Recalcitrance by Melissa St Pierre

She called me “recalcitrant” and since I wasn’t just yet a tween, I thought it was a compliment. I asked what that meant and she told me to look it up in the dictionary. I didn’t know how to spell it, but she gave me that (at least). “Stubborn.” That’s all I remember gathering from that lesson in English vernacular. Given my age, I blew it off.

This might seem insignificant if I were anyone else, but I grew up to become a writer and obsessed with words and language. I remember flashing back to that word multiple times. As I grew older, and she and I grew more distant, it took on a larger meaning.

I don’t remember what I was doing to be called “recalcitrant” in the first place. The tone she took reminds me now of Marilla Cuthbert; however, her relationship with Anne eventually flourished.

She was never in the position to give me directions. When I did see her, I was with my parents every time. And all I ever wanted from her was the type of familial relationship that some of my friends had.

I had a gray and white Formica table and a blue plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles chair. They sat in my parents’ living room until I could no longer fit into the chair and the table splintered and died. It was the center of my activities as a kid, and I remember sitting at that table writing her long letters about my days as a pre-tween. If I could see those letters now, I would bet that they have painstaking details about my cat, my friends, the book(s) I read, movies I saw, and other life events. I always asked her to write me back.

She never did.

She has disliked me for as long as I can remember.

At the time I wrote the letters, there were 2, 236 miles between us and postage was roughly 32 cents.

Would it have cost that much to write a ten-year-old kid a letter? I have always liked getting mail. I still do, although now, I find myself receiving more bills than correspondence.

A couple summers ago, I found a box I’d forgotten, tucked into a closet I don’t use. In the box, I found medals that I was awarded from participation in my high school marching band. I also found a plastic baggie full of patches that I always meant to have sewn onto my school jacket.

treble clef brooch

I brought the jacket upstairs from its cozy hanging place in the basement. On it, I found one meaningful thing she ever gave me. There is a sterling silver treble clef pin on the right, front side of the jacket.

I don’t know when she decided she didn’t like me. Maybe it was the day that she called me “recalcitrant”, maybe it was before that, maybe it was after. I don’t know and I doubt I ever will. Too much time has passed and now the feeling is mutual.

I looked at the treble clef and considered taking it off my jacket, polishing it, and putting it back. But the symbolism stops me. If I polish it, am I polishing the tarnish on our relationship? Am I forgiving her for disliking me as long as I can remember?

Is it possible that I am now actually being recalcitrant?

Even now, the word is still something that I would not love being called by someone that should be genetically disposed to at least liking me.

There are times when I do have “an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline” but today it’s called being a good citizen, not a bad relative.

She doesn’t know that her disdain for me as a kid bothered me and I don’t think I’ll ever tell her. I doubt she cares. And if I bring it up, I will have to admit that it did, at one time, bother me. One could argue that if I’m still thinking about it now it still does, but I’ve managed to replace her and make her insignificant in the face of the family I’ve chosen instead.

My grandmother, her mother, died in 2018.

We didn’t speak to each other.

My aunt and uncle, siblings, held the memorial for my grandmother on my mom’s birthday, and the day of my daughter’s first birthday party. My family was not included in the planning.

Their dismissal of me, and my family, doesn’t matter much. Not anymore.

If at one point 32 cents was once too much for her, in time, 35 years of dismissal will be a much weightier package.

About the contributor

Melissa St. Pierre teaches writing and rhetoric at Oakland University in Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Blue Nib, Panoply, 45 Women’s Literary Journal, Valiant Scribe, and Elizabeth River Press Literary Anthology. She has also performed her work in Listen to Your Mother, a literary nonfiction storytelling showcase.

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