There were so many people there that evening that discussion was limited. When I arrived home, my 13-year-old son shrugged off my disappointment and asked me to read the chapter to him instead. So I settled into a chair and read, "Down the Avenue," a chapter about spending my allowance as a 9-year-old child.
As innocent as it seems, the experience was a metaphor for how choice and risk were handled by a child affected by alcoholism. Each week, the trip "down-the-avenue" culminated at Woolworth's lunch counter, where I dreamed of someday ordering a banana split.
An umbrella with colorful balloons hanging from each rib was suspended above the counter. "Pop a balloon and pay 1 cent to 63 cents!" Imagine paying one cent for a banana split! But I never had more than 50 cents. And I shuddered at the thought of Woolworth's calling my parents for more money. So I kept my wish to myself. I never thought to risk asking anyone for more money. Risks were dangerous in a world where alcohol made even benign choices subject to rage.
Frankie sat at my feet, listening intently, as I read the final sentences of the chapter:
"I watched as others selected a balloon to pop and fantasized about the opportunity to proudly take my chance. But it never happened. Pink, blue, orange, and yellow balloons called out to me, daring me, taunting me, and eventually, defeating me. In time, the waitress strolled up to my spot at the counter and smiled, indicating that she was ready to jot down my order. I mumbled, 'I'll take a Coke please,' and turned the stool away from the umbrella. I didn't hear the sound of balloons popping behind me."
Frankie was silent. He thought for a moment and said, "So you never got the banana split?" A long discussion ensued, and eventually he seemed to understand that it was my own belief that limited me. I never took the chance of voicing my wish. It was a pattern that took years to break.
The next morning, Frankie casually announced that he was going out for a little while. When I asked where, he smiled and said, "I can't say. But when I get back, I'll need you to go upstairs for a few minutes." Any further questions of mine were answered with a coy, "You'll see."
My mother's instinct told me he wasn't up to anything dangerous, so I agreed. Frankie left, and I busied myself packing for an upcoming camping trip.
In a short time, I heard the back door open and Frankie's voice yelling, "Can you go upstairs now?" As I walked up the steps, I went through a mental checklist. "Hmm, it's not my birthday, it's not Mother's Day--what could he be up to?" I brushed my hair and tried to ignore the sound of chairs scraping, kitchen cabinets slamming, and muffled conversation. Soon my 9-year-old daughter Sarah, a last minute recruit into the conspiracy, announced through giggles that I could come downstairs. "Eyes closed--except for stairs," she said.
Once downstairs, Sarah held my hand and helped me stumble my way through camping equipment and eventually into the kitchen.
"Open your eyes!" Frankie and Sarah shouted in chorus.
I couldn't believe what I saw. The kitchen table was covered in a pile of balloons. Frankie walked up to me and handed me 50 cents and a fork. His eyes were lit with anticipation. "Pop one!" he urged.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I began to realize what he was doing. I stared at the balloons in disbelief and then jabbed one with a fork. Frankie and Sarah laughed as I let out a loud whoop when it popped. A piece of paper fell out of the balloon. I opened it and recognized Frankie's awkward scrawl.
"What does it say?" Frankie prompted. "Fifty cents," I whispered, too choked up to speak loudly. Frankie got business-like and asked, "Well, do you have 50 cents?" I handed him the two quarters he'd given me moments earlier.
"OK then!" Frankie walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out a homemade banana split on a Tupperware plate, and handed it to me. Mounds of vanilla ice cream were covered in chocolate sauce, Cool Whip, and peanuts. Underneath it all was a banana, split in two. My eyes stung with tears as I held the banana split Frankie lovingly made to right an ancient wrong. I hugged Frankie hard and kissed the top of his head, still sweaty from all the effort.
"Now you finally got to pop a balloon for a banana split, Mom."
Frankie beamed. I hugged him again, and then hugged Sarah, who stood back and marveled at her brother. We took turns popping the rest of the balloons and laughed when I finally got the 1-cent balloon. It was a long time coming but well worth the wait.
Each spoonful of ice cream reminded me that the first step in making any wish come true is giving it a voice.