It’s No Surprise, Martha!- Surprise Cookies! – 114 eggs, 89 1/4 cups of sugar, 89 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 101 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 108 recipes to go!

October 3, 2010


Martha's Surprise Cookies

André's Surprise Cookies

My friend and co-worker, Ally celebrated her forty-fifth birthday at the office. She’s a remarkably sweet person and a gifted humorist. I wanted to bake a cookie with a sense of fun that would surprise Ally. Martha’s book presented me with such a cookie aptly named Surprise Cookies. The recipe calls for creating a  simple chocolate thumbprint cookie. Butter, eggs, cocoa, vanilla, sugar, and flour are combined into a dough which is rolled into one-inch balls. These are then pressed  down onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and baked till set. Once these cookies are baked large marshmallows are cut in half and pressed into the center of each cookie. The cookies are then baked again until the marshmallow melts slightly. While these cool on a wire rack, thick chocolate frosting is prepared form melted butter and semi-sweet chocolate mixed with confectioner’s sugar. This frosting is then piped onto each cookie to conceal the melted marshmallow inside. This is the surprise.

These cookies are rich, dense and very chocolaty in taste. The aroma of delicious chocolate is strong the moment you open a container of these little beauties. They were quickly consumed by my officemates and Ally was quite appreciative. They were also quite easy to make so if you have an event that calls for a special cookie with a bit of a surprise, I wholeheartedly suggest looking into Martha’s Surprise Cookies.

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit down as of late. All the news of the recent suicide at Rutger’s University and the recent attention around teen bullying has me thinking of my time as a young student. In second grade, I tried to kiss a boy during recess. It wasn’t a romantic thing. I was seven years old for crying out loud. I was reenacting something I had seen on Bugs Bunny (my favorite cartoon character of all time).  There was this character of a love-starved woman in one of the animated shorts. She was a hillbilly redhead and not particularly attractive. She had bucked teeth, freckles and ridiculous pigtails. She chased another male character in an attempt to give him a smooch. The entire time she was shouting “A Man!  A Man!” as though she had never encountered one. I thought it was hysterical. During recess we were playing a game of chase. It reminded me of this cartoon and soon I was shouting, “A Man! A Man!” and tried to kiss a fellow student. It was the first time I heard the word “Fag”.

I remember being punished by my second grade teacher, Mrs. Seager. I also remember my mother and father questioning me about the incident. I was trying to reenact a cartoon. I didn’t understand why this made my mom cry. Every school-day after that for the next ten years I was called a fag. That’s not an exaggeration.

I was an effeminate child. I’m not a terribly masculine adult for that matter. I was never good at sports, mostly because I was already labeled a fag and fags can’t play sports. The fact that sports would have to be played with other boys, the same boys who taunted me, wasn’t exactly appealing to me. Coach Fontenot was known to call me a fag from time-to-time. The boys and girls would laugh when he would do this. On rainy days he would play a game with the class. It was sports trivia. He would name a player or a coach and you’d have to name what team they played for. You would get extra points if you could name what position. I never knew the answers. Pretty soon Coach Fontenot stopped calling me by my name. He would instead call me “Fag-Boy” or “Twinkie” – another name the students at Saint Thomas More used to describe me. It wasn’t a reference to the snack cake, but rather a word used in place of “Twinkle-Toes”. I hated it.

It seemed like everyone in the school was convinced I was a fag. I didn’t even know what the word meant but I knew it was bad. I was bad. I even overheard the Assistant Principal, Sister Josephine call me a fag while waiting to be picked up by my mom in the school office. “What’s wrong with that little fag now?” she asked the secretary, loud enough for me and several other students in the office to hear. The students giggled and I just sat there, numb. My father called me a fag many times because I wouldn’t stand up for myself. He wanted me to be a man but had no idea of how to teach me to be one.  On one occasion, even my mother called me a fag. “I watched you walk across the street today. You were carrying a bag like a little girl. That’s why they call you a fag. ‘FAG!’ That’s what they say when they see you traipsing down the street”- she said. My heart sank. I became quite conscious of how I walked after that. I made sure my body was comprised of straight lines and my walk was made with deliberate and heavy steps. There would be no bounce in my walk or anything that resembled a skip. Books would not be clutched to my chest like some forlorn ingenue but carried at my side supported by one dangling, masculine, and ape-like arm. It didn’t help. The ridicule continued each and everyday. I found myself making friends with some of the old ladies in the neighborhood. I’d help them do chores around the house and they’d offer me shelter from the outside. They never called me names. To them, I was that nice little boy.

While I didn’t understand what a fag was and no one seemed willing to explain it to me, I did know what suicide was. From the time I was quite small my father often spoke of killing himself. It was his tactic for winning any argument. If things became too heated, he’d threaten to kill himself and the argument would be over. He kept a rifle in his closet in a muted pink leather gun case. This made his threats just plausible enough to cause worry. He would often threaten to grab it and off himself in the back yard.  It was because of my father’s histrionics and depression, suicide always seemed like a clear option to me. When I couldn’t take it anymore I’d simply exit. There was one hitch, though. The nuns had taught us that people who commit suicide could not enter heaven. They couldn’t even get a Catholic funeral mass. They would be damned for all time.

Suicide would be a last resort. I’ll keep it on the back-burner. Until sixth grade I endured the taunting and the ridicule. I would spend each recess in the library shelving books for the librarian. I’d focus on my schoolwork and my piano lessons. I would ignore the taunts and sit at the front of the bus near the driver’s protective gaze on the way to and from school.  I became very mean to and distrustful of all children my age, particularly boys and would be quite insulting and obstinate whenever anyone new tried to make friends. I knew they’d eventually turn on me and so why go through the motions?  My parents didn’t know what to do. They threatened to send me to Saint Stanislaus, an all-boys boarding school in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. I knew that if they sent me there I would not come back. I would either be killed by another student or end up killing myself.

The Summer before sixth grade East Baton Rouge Parish announced the formation of the Gifted and Talented program, an accelerated learning program for promising students. I had always maintained a straight “A” report card and so my parents sent me to be tested by a psychologist. I was recommended for the program and found myself at a new school for my sixth grade year. The school was Prescott Middle School and had a student body divided in half. Half of the school was just a regular inner-city middle school in a rather poor part of town and the other half was designated to serve the needs of the G&T students. Needless to say there was a lot of tension among the students.

Physical Education class was the only class that the G&T and regular student would take together. In my first week of school I was approached in the locker room by a group of three boys. They threw me to the ground. Two boys held down my hands at my side while the third, Franklin, straddled my chest and placed his penis in my face.  They thought it was hysterical and then told the other students how I tried to suck Franklin’s dick. In my first week at my new school it started again. The endless taunting. The relentless cruelties. The almost obsessive bullying.

Later that night, in the quiet of my bedroom, I made a plan. I placed a small ziplock bag under my mattress. In it was one random pill I had taken from my parent’s medicine cabinet. Each day that I was called a fag, or twinkie, or harassed in any way, a pill would go in the bag. When the bag was full I would swallow every pill and be done with it. For the first time I didn’t feel helpless anymore. Knowing that I was taking action felt good. It would all be over. No more teasing. No more bad feelings. No more crying. No more anything. I may be damned but It had to be better than this. At that point my behavior changed. I didn’t care anymore. My grades slipped. I stopped participating in just about everything. I quit piano. I stopped cleaning my room. I rarely bathed, showered or brushed my teeth. I became morose and even weirder.

By the time Christmas vacation came around the bag was filled. Vitamins, laxatives, aspirins, antibiotics, and who-knows-what-else filled the bag. I pulled it out and looked at all the colors. It was like confetti. Then it dawned on me. I like Christmas. I don’t want to miss Christmas. I get gifts on Christmas. People are nicer to each other on Christmas. I don’t want my Mom to be sad on Christmas. And then I began to cry. It was the most intense sobbing I had ever sobbed and when I was done I took the bag to the bathroom and dumped its contents into the toilet. With a flush I decided to live.

It disheartens me to hear that so many parents and teachers are opposed to the initiatives against bullying in our schools. They say it’s part of a gay agenda, whatever that means. They say that they grew up with bullying and they turned out just fine. They say that it makes kids emotionally stronger. They say that it’s healthy and normal. I think if I were a parent I’d want my child’s future to be better than the one I had. Isn’t that what it means to live in a progressive culture?

At age eleven I stuffed pills into a bag under my mattress with the intent of one day taking them all.

Why?

Because of bullying.

As an adult I’ve struggled with trust, self-worth, and depression.

Why?

Because of bullying.

The systematic torture and abuse of a child does not end when the child is no longer a child. It is something the child will carry into adulthood and have to deal with for a lifetime.

It’s over thirty years since that Christmas when I decided to live. I am far better today than I was then. I am happier, and stronger than I have ever been. I know that scared, sad, little boy is still part of me, but I’ve learned to protect him and love him and each day he becomes a healthier and more grounded part of myself.

If you know of a child or teen who is experiencing this type of bullying, let them know that they are loved and that life gets better. Be their happy thought, be their Christmas that they so desperately need. If you know a child that is a bully. Talk to them. Let them know their actions can inspire tragedy. Let them know their words can hurt or even kill.

Rest in Peace to all the young souls who couldn’t find their Christmas.

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11 Responses to “It’s No Surprise, Martha!- Surprise Cookies! – 114 eggs, 89 1/4 cups of sugar, 89 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 101 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 108 recipes to go!”

  1. Robb Says:

    André:

    Thank you for not taking those pills. I, too, was bullied and called “fag” at school and it was tough to face each school day.

    I’m glad you are around to be in my life and treat us to not only your wonderful and touching stories, but these delicious cookies, too.

    The ones you made for Greg and me were gone in one day with no guilt on our part!

    Keep sharing your stories because I love sharing them with my friends and family.

  2. molly Says:

    Dear Andre,
    You are helping so many people by sharing your story. My heart is breaking for what you endured and for what so many other young people are going through now. I wish they could see the loving and joyful person you are today. And how deeply you’re loved and respected by friends and colleagues.

    I’m so grateful for the honesty and compassion that fill your blog.

  3. connie Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Andre. The world is a much better place because you decided to live.

    Hopefully stories like yours will help make our world better for the current generation of kids, and all who follow. This stuff just can’t keep poisoning our hearts any longer. It has to stop.

  4. Eri Says:

    Okay, I laughed so hard at the two earlier posts and I’m crying right now. I am so glad you are alive and here!
    I’m going to share this with my reading group friends. We talked about bullying on Saturday afternoon, because it is very much on our minds. We almost all have unusual kids. One of my friends homeschools one of them. Another has a severely autistic son.

    I was called Fatty, Buckteeth, Metal-Mouth & Lezzie–not all at once and maybe not every day but often enough. Often enough that it’s always on my mind how pervasive and destructive bullying is. And even if my family did not use those words, their attitudes about how I looked and behaved are branded into me.

  5. Juli Says:

    What a timely story, Andre. I am always fascinated at how easily the word “fag” is thrown about. I hear it all the time from people who I never thought could be sop hateful…then I realize it’s equal parts hate and ignorance. I also detest when I hear something stupid referred to as being “gay.” I don’t understand why people who would know better then to use a racial slur are perfectly comfortable making one against the GLBT community.

  6. Tommy Salami Says:

    I’ve been torn up over Tyler Clementi’s death myself. I grew up with bullying for being a fat, weird kid with braces. I got called a “fag” plenty of times myself, and every time I hear an adult say “bullying builds character” I want to beat them to the ground and humiliate them in front of their peers and ask them, “Did you like that character-building exercise?” I find it repugnant that bullying is still tolerated in our schools and as “part of life,” when every one of those sociopathic little monsters should be sent to a psychologist’s office before they become the street thugs and white collar criminals they will invariably be as adults.

    But no one is bullied like a gay kid is when growing up, and it is especially revolting that we tolerate it in this day and age. It’s something I assumed went away, but it was always there festering, like the racism we keep finding impossible to eradicate. Every time I find the bullying of Tyler called “a prank gone wrong,” I ask, “Do you think he would film a straight roommate having sex with his webcam and post it to twitter?” If someone put a webcam in your bedroom, would you call it a prank, or disgusting criminal voyeurism? Hopefully they will go to prison for what they did, but even with the national outrage over the incident I have a feeling they’ll play the victim card for the rest of their lives. Maybe they can do community service pulling bodies out of the Hudson River.


  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tommy Salami and Tony , Bobby Rivers. Bobby Rivers said: RT @tommysalami: In the wake of Tyler Clementi's death by bullying, Andre tells us what it was like growing up gay in the deep south. http://bit.ly/9GdqlY […]

  8. Deidre Says:

    Andre, how in the world did you grow up to be such a caring person? Thank goodness Christmas rolled around just in time and somehow–after all you’d endured–you were still able to consider the feelings of others–your mother–before taking those pills. There is something a little miraculous in that I think. You were meant to do good things and you’ve done it against all odds. Thank you for bravely sharing this on your blog.

  9. Russ Says:

    I remember being called a homo in fourth grade, but I thought they said “hobo” and wondered if maybe my clothes looked ratty or something.

  10. Cecilia Says:

    OMG, Andre, I am so sorry I was one of those awful people @ STM that teased you. I didn’t remember the fag reference until reading these few posts. I had no clue what it meant, I just knew you were different. How awful we were!! But seriously?? The teachers and nuns??? That is worse!!! I never knew that, they should have been there to protect you, but then again Catholics can be some of the biggest hypocrites. I left the Catholic church @ 15 when they (especially Father Green) turned their back on me because I was pregnant. I tried to go back a few times, but it was just such a production and not what I feel is a teaching of God and his love.

    I am glad that you have been able to battle the demons and become who you are today. You have no idea how many times I thought of you over the years and was so ashamed of my behavior, and you had no support at home. You know that the first time I contacted you on FB I apoligized to you and you told me you forgave me a long time ago. I never expected forgiveness and was not seeking it. I wanted you to know that it was our sheltered environment that made us ignorant.

    Please know that you are an insipration and I am sorry for the struggles you have that I was a part of.


    • Cecilia-
      I had no idea that you were shut out because you became pregnant. That happened to my sister, too. Who we were then is not who we are now. Bless you for growing into a kind and wonderful person. I’m sure it will come shining back through your children, and yes, your grandchildren (one day).


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