Pancakes ought to be thick and fluffy, deeply stacked pillows of glutenous promise. Pile on the butter and the syrup (either genuine maple or Mrs. Butterworth, whose matronly form has not yet spoken with me, the assurances of commercials notwithstanding) and commune with the divine.
What she handed me was a plate of crepes. Thin and insubstantial, but still tough. Not silken. The syrup pooled over them, never fully integrating.
A year into what I thought would be my last major relationship (a thought I would have a few more times to come) it dawned on me — she’s a crepe person.
The thing about epiphany is that one can never plan for them — they happen when they happen, and never at times convenient for you.
Here was a woman whom I loved, adored even — and she made crepes.
I remembered when I made pancakes. She made no secret that she thought I made them too thick. I thought nothing of it — to each their own, and I added a little more milk the next time, thinned them out. She still made a face, they were still too thick.
But she gave me crepes. I understood now.
Suddenly, all I saw were differences. Minor tensions that could mostly be smoothed over or even ignored altogether emerged in full bloom as impenetrable; imaginary front lines in a cold war that would suddenly turn hot.
I was not done growing, however, and had much to learn. Raised to believe that I should not get my way, and that the men should set all their interests to the side in the name of stoic suffering, I shoved it down and soldiered on.
When I was 21 or 22, my mom was out of town, visiting her sister who lived in North Carolina. My dad, freed from her grasp for a week, got drunk and confessed to me that marrying her was the worst mistake of his life — but he couldn’t abandon us, the way his father abandoned him. So he stayed.
It would take me years more growing and work to realize that my father was wrong — it’s a false dichotomy to think that the only options are to remain miserable at the hands of a monster or abandon his children.
But I wasn’t there yet, and so I ate the crepes.
The other lesson I learned from my father, unfortunately, was that men do not get their way by asking. My mother disregarded his wishes over and over, so he learned to get what he wanted by deception or simple fiat. On two occasions, he bought cars without asking, deciding that a few nights sleeping on the sofa was a fair trade for that ’78 Jeep Wagoneer or that ’86 Camaro. He bought guitars and golf clubs and gadgets with money secretly squirreled away, the change from trips to the store for bread or milk, $10 here or there.
So I snuck around, spent frivolously, drank in secret, had an affair. I even once (years earlier, in a prior relationship) did the car-by-fiat trick. This was simply the way men in my family went about their business.
I can’t remember when I realized that my reaction was a dysfunctional response to my family’s dysfunction, that my father’s ruses were the dysfunctional reaction to my mother’s dysfunction, which was her reaction to her father’s dysfunction.
And so it goes, likely hundreds of years back.
I would eventually come to that realization, but long after I made a wreck of my life. Epiphany happens when it happens. But not that day.
I ate the crepes, and did much damage to us both.