others, “Away from the other babies.” She explains she is “just too sad” to sit alongside them.

The door opens. We are met with silence. Some mothers look downward.

Teacher Kathy cancels “Sibling Class” for that afternoon.


This is my room, this is the family room, this is the kitchen, this is the room the baby will sleep in, this is the bathroom…


Two years later, the millennium arrives. My parents have recently adopted a seven-month-old from Guatemala, Charlotte, already walking when gently held by the fingertips. Her eyes are the darkest shade of brown, almost black. She has full, generous lips; an elfin nose. My mother styles her hair in two little pig-tails, sprouting atop her head like tiny carrot greens.

Stroller from the Family collection by Allen Forrest

One summer’s afternoon, when Charlotte was two and I was seven, my mom and I baked several peanut-butter desserts: peanut butter brownies, peanut butter chocolate chip cake, and, the peanut butter blossoms. My mom made Charlotte a little triangle of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to go with. We turned away from her briefly to check on the peanut butter blossoms in the oven. We looked back at Charlotte. The sandwich was gone.

“There is no way she could have eaten it that fast,” my mother tells me.

We walk over to her high chair.

“Charlotte, where is the sandwich?”

She chortles.

My mother gently touches her face. A little piece of crust dangles from Charlotte’s nostril.

“Oh my God, she’s shoved it up her nose.”

We laugh hysterically as my mom makes my sister blow the sandwich out into a napkin.


At two and half, Charlotte is still slow to talk. Teacher Kathy suggests that my mother look into speech therapy. The only actual word she can articulate is “Dad,” among invented expressions such as “Moppen-Moppen” for “more,” and “Noppen-Noppen,” for what we believed meant, “enough.”

The two of us are sitting on the couch, watching television. She holds her arm up to mine.

“Don’t match,” she tells me. “We don’t match.”


Artwork Allen Forrest 2013 Family Album Anita and Eileen
Artwork Allen Forrest 2013 Family Album Anita and Eileen

When Charlotte is seven, and I am twelve, she becomes fixated with Best Western hotels.

“When can we go to a Best Western?” she asks us everyday on the car ride to school. My mom smiles at her in the rearview mirror.

“Why do you want to go so bad?” I ask her, giggling.

“Becaussseeeeeeee!!!” She yelps, kicking the front seat.


The two of us are sitting on the couch, watching television. A Best Western commercial starts playing.
“Here it is! Here it is!”

A boy with an abnormally large nose, is at the dinner table with his family his mother, father, and sister, have distinctly smaller noses. The boy rides the school bus, all the other children have smaller noses. He sits by himself. The boy goes to class. The teacher, students,–only small noses.

Cut to the boy sitting alone in a taxi. He pulls up to a Best Western. He walks into the hotel lobby. He is greeted by a man, woman, and girl his age. They all share his nose size.

“See! Grace! Grace! They all match! They all match!”

Don’t match.

We don’t match.


I am a freshman in college. My mom sends me the peanut butter blossom cookies in a care package. I share them with my dorm-mates. As I walk down the hall to recycle the box, a card falls out. It is a collage of the real-housewives of New Jersey and Michael Jackson. I laugh out loud. It’s pretty hilarious. Charlotte has signed her name at the bottom.

A nip of homesickness. A grip of something else. Guilt?


I’ve been home for five days in late May when my sister says to me,

“I have to tell you something. It’s very, very bad.”

We are walking the pug around the block. I assume she is exaggerating, just being dramatic. She rolls up her sleeve.

“Look.”

Her arm is lacerated, covered in cuts. Scars on her wrists.

“I have been using a razor.”

Don’t match.

We don’t match.


I am a sophomore and it is finals week. I am growing exceedingly worried. I had not heard from my family in days. I know something is up, I know something has happened.

And then, my mother calls. Charlotte has been admitted to the psychiatric ward.

Girl in the Car from City Life collection by Allen Forrest

My winter break is spent driving back and forth from the ward, with me always having to pee while stuck in the horrendous traffic. My mom, her face pale and pinched, waits for me in the car while I dash into one of the many Starbucks that pepper our route to UCLA. I say sorry sorry sorry over and over as she pulls back into the traffic. It’s okay, she assures me. But I know it is not.

Nothing during that time comes even close to okay.


It’s Spring Break and I am home in LA, sitting at the kitchen table, doing homework. It is Charlotte’s first day back at high school after completing the partial hospitalization program.

Within two hours, the school calls home. They tell my mother she has to come pick her up.

“She is not ready. She is just not ready.”

The Volvo pulls out of the driveway and then forty five minutes later back in again. I hear the front door slam. Charlotte is screaming. She slams something on the table, in front of my computer, and strides angrily into her room. She’s screaming louder now, and hitting her fist against the window. I tilt my laptop towards me so I can see what she was holding. It is a plastic tupperware container of the peanut butter blossom cookies. She made them with my mom the night before to give to out to her teachers, classmates, and friends.

The school emails an hour later, informing my mother they are not equipped to “meet Charlotte’s needs” anymore.

That night, Charlotte emerges from her room. I am in the same spot, still working at the kitchen table. She places a peanut butter blossom cookie on my keyboard.

“Sorry,” she says to me.

“For what?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s OK. I’m sorry too.”

She sits in the chair next to me, and picks up the cookie. The chocolate kiss is faintly cracked.


Ingredients

48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk

Chocolates

½ cup shortening

1 cup Reese’s creamy peanut butter

½ cup packed light brown sugar

⅓ cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup granulated sugar for rolling

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 375 F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
  2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add brown sugar and ⅓ cup granulated sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture. Beat until blended.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Immediately press chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes 48 cookies.

About

Grace Fetterman graduated from Reed College in 2016 with a degree in English Literature. She won first place in the Big Brick Review Annual Essay Contest and has been produced by the Jewish Women's Theatre of Los Angeles. Find her at www.gracefetterman.com

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