The Cost of Innocence

January 16, 2009
By Jenny Dent, Lake Bluff, IL

“Hello, welcome to Applebee’s! Table for three?” The perky hostess seated us at a booth, and then went to try and liven the mood of the quiet, dim restaurant that sat right along the highway. It had been a long day of travelling, and the thought of a delicious meal made our mouths water. My stomach growled as I finalized my decision then sat patiently waiting for my family to decide. My eyes wandered out the window to the overcast, darkening sky that was beautiful earlier that day. Then I noticed our car in the parking lot. Looking in from the outside, the trunk really did look completely stuffed to the roof with all this stuff that we weren’t going to need for our week long road trip.
In my head, I scanned the crammed car, the one my mom had generously given to me two years ago, and I hoped no one else could see all the junk inside: The $75 television with a built in DVD player Michael and I had insisted on two years ago, surrounded by the stacked set of ten $15 DVDs that towered higher than the headrests. The intoxicating smell of the $19 complete set of sharpies I had for a project that past school year was probably permanently scenting the car. The new clothes I had packed in my suitcase in the trunk nagged at me, swallowing me in guilt, surrounding me. The fact that we managed to stuff that car with so much random stuff worried me, but what would I have done without TV to watch?
My mind returned to the restaurant when a familiar song started playing. The combination of vocals and instruments by Teddy Geiger took my thoughts away again to the morning before we left. It was the song I was listening to last: “Oh I’m gonna muster every ounce of confidence I have and cannonball into the water…”
While mentally reviewing my checklist one last time, I jammed to the tunes on my new ipod: “Yeah I’m gonna muster every ounce of confidence I have. For you I will. You always want what you can’t have, but I’ve got to try…” I jumped at the enthusiasm of my mom’s high pitched voice, “Are you ready for our big adventure Jenny Bean?” Her eyes wide open and lower lip curled up to its maximum.

“Yeah Mom, it’ll be great!” I turned back to my last minute packing, interpreting her visit as a secret way of hurrying me along. I heard her turn to leave, but then stop in her tracks and hesitantly turn back around. “I’m going as fast as I can Mom, I’ll be down in a sec!” But she didn’t leave. Instead, she approached me, her eyes not so wide and smile not so big.
“Jenny… I need to borrow some money for the trip,” her eyes darted to the floor almost instantly, and then slowly looked up, to see my reaction. My eyes subconsciously glanced over at my piggy bank, stuffed with a sheet labeled Mom’s IOUs and several values written and then checked off. But connecting with her uneasy eyes warned me of the severity this time.

“Sure thing Mom, how much do you need?”

“Well that’s the thing, how much cash do you have in here?”

“Uh, I don’t know, about $400 or so. How much do you want?”

“You know, I feel so bad asking. It’s just things are tight financially now, and the real estate markets slowing to a stop and your father lowering support pay…” Tears began to well up, illuminating the bright blue of her eyes. I threw her a life line before she drowned.

“Mom, its fine. I understand. Here, I’ll just give all of this to you and you can use whatever you need!” I responded confidently. But inside, sweat beginning to build. If things were okay then a seventeen year old girl would not have to lend her mom $400 dollars of her savings just so we could go on a road trip. Looking around my room, I noticed all my possessions that I naively found important and necessary a few minutes ago. Lacking courage to handle such a big burden, I snatched the rest of my things and ran out, trying to escape from that room of guilt and join my family in the car.
“You always want what you can’t have, but I’ve got to try. I’m gonna muster every ounce of confidence I have. For you I will.” The concluding verse of the song clued me back into the reality of Applebee’s. Looking around again, I saw a single mother with about four crying children to feed at the booth in the corner. I could hear the silence coming from a lonely man sitting solo as we walked in. He was now making small talk with everyone who came his way, including this graduate student frantically trying to study for an exam, obviously not too happy with the distraction. I saw desperation in the eyes of every one of them and hesitantly accepted the fact that we fit in.
“What can I get for you Darlin’?” the waitress asked my brother.
“Oh yeah, can I please have a coke, a house salad, and an order of chicken fingers please!” I listened and almost said something, alerting him to the fact that we can’t really afford a $10.99 meal just for him. After seeing his clear, innocent eyes, I stopped myself.

“And for you Miss?” the waitress asked, ready to write another complete order. Teddy’s courage rang over and over in my head, “For you I will.”

“I’ll just have a glass of water and a side salad please.” I ordered as my stomach grumbled.

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