Don’t Be a Kristen

“Don’t be a Kristen.”

Bella’s mother said it often enough that Bella thought a kristen was a really terrible job that didn’t pay well until she was deep into middle school. She imagined it being akin to cleaning outhouses or cutting old people’s toenails. By the time she realized that Kristen was a name, not a career choice, she’d been hearing it for so long she didn’t really question it. She didn’t know who Kristen was or why you’d want to avoid being like her, it just was.If she left her bike in the driveway … “Don’t be a Kristen.”

If she refused to eat her broccoli … “Don’t be a Kristen.”

When she was fourteen and her mother got a call from the principal because Bella had been caught cheating on a math test her mother had been particularly adamant … “Don’t be a cheating Kristen.”

It became part of Bella’s own vocabulary as she got older. She’d tell her friends not to be Kristens if they bickered over boyfriends or got catty about each other’s makeup. She even once told a boyfriend not to be such a Kristen when he tried to tell her she couldn’t hang out with any other guys. Whenever someone did something you disliked, particularly something that showed moral weakness or reason for distain, they were being a Kristen and that kind of thing had to be called out and stomped to death before it spread.

Long after Bella had begun to use the phrase with her own children, her mother grew ill and eventually died. They’d joked together, near the end, about when miserable Kristens those damned cancer cells were. Bella took a box of old photo albums home with her to prepare for the funeral services. She flipped through the pages, pulling out favorite photos of her mother at various stages in her life. Near the bottom of the pile, she found an old album from her mother’s childhood. Her mother appeared on the sepia-toned pages as her chubby, pig-tailed six-year-old self, in dresses with big bows and shiny Mary Janes. Bella pulled a photo from the album to look at it closely.

She couldn’t be entirely sure–she’d never met them and only seen them in a single photo on the wall growing up–but the man and woman in the photo looked a lot like very young versions of her Grandma and Grandpa Day. They stood side by side in front of a huge maple tree and Bella’s mother stood next to Grandpa Day, holding his hand. She was scowling at Grandma Day with a young, unfiltered version of the look Bella’s mother would give to repairmen who showed up three hours later than they promised or to dogs who crapped on her oft-mopped floors.

Bella flipped the picture over. On the back, in her mother’s round handwriting, it said, “Daddy and Kristen, after their honeymoon.” For a split second Bella was excited, curious to learn what her mother would have to say about this twist to the family story. Then the realization that her mother was gone crashed down over her again and she cried.

God can really be a Kristen sometimes, she thought, wiping at her tears. She imagined her mother’s disapproving laughter at such sacrilege as she tucked the photo back in the album. She was pretty sure her mother wouldn’t want that photo displayed at the service.

*2/13/18 prompt: I don’t remember how or why, but I heard the phrase “Don’t be a Kristen.” This is where it led me.

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