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The First Burnt Pancakes

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

At 12 years old, I learned that pancakes will burn, every single time, when cooked on a skillet over high heat.

The most vivid aspect of this memory is the absolute bewilderment I felt when the first batch of pancakes burned, and the second batch burned immediately thereafter. I'd been sure to watch the second batch closely and only left them on for a brief moment, yet the bottoms were blackened while the tops were still burbling batter. What the hell. Why.

Family was staying with us, visiting from Canada, and I (the young people-pleaser) wanted to show off by cooking a homemade breakfast. Even back then, my ego operated like solar flares. It would begin to flicker from within then explode in response to any form of attention. When everyone's eyes were on me, I was fire, I was fierce, I was me. Mary. Breanna. Mary Bre, Free Bre, Free. The only problem was that at 12 years old, freedom was nothing but a misunderstood construct. But how can a young mind truly understand that freedom is fluid? Freedom is different for a 12 year old child than it is for a 22 year old alcoholic who finds herself spending the night in County. Just as it is different now, for a 30 year old phoenix who still believes she truly should have been born in the Wild West days. A regular Kate Barlow, living in the suburbs, kissing only her husband and trying her damndest to navigate a world where "freedom" will produce ten thousand different definitions if you ask ten thousand different people what it means, for them, to be free.

The smell of the burning pancakes drew the attention of the adults who had allowed me space while I attempted to impress them with my great culinary skills. I was determined to hear their accolades, despite that, to this point, I'd only really "cooked" Ramen and sandwiches, and once made myself sick by barely heating sausage I'd dug out of the freezer. But that's a story for another day.

I wish I could tell you I remember who it was that walked by the stove and cast a nonchalant "Oh, just turn down the heat", leaving me to marvel at the simplicity of the solution. Just turn down the heat. Glancing at the burner knob set to the highest heat, I was in disbelief that I hadn't considered the option sooner. I found myself in the same disbelief 12 years later when I recounted the same story to a fellow as we stood outside the doors of an old church before a meeting of Alcholics Anonymous. It was only then that I drew the parallel.

My life was the pancake batter, and instead of living in a meaningful way, I had been living with the heat on full blast in a desperate attempt to get there faster. Where, exactly? I still to this day have no idea. What I do know is this: I burned every pancake along the way until I finally learned to just turn down the heat.

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