I don’t remember why my mother and I were at the mall.
I was in my early 20s, home from college for the weekend. My parents’ marriage was in the early stages of shambles, although I may not have realized it at the time. We’d probably left the house to get away from my dad, but why the mall? Neither my mom nor I were big shoppers, except at thrift stores, so the mall seems like a strange choice for us, but there we were.
The one redeeming quality of this small-town mall was a dollar store. This store wasn’t Family Dollar or Dollar General or one of those tricky “dollar” stores. This store sold every item in it for one single U.S. dollar. It was almost as good as a thrift store.
I don’t remember all the stores we visited that day. I don’t remember what we bought, save for one purchase from the dollar store: a can of Play-Doh.
Perhaps I was trying to reclaim my so recently left behind childhood. Perhaps I was planning for a night of psychedelic fun. I do remember being really into toys in those days. I could no longer play with the same abandon I’d enjoyed as a kid, but I kept toys around in the hope they’d provide some relief from a life of exams, ex-boyfriends, and money woes.
The Play-Doh was vivid purple. When I opened the can, I saw it was smooth and unsullied. It exuded that particular Play-Doh odor of chemicals and innocence. It was soft and cool under my fingers as I kneaded and rolled it. I’d never been much of a sculptor, but I’d always enjoyed the tactile sensation of Play-Doh in my hands.
As long as I could remember, I’d wondered what it would be like to sink my teeth into a mound of the modeling compound. I’d never been a glue eater or a paper chewer or a consumer of ChapStick like the girl in my sister’s kindergarten class who ate half the contents of a tube in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. It wasn’t that I wanted to eat the Play-Doh so much as know what it would feel like between my teeth. This chunk looked so clean and inviting.
I told my mom I’d always wanted to bite into a thick chunk of the stuff. As I raised the Play-Doh to my mouth, she used my first and middle names, a sure indication she had on her bossy pants. Don’t you dare! she commanded.
She was going to forbid me? Game on! I was a grown woman! I made my own decisions! She could no longer tell me what to do!
I brought the purple Play-Doh up to my mouth while my mother looked at me with horror and amazement. Yep, I was really going to defy her. Yep, I was really going to bite into the Play-Doh.
I don’t remember how it felt when my teeth sank into that purple loveliness. I do remember it tasted awful. Luckily we were sitting in the still-parked car, so I was able to open my door and spit the contents of my mouth onto the asphalt. It was so gross, so very, very gross. I spit a few more times to remove all residue.
I’m sure my mother was trying to decide if she should embrace the anger she felt at my willful disobedience or laugh as I suffered my comeuppance. It wouldn’t be the last time I experienced adult independence as something less than delicious.
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