You’re three years old, it’s 7PM and bedtime. You pick out a pair of striped pajamas, climb under a flannel blanket and hug your worn, hand-me-down teddy bear. What book are your parents reading you tonight? Though you want to read your eye-catchingly whimsical pop-up book, both of your parents are sick of reading it each and every night. So instead, you choose Blueberries for Sal.
Now you’re seven years old and finally reading on your own. Just yesterday you were blueberry picking with mom. She wanted to make blueberry pie for your grandma’s 82nd birthday. But there won’t be enough. All the blueberries are in your tummy. You giggle to yourself just thinking about it, but it’s silent reading time, and you’re terrified of your patronizing teacher, of her flagrant aroma of cigarette smoke and lemon cough drops breathing down your neck. So you open up Blueberries for Sal. You always related to Sal’s carefree attitude and especially her love for blueberries. You never really liked picking them for saving. You liked eating them right away.
Sixteen years old and college on the way. Babysitting job for some extra money on the side. Maybe you’ll spend it on a treat for yourself; for all the effort you’ve put into each of your endeavors. No, like everything else, you’ll just save it for something in the future.
7 PM and it’s time for the three year old boy you’re responsible for to go to bed. Before you tuck him in goodnight, he wants to read a book or two, as his parents usually do. He pulls Blueberries for Sal from his bookshelf,
“Can you read me this one?” he asks.
You smile to yourself. Though you have a pile of homework waiting for you downstairs and Blueberries for Sal isn’t the shortest book, you can’t resist. You open up the first page,
“ONE day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries.”
You watch the young boy’s eyes widen and compress in concentration, taking in every precious word, each detailed picture. He carefully watches as you retell the story of Sal, how she was supposed to store all those blueberries for winter and didn’t, instead ate them as she went along. You continue on, rereading the story of the baby bear, how he does the same. Before you know it, the book is over, and you feel a twang in your stomach. Maybe it’s the organic veggie burger waiting downstairs or maybe it’s Blueberries for Sal, you don’t know and don’t have time to know. This boy needs to go to bed and you need to start studying for your exams, complete a take home test, and read the drudgingly boring book you were assigned over the weekend. But before leaving, you can’t help but ask him,
“When you go blueberry picking with your parents, do you eat as many as Sal?” You’re tucking him in, making sure not a centimeter of his light skin is exposed to the drafty fall air.
“Duh!” he giggles to himself, closing his eyes.
Just a few minutes later you’re sitting on the coach in their freezing cold living room. You’re forcing yourself to read a pointless book while the family’s puppy jumps all over you like you’re a piece of dead meat, which you practically are. You are absolutely drained from forcing your eyes open in an effort to digest the material. You feel a tear drop down your rosy cheeks and next thing you know you’re crying. Really crying. Really, really crying. The puppy’s chocolate eyes stare at you in a plea for attention, and you know he isn’t devoting a single thought to what will happen next: the future. The sobs continue.
You think back to the blonde boy fast asleep upstairs. He didn’t even hesitate to admit he indulged in the deliciousness of blueberries, his young brain automatically focused on a concept of self-indulgence that your older brain can’t seem to grasp anymore, too caught up in the ever-present anxieties of the future. When was the last time you didn’t think about college or your upcoming test or what you’re going to do for credit in the summer and what you’re going to get your mom for her birthday in eight months?
You have never stopped worrying for a moment. Never. Never. Goddamn never. That word, “never” haunts you every day and all day. You will never get an A in Physics or achieve your dream career. You yearn for those “nevers” yet you never self-indulge, even for a moment, simply because you want to. You are always focused on that destination -- blueberries for pie or jam or hibernation or college. But what about blueberries for your sixteen-year-old self, right now?
I believe in Blueberries for Sal. In Sal who does not hesitate to plunk herself down in the blueberry field, consuming those blueberries in a timeless moment of glorious self-indulgence. I believe self-indulgence is the same as self-care. You need those blueberries. And so do I.
Grace Stone is 17 years old; she lives in Portland, Maine