I believe in Karma. I believe good things happen to good people and bad people fry in Hell. I believe everyone gets what they deserve (sometimes that scares me) and even though it rains on the just and the unjust alike, the just usually get an umbrella. This isn’t merely rose-coloured Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky optimism; it’s real. I’ve proven it hundreds of times over a lifetime of experience. Let me tell you a story:
When I was seven, I liked Brenda What’s-her-name and I thought she liked me. She didn’t. She liked my lunch (my oatmeal chocolate cookies, actually.) Somehow (memory fails me) I eventually realized this and, broken hearted, quit sharing my bounty with the woman of my dreams. This would have been just another love lesson learned except Brenda turned out to be a vindictive bitch, even at seven. She found herself another boyfriend who was one year older, 5 kilos heavier and skilled in the art of punching people out. In the messy divorce, Brenda and her bloodthirsty boyfriend demanded custody of my cookies, and after a couple of nasty altercations, I came around to their point of view on the benefits of sharing. Again, a love lesson learned. However, I was not prepared to go cookie-less for the rest of my life. So, rather than getting my ass kicked every day and losing my cookies anyway, or just meekly handing over them without a fight, I devised a cunning plan. For the rest of the year, every morning on the way to school, I stopped at a park bench in front of City Hall, sat down, rain or shine, and ate my cookies. One little boy finding his own way in an unfair world. It wasn’t too long before my personal Bonnie and Clyde figured out they weren’t getting any more cookies, and after a month or so, I began to appreciate the intrinsic value of solitude. Time on, we all went our separate ways: I moved to the West Coast and I assumed Brenda and the boyfriend (I think his name was Genghis or Attila) both died, face-down in a ditch somewhere.
Fast forward some 30 plus years.
I was at a house party back in my hometown, and an old friend introduced me to a woman,
“You remember Brenda?” he said.
In actual fact, I didn’t. However, Brenda turned out to be an intelligent, witty high school teacher who was married to one of the funniest Agro-engineers I’ve ever run across. She clearly remembered me, and we were all having such a good time that I figured I’d just fake it and we ended up spending most of the evening together. At some point, handsome husband disappeared and Brenda turned to me and, with a hint of remorse in her voice, said, “Does your mom still make those oatmeal chocolate cookies?” Ding dong! All the lights went on, and even though I hadn’t thought about Brenda in over 25 years, suddenly there she was: the same little girl who’d strong-armed me out of my cookies, and she looked genuinely sorry.
“Yeah,” I said, “She does.”
“You know, I’ve never ever tasted cookies as good as those ones. I wish I could learn to bake something that good.” And I could hear she meant it as some sort of a backwards-reaching apology.
I should have said something, but I didn’t. I just looked at her, directly into her, into her soul. And she let me — and over in the corner where we all keep our various bags of guilt, she had one with my name on it. I could see it in her eyes, and for a nanosecond, we both knew it. I could have fixed it for her. I should have fixed it for her. But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “No, people like you aren’t capable of things like that.”
Then, I stood up and went outside for a cigarette. When I got back, Brenda and handsome husband were gone.
And what’s the moral of the story? Brenda may still be dragging around a bag of guilt with my name on it. Too bad — she deserves it. The problem is the sins of a child are different from the sins of an adult and ever since that house party, I’ve been carrying around a bag that says “Brenda.” One of these days, Karma’s going to catch up with me.