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That Burnt Grilled Cheese

So, tonight, sometime around midnight, I had to make my daughter a grilled cheese sandwich. Now, here's the thing about grilled cheese sandwiches: I'm pretty fucking great at making them. I mean, honestly. I can even put some spinach in there and my 12 year old will eat them. It's how I get my 12 year old to eat spinach without complaining, y'all.

The trick is that you don't cheat and make the "cheese toast" variation of the grilled cheese. That's where you take a piece of bread and put some cheese on it and put it in the toaster oven. I know, I know. It seems like a grilled cheese. But real grilled cheese means that you butter the bread (both pieces), you pile on as many different cheeses as you can on that bottom piece, and you grill it on a frying pan or griddle. The butter is key. And that frying pan/griddle. I'm just saying, take the time. Do it right.

Anyway, I had to make a middle of the night grilled cheese for my kid. I mean, she was hungry and she was cold at midnight. We had just brought her home from what should have been an overnight party at a friend's house. This is a friend she'd stay with before.

Around 11:30, I got a call from my kid via Facetime. This is because our kid, our 12-year-old-going-on-22-year-old kid, has this iPhone that she bought with money she'd earned. We don't let her have an actual phone plan, so she gloms on to the wi-fi wherever she goes, including her friends' houses. Anyway, she Facetimed me. And when I call her back after missing her call, I see only the top of her head and hear her crying. Like a goddamned horror movie.

In the background, I hear screaming and yelling. And my daughter is crying, and asking me to come get her and take her home.

So, it took about zero minutes for me and her father to get our things together and get into the car.

It turns out that the parents at said sleepover got into a fight. A physical fight. I don't have the details. My kid didn't see the fight, she heard it from the other room, and another kid at the sleepover told her to stay put. So she did. And she called me.

We got to the house about 2 minutes after the police. The house was dark. The police and county sheriff were asking us about the house and its occupants.

Let's skip a bit: eventually, the other kid's mom and my kid come out the front door. My kid has her stuff and is ready to go home. Her friend's mother is almost confrontational with the police. She says things like "do you have a warrant?" and "no one was assaulted." But I can see it. I can see the evidence in her face, illuminated by a policeman's flashlight. There's blood at the corner of her mouth. There are bruises on her neck. It's like a bad movie or television show. She's standing there, holding her cigarette, accusing them of intruding and telling me that her husband is gone now. Everything is fine.

It hasn't even been 2 hours and I already have forgotten the details other than her challenging look at the police, and at me. "Just go," her look says. That's all I can remember. Just go. I can't remember what I said but all I can remember is that her look said "fuck you, take your kid and go." I don't know if that's what she meant, but that's what I saw.

And I'm not angry at her about it. I'm angry, don't get me wrong.

I'm angry that the cops couldn't do anything without a warrant.

I'm angry that those police saw the same obvious injuries I did and couldn't act on it other than to take the statement of my terrified 12 year old daughter, while standing in the front yard of that house.

I'm angry that a man endangered the safety of my daughter.

I'm angry that my daughter had to see what an abusive partner looks like first-hand.

I'm just angry.

And terrified.

And sad.

And broken.

My heart is completely broken.

Anyway, we get home, and the kid tells us she's hungry. She wasn't happy with the food choices at the party, and didn't eat as much as she should have. So she asked for a grilled cheese.

So I made her one.

Two slices of bread.


Cheddar cheese.

It all started out like every other grilled cheese, and everything was fine. I flipped the sandwich in the pan to toast the 2nd side, and then got distracted talking to her on the sofa, where we assured her she could watch the scary movies they didn't get to watch at the party (I mean, come on. Real life was actually terrifying, how scary can the first episode of Haunting of Hill House be at this point). And then I realized it had happened: I had burnt the other side of the grilled cheese.

How could I let that happen? My daughter, the sweet, amazing young girl I love with all of my heart, was waiting for some sustenance, and I had ruined it. I am the worst of mothers. The one who burns the grilled cheese. I tried to cover it up, put the burnt side down on the plate when I cut it in half and gave it to her. But she knew: it tasted weird, burnt, not like it should. It definitely wasn't OK. She wasn't OK. She didn't eat more than a few bites. I wasn't OK. We weren't OK.

And I realized what all mothers do: I can't make the world completely safe for her. I can't make all men respect women. (yes, yes, #notallmen, whatever, guys you know don't hit their wives and kids, but not tonight, don't bring that here) I can't prevent the abuse she witnessed. I can't erase her experience of giving a statement to the police. I can't make it not have happened.

I burnt the grilled cheese.

I can't unburn it.

I can't make her forget that I burned it.

I can't fix it with a perfect sandwich.

I can't.

I just can't.

I'm not angry at her friend's mother. I understand that women sometimes stay with abusive men for a myriad of reasons. I don't blame them. I get it.

I'm not angry at her friend, who is just a kid herself and trying to negotiate this as a 12 year old girl with an abusive father. I get that.

I'm angry at the world. This world. It's a world where men feel like their control over women is absolute and enforceable with, well, force.

I'm angry that my 12 year old had to answer questions from 3 cops about who she was, where she lived, who was in the house, what happened...

I'm angry that a woman looked me in the eye with bruises on her neck and blood on her lips and told me she was fine because the alternative was, somehow, to her,even worse. And it may very well have been worse. I don't know. I know it, but I don't live it.

I'm angry that I couldn't gather up that woman and her 3 children and bring them home with me and protect them somehow.

I'm angry that the scariest thing in my life and my daughter's life has gone from TV zombies and ghosts and jump scares to real people she knows.

And I'm angry that when she most needed me not to, I burned that goddamned grilled cheese.


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