Inspired by the Pie by Gary Soto, semi-fiction

I grew up as an only child. My grandparent’s attention was always on me, and for the most part, if I wanted the latest Barbie doll or any kind of toy, I would get it right away from my mom, who believed she could buy my affection with material things. In my six-year-old eyes, living a selfish lifestyle wasn’t such a terrible thing. I was treated like a Greek goddess — everyone around me brought me violet grapes that melted in my mouth, and others were willing to hold palm tree leaves like a fan over my head to blow a gentle breeze against my face. My mind was stuck in this make-believe world, one where I obtained anything I yearned for with the snap of my fingers. But I soon learned that living such a life wasn’t right. My own happiness, wishes, and needs weren’t above others.

One day, a group of my grandparent’s friends proposed having dinner at Tampico Seafood Restaurant, a restaurant frequently visited by my family and friends. I was invited along with my grandparents. Soon I found out that Ruth, my new friend, and her mom were going, too. Unfortunately, Ruth only had casual clothes for the occasion since she had only been in America for a few months. My abuela, being a generous person, came up with an idea. Ruth and Jenny, Ruth’s mom, would come over to our house a few hours before dinner. Ruth would go through my clothes and choose something to wear to the planned supper.

Once Ruth and her mom arrived at the house, I led Ruth to the bedroom I shared with my grandparents. The bedroom was divided into two parts by an invisible thread. The left side belonged to them, and the right side to me. The walls were milk-white, and the carpet scarlet. The room had two queer windows. They were two unevenly spaced windows, one almost to the center and the other to the right side of the first window. My purple bunk beds obscured the right window, and my drawers were on the left side of my beds. I gave Ruth room by sitting on the edge of my grandparent’s mahogany bed.

Ruth’s life was going to be different from now on. She was going to have to learn English and get used to a different culture full of supersized food proportions and Coca-Cola bottles. The dinner would be a way to tell her that she wasn’t alone in this country, that Latinos helped each other out. She didn’t have to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I relaxed and waited patiently for Ruth to make her choice. I was helping out una paisana, a fellow countrywoman, from Honduras get adjusted to her new life, I believed with all my heart.

Even though she was two years older and much taller than me back then, some of my clothes fit her perfectly. She took my shirts, dresses, and shorts out of the drawers, placed them on my bed, smoothed them out with the palms of her hands, and browsed through them with her back to me, pondering what to wear. She finally held up a long black dress with spaghetti straps, two white lines on the sides, and a small slit on the left side. She turned to me and firmly said, “I want to wear this dress, Betty.” My muscles tensed, my heart jumped, and I felt frown lines working their way up to my forehead. That was the dress I wanted to wear for dinner. At that moment, I never wanted something so much, so much that I felt like dying if I didn’t have it in my possession. Having the dress was more important than drinking water.

Instead of telling her my honest feelings, I came up with excuses, webs of deception twisted and formed in my head, for why she shouldn’t wear it.

I slyly claimed, “Ruth…you really don’t want to wear that dress. It’s so ugly and plain. Do you really, really want to wear it?”

When that didn’t work, I told her another lie. I stood up, slowly walked towards her, and looked through my mountain of clothes on my bed, and found a set of clothes that would hopefully work to point out the so-called flaws in the dress. My calm movements contrasted the anxiety I felt in my stomach.

“If you really want to wear the black dress, you have to wear this red, short sleeve shirt and black shorts underneath it. The straps are too thin and the dress has a side slit. You’ll be too exposed,” I said, shoving the clothes right in front of her face in a desperate attempt to conceal the selfishness and despair swimming in my eyes. I wanted her to feel like a turkey being cooked in an oven if she put the dress on, or at least believe that it was going to be a hassle to put on those clothes for a simple dress.

She didn’t change her mind. She wanted to wear it and so did I.

I don’t remember what happened next. I probably told another avalanche of lies, or I got sick of trying to change her mind or maybe a combination of both. Either way, we ended up fighting over the dress, holding each side of it and almost tearing it apart like a second-hand teddy bear. I gritted my teeth together and held on tight, trying to avoid defeat. Eventually, the adults heard the commotion and separated us.

By the end of the confrontation, I got my wish. I ended up wearing the dress for dinner. I sat at the table after we arrived at Tampico and everyone around me took their seat. Ruth, with her short black hair and bangs, wore another black dress of mine. The front was covered in black lace, woven in the form of roses, and the shoulders and the lower part were puffy. The dress’s hemline covered her brown knees. Sitting there, I felt a snake coil around my heart, squeeze it hard and bring me shame. To me, she looked the part, full of elegance because I realized that she was a better person than me. If it had been the other way around, she would have probably let me wear the dress without throwing any childish tantrums. She didn’t have a selfish bone in her body and I had thousand tons of them. I felt like a hideous monster with my grandfather’s black jacket draped around my shoulders. I wanted the ground to open up underneath me and swallow me whole.

My ego was torn into a million pieces, scattered around the city. I should have let her wear that dress. I knew her mom didn’t have enough money to go buy her new clothes, and Ruth had found something she really liked for dinner. My desire overwhelmed my mind. I didn’t think twice about feeding on grapes of greed every day. But that day I consciously decided to skip the breakfast named Generosity and the lunch titled Share. Dinner tasted bitter in my mouth. I didn’t look at the big picture and acted self-centered.

I believed I was the sun, and everyone around me was supposed to give me anything I desired. I only thought about myself, my feelings, and what I wanted. The fantasy I created crashed, making me open my eyes. No matter how much I want something, I have to be considerate of the people around me and what they might be going through. The elation of having anything I want will last but a second, while the hurt or humiliation the other person will feel can last a lifetime.