I didn’t mean for Tim to find the spoon in my closet. If I’d wanted him knowing about it then I would’ve told him, but we hadn’t been together long enough yet. The spoon had been around a lot longer, twenty-some years, a gift from my mother when I was six, maybe seven. She’d walked with me to the convenience store at the end of our street. I used to walk there by myself, but then a girl about my age was abducted from the parking lot of a nearby grocery store and later found dead in a cornfield, and after that I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone. I waited while my mother paid with her credit card; the pen she signed with had a plastic spoon taped to it. I remember asking, “Why is there a spoon stuck to that pen?” and the clerk’s answer: the spoon was supposed to keep people from walking off with his pen. On the walk home my mother held my hand tighter than usual. Several weeks later a large box came in the mail and inside was a five-foot tall plastic spoon with backpack-like shoulder straps. My mother, laughing a little, said she’d special-ordered it from a plastics factory that didn’t ask any unnecessary questions. She still liked the idea of a spoon on my back, she said, but she couldn’t do that to me. I went to public school; I’d be a distraction, an object of ridicule. I did have some fun wearing it around the house though, running at doorways so that the top of the spoon struck the top of the doorframe with a pleasing thwack! Eventually the spoon ended up in my closet and when I got a place of my own, the spoon moved with me, took its place in my new closet. I didn’t need to wear it to get the full effect; I could just look at the spoon and feel all of what my mother felt for me.
Tim and I were in bed together when he saw the spoon. I’d accidentally left the closet open, I noticed, at the same moment he said, “What’s that?” and I knew exactly what he was referring to. He took the spoon out of the closet and carried it over to the bed. Reluctantly, I told him its story. “Put it on,” he said. But I didn’t feel like putting it on; I wasn’t in the right mood. “Probably won’t fit,” I said, but he insisted on slipping the straps over my shoulders and then it was like old times, only different. I’d never worn the spoon without clothes on before. Tim said, “I like it…I like how the straps push your tits together.” He started kissing me on the face and neck and we were back in bed when something unsettling happened in my brain. “Stop,” I said, and I was about to take off the spoon, only Tim didn’t want me to. “But it makes me think of my mother,” I told him, “and this isn’t when I want to be thinking of her.” “So think of me instead,” Tim said, and I tried, I really did, but it was still as if she was right there in bed with us. I pointed to the corner of the bed where I envisioned her sitting with her back to us, pretending to read a magazine, to give us some privacy, because Tim seemed like a nice guy, she’d said to me once, and of course it wasn’t her fault my unsettled brain had put her there in bed with us. “This really isn’t working,” I said and I tried to take off the spoon, only Tim stopped me again. “It’s not just that I like how you look in it,” he said. “It’s also the message—I don’t want anyone walking off with you either.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that. I didn’t have a problem with what the spoon said in the context of my mother; she was my mother and always would be; beneath what she said with the spoon I knew she’d be OK with whomever walking off with me just so long as I was happy. What the spoon said in the context of Tim, however, suddenly made the lightweight plastic on my back feel forged from the heaviest metal. Maybe if I’d been in love with him, I would’ve felt romanced by what he said with the spoon; there was no way of knowing. I took off the spoon, we argued, and then he left. The beginning of the end, which, I think, would’ve come about soon enough anyway; it wasn’t the spoon’s fault. Still, there was a time after I stopped seeing Tim when the sight of the spoon in my closet annoyed me. I considered getting rid of it, throwing it away, donating it, Goodwill—but having to explain to that person with the clipboard—it’s a giant plastic spoon with adjustable shoulder straps; now can I have a receipt for tax purposes? But I couldn’t part with the spoon, not the spoon my mother had given me. I just needed somewhere else to put it, a spot where I wouldn’t have to see it all the time and if I ever had someone over again, there’d be no chance of him seeing it. Unless I wanted him to—if and when I was sure he was the right person and only then, I might let him slip the straps over my shoulders.