The summer I turned fourteen, my sister had a psychotic break at church camp. She is also bipolar, though it took a long time for doctors to figure out the correct diagnosis. Her break was really bad, and she spent nine days in a psychiatric hospital.
Two families from our church were going down to New Braunfels, Texas together, and my parents agreed to let me and my brother go with them. I think my sister was coming home from the hospital, and it was easiest to have us out of the way.
I am not sure how long we were gone, but I know we were out of town on my birthday. My birthday fell on a Wednesday that year. The father of one of the families was a minister at our church. He had two daughters around my age. Our families weren’t close, but occasionally spent time together.
The night of my birthday, we all went to Cracker Barrell. Obviously, they didn’t let the birthday girl choose where we’d eat because I’d never choose Cracker Barrell over other restaurants. I’d rather eat dead grass than anything from Cracker Barrell.
There were ten of us, and Cracker Barrell was crowded, for once. At some point, the minister decided it’d be a good idea to tell our waitress that it was my birthday.
The freaking asshole.
Even as an adult who is significantly more well-adjusted than that fourteen-year-old girl, I despise the idea of a restaurant making a big deal about my birthday. I do not give two flips if people enjoy that sort of thing for themselves; I will always loathe it.
It was no secret that I was introverted and painfully shy. It was not hard to figure out that I did not like attention. Anyone with half a brain and even a smidgen of self-awareness never would’ve put me through what he did.
Not only was I shy, I was also going through a really hard time. My parents did not tell us anything about what happened. I had no idea what was going on with my sister.
In 2006, Cracker Barrell’s birthday tradition involved the waitress putting a hair net over the victim along with the singing of some ridiculously stupid version of the birthday song. But first, of course, the staff got the entire restaurant’s attention. And then directed it to me.
The freaking asshole.
I was mortified. I just hid my face in my hands during the proceedings. I don’t know if I cried or not, but I’m sure I felt like doing so. I was so mad I couldn’t see straight. My blood still boils when I think about it.
It probably wouldn’t be quite so bad, but that was a hard summer for me, and that man was beyond inconsiderate and self-serving. He did it for his own amusement, not out of any kindness of his heart. I unabashedly still hold a grudge. I’m sure it’s possible he did, but I have no recollection of him apologizing.
I remember laughter and mockery.
I remember the table getting free dessert. Nobody asked me what I wanted because we got sundaes with nuts all over them. I don’t eat nuts. Icing on the whole experience. Everyone ate the dessert except me and my brother.
I don’t remember that trip being a whole lot of fun, and it’s definitely marred by that man making my fourteenth birthday the worst in my life.
The guy is clearly obnoxious and self-absorbed. I have no clue why he thought it’d be a good idea to humiliate me in front of all those people. His motivation doesn’t really matter at this point.
A random woman at a table next to ours gave me two-dollar bills after it was all over, which is the only good thing that came out of it. I don’t remember what I did with that money, but I will always remember her kindness.
I am convinced a lot of society’s problems would be fixed if everyone had a little more self-awareness. Just a little consideration for our fellow humans.
That’s all I ask.