No one should have ever left me home alone in the first place. It was a weight I was unprepared for, with a punishment so decisive and swift it would leave me devastated. But I can’t go back in time. I can’t change what I did. And to this day, my mistakes haunt me.
I was fourteen years old, home alone, and hungry for dinner. I decided to warm up a veggie burger in the microwave. It seemed like a responsible, health-conscious decision. If I only I knew the hardship it would bestow upon me. If only I could crank back the clock and stamp out my foolishness. But no, no, I was young and carefree, and tossed the patty in the microwave for two minutes. In my ignorant bliss, I perched at the island in my parent’s kitchen with my book and waited. And waited. And waited.
It was the longest two minutes of my life. Finally, I turned my head towards the microwave, only to find acrid, green smoke billowing out the vent. My heart froze. Ten minutes home alone, and I had single-handedly managed to transform my parents’ kitchen into Chernobyl.
I threw down my book in a wave of panic, and approached the microwave, terror surging through my veins. I flung open the door to find my patty charred. It sizzled a cancerous, nuclear sizzle.
The smoke made my eyes water. If I squinted, I could see the outline of Harry Truman’s ghost hovering above my disaster in fatherly approval. My dog cried. I cried. My patty sizzled and sizzled. A creeping doubt took hold of my weary, battle-fatigued bones, one that I could not shake. The smoke whispered, What if the veggie burger spontaneously combusts?
I knew then and there I had to call upon my inner strength. I had to submerge that patty in water, not just for my sake, but for the safety of my Pitbull, cowering in the vomit-green haze. With quivering hands, I slipped on an oven mitt, and lifted my chin toward the ceiling to say a quiet prayer to The God of Microwaves. I took a shallow breath in the spirit of a deep one, and the curls of smoke clawed at my throat. I reached in and grabbed the microwave-safe plate, instantly wincing as the heat radiated through the mitt. With careful expertise, I catapulted the entire contraption, plate and all, into soapy dish water.
To this day, I can hear the crackling sound it made as it drowned in its watery, Palmolive grave. Sometimes, when I’m lying in bed at night, it echoes in the distance, and I can almost taste the smoke. When I open my eyes, I can see the blinking, red numbers on the screen through the fumes, etched into my retinas for eternity: 10:00. A ten minute microwave baking session for a patty no bigger than the palm of my hand. Had it gone unnoticed, the patty would have been nuked for twenty straight minutes. To this day, I curse my name under my breath, swearing to never press the zero one too many times again.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The screeching of the fire alarms. The cold that infiltrated the house when I was forced to open up all the windows that ruthless January night. The putrid, nuclear odor that lingered in the house for days afterward. The way the patty disintegrated beneath my touch when my mother made me fish it out of the sink later that night. The taste of the dry cheerios I ate for dinner instead. And above all, I can still feel the shame my lesson branded into my brain. And I warn all readers of my story to beware of the convenient, twenty-first century cooking contraptions in their kitchens. Do not make the same mistake I did. I hope you never know the texture of a cancerous veggie burger, hot pocket, or French toast stick. Please, I beg of you: learn from my story.