You’re probably heard of my mother.
Her name was Anneliese, Ana for short, but that won’t ring a bell for you.
With an exaggerated sigh she’d mention people back at school called her Ban-Ana, and suddenly you’d be guffawing uncontrollably.
“You’re the girl who’s birthday party was a total flop! Literally!”
“Ban-Ana, you want a banana?”
“Oh, wait, you’re just going to use it to make disgusting perfume!”
Let me tell you how it all started with my mother. . . from the very beginning.
There she was, twelve, living every girl’s dream. She was popular, with loyal friends by her side, and she had supportive parents.
Suddenly, she was in eighth grade. Everything became a little more confusing: who was her friend, who wasn’t, and why everyone was looking at her in that weird way. Anyways, when she reflected back on that year, all she could think of is adulthood.
Trust me, I know that sounds kind of strange, but it’s true. All her friends’ curfew times were getting pushed back farther and farther until they could stay out all night. Crazy, right? They were all getting boyfriends, too. She told me she remembered one of them, Jenny, asking her why she wasn’t dating anyone yet.
“No one here is worth dating,” my mother told Jenny hastily, “in my opinion.”
Thankfully, her friends still accepted her and her choices. Sadly it didn’t last.
Most of the girls in her little group were Jewish, so by the time the new year rolled around, they all either had or were having their Bat Mitzvahs.
That’s the only time in her life she wished she was Jewish. She begged her parents (my grandparents) to have her own Bat Mitzvah, but they just laughed aloud and called her their “Little Jealous Daughter.” She pouted and felt sorry for herself. It lasted about a week.
She knows you’re probably wondering ‘What’s so good about Bat Mitzvahs?’ I first wondered that too when she was telling me the story. Well, let me tell you. They involve pretty girls with designer dresses, buckets of makeup painted onto their face, and Henna tattoos sparking on their arms. It sounded magnificent.
Usually there’s a DJ, a dance floor, tables littered with delicious foods, and a chocolate fountain where it’s okay to stick your open mouth under it. As I said, magnificent.
She always wore the same dress to all of her friends’ Bat Mitzvahs. It was a soft violet with delicate sequins sparking from chest to knees. Her favorite thing in all the world was to spin around in it, causing the dance floor to glitter from the light bouncing off her dress. Her grandmother (my great-grandmother) had made it for her for her twelfth birthday, and she’d been in love with it ever since.
Sure, all the other girls wore a different dress every time, but my mother never cared one bit. Theirs were all bright colors, like turquoise and magenta. Theirs twinkled with gems.
One day, a month before my mother turned thirteen, she had an extravagant idea. It was inspired by something her friend Becca announced at her Bat Mitzvah.
“You can be any age to party!”
It ripped the emerald jealousy (just like one of those gems on the other girls’ dresses) out of her mind and shined light on the idea that she didn’t have to be Jewish to celebrate her womanhood. She could celebrate it however she wanted.
That’s why she rushed over to her parents and presented the idea.
“Mom, Dad,” she panted, “I want to have my own big party for my birthday. Just like a Bat Mitzvah, but better.”
They raised their eyebrows to each other.
“Thirteen is a big number, so I guess it deserves a big party,” her mom said.
She grinned and placed her hands on her hips. “It sure does.”
Bat Mitzvahs are usually planned a year ahead of time. Not hers, though. They only had three weeks.
“What do you want the theme of your party to be, honey?” her dad asked her one morning.
She shrugged; she hadn’t even thought of that yet. None of the Bat Mitzvahs she had gone to had a theme. Well, actually, the theme was always whichever girl’s party it was. The girl was the theme.
“I don’t know,” she told him.
“Princesses?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes. Her father was still stuck in her toddler period. But she was about to enter womanhood in her makeshift celebration.
“Bananas!” she called out suddenly. They were her favorite fruit of all. The sweet, mushy insides practically dissolved in her mouth. She was pretty sure they came from heaven. After all, the ones she ate were golden.
Her dad nodded as if she was a lunatic but didn’t question her idea. “Awesome,” he muttered sarcastically.
It took all of my mother’s sweat and attention, but finally after those three weeks, her party date had arrived.
That morning she excitedly changed into her dress—which was a creamy yellow with actual banana peels as her straps, and soft velvety bananas her mom had sewed onto the lower part of it. (At first she had insisted on wearing the purple dress with sequins but her grandmother assured her it was okay to wear something different this time.) She even sprayed this perfume that she had invented, which was mashed up bananas and some other ingredients she couldn’t remember. I imagine she looked and smelled like a huge, living banana.
Her parents set up the tables stacked with food in her backyard. These included a banana dip for dried banana chips, a banana chocolate cake (that her uncle crafted), healthy banana muffins, and then just plain old bananas. Yes, she went all out. She even hung freshly peeled bananas from strings of lights above the backyard, and placed the peels on the grass.
The guests arrived around two in the afternoon. There were four of them because her parents wanted to keep it small and “special.” She greeted them with a smile that the sun couldn’t challenge, and told them the party was in the backyard. They followed her around the house and gasped.
At the time, I know she thought they were inhaling quickly because of what a wonderful surprise this was. But that wasn’t it.
Two out of the four were allergic to bananas. One didn’t like them, and the other one claimed she was “too full” from eating nothing at all.
My mother turned on some of her banana-themed music, twisting and twirling in her lovely gown. Alexa, the one who was deathly allergic to the theme of her party, demanded she take off her dress and take a shower because my mother’s perfume was slowly killing her. The others agreed, so she changed out of her hazardous costume and attempted to wash the stink from her skin.
She told me she remembered shedding a tear at three that afternoon, rubbing her arms until they ached and turned red and itchy.
She came back out of her room looking more like a strawberry with her irritated skin, pink top, and maroon sweatpants. She knew her party was already ruined by then if she was dressing up like her least favorite fruit.
The two allergic girls, Alexa and Kiki stood in a corner, whispering to each other and glancing at the table lined with their allergy. The girl who wasn’t allergic and liked bananas, Vanessa, was dancing awkwardly in the center of the room. And the girl who didn’t like bananas sat in a yellow chair mumbling to my mother. She was probably the closest to her out of all the girls present. Her name was Hannah.
“Look, Ana, I’m sorry this didn’t turn out how you wanted.” Hannah stared at the mess-of-a-party in front of her.
She bit her lip, “I know. It sucks.”
“It does,” she agreed. My mother always loved how honest she was. “But, you know, if you had told us the theme beforehand, it wouldn’t be a total disaster.”
This time she was a little too honest. “So, you’re saying it’s my fault?”
“Mmhm,” Hannah said without hesitation.
“Wow,” she told her, “you’re a great friend. My party already sucks, I suck, and now you’re telling me it’s my fault this party is terrible. You suck.” She balled her hands into fists and crossed her arms across her chest.
Hannah smiled sweetly and viciously. “No, you’re the great friend. You’re telling me I suck after being honest like I always am. Why’d you even invite me if you didn’t want to hear pure honesty about how your party would turn out?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. It was true. “But you’re right about one thing, Hannah. I shouldn’t have invited you!”
“Fine!” Hannah exclaimed, and stomped out of my mother’s backyard. Gone.
The other girls set down their tap waters (which they had substituted for banana shakes) and began to sneak after Hannah.
“Great party,” Vanessa lied, and stepped out the gate.
Shame stained her cheeks. “Wait, guys!” she called, and ran towards the exit. Her toe caught on something slippery. Two weak feet went out from under her. Her hand muffled a startled noise that erupted from her mouth. The world shivered when her head hit the ground with a thump.
Her eyelids fluttered and a browning banana peel kissed her forehead. The last thing she heard before diving head-first into the black hole of unconsciousness was girly giggles from seven feet away.
My mother was finally a woman.