29 October 2011

and everybody dies.

I recall being about seven-years-old, lying sick on the couch, longing for the tender touch of my loving mother to help ease the discomfort of my currently congested and febrile state, when she entered the room, and sat next to me.

“Yes,” I thought, “she’s going to baby me, comfort me!”
She sat next to my small, sickly frame, looked at me oh so lovingly and said, “You know everybody dies right?”
What!?!?!? What was she saying to me? What were these words? Was I dying? I thought it was just a cold. An excuse to stay home from school, eat soup, watch cartoons and be babied. What was this she was talking about? Death? I didn’t even like the sound of the word!
My look of uncertainty about and fear of the topic must have been mistaken for a look of, “ooh, tell me more…” for she continued.
She expressed again, that everybody I loved would die someday, and that once they did, I would not be able to see them any longer. I recall asking her how long it would be until I could “see” them again--bad idea. 

Instead of realizing that she needed to dumb this down a little, word it in such a way as to not arouse a sense of terror in her youngest child, she proceeded with her lesson in as frank a manner as she started.
She further explained to sick, seven and now scared me that when people die, they are gone for good. Reiterated that once everyone I love (her, my father, my grandmothers, my brother) dies, I will never be able to see them, talk with them, nor hug them again; NEVER! Oh, and she didn’t stop there! She made certain that I understood my own mortality. She in no way allowed me to have the false belief that I was immune to this thing, this fate she termed “death.” I was made to understand that I too, like everybody I knew, and would someday know, would cease to be, would cease to love and be loved.
I forgot that I was sick, that I was home from school, lying around, watching cartoons. I only knew that while others were laughing with peers, and playing at recess, my world was crashing down around me. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t want to be having this conversation with my mother. I didn’t want to be laying there, my eyes wide, pupils dilated with fear.
Weak from illness, and feeling trapped by my mother’s presence, I mustered the courage to ask her "when". When would my everybody, my family, my world die. When!?!?
Without forethought (again), she informed me that she couldn’t tell me. That nobody knew for certain when their life would be over. That it could happen tonight, tomorrow, next year, or even seventy years from now. That uncertainty was why I needed to know about it right then, why she wanted to prepare me for the loss of my loved ones at such a young age. She wanted to be certain that I understood this so I “wouldn’t be surprised or sad when it happened.” Her father, whom died when she was sixteen, prepared her for his death, and instructed her not to be sad, nor to cry when it happened; she wanted to do the same for me, and expected the same from me that he did her.
Boldly telling your child, ill at the time, and only seven, that everyone in the world, everyone in their egocentric little world, including them, would die someday doesn’t seem like a good way to prepare them for life’s atrocities! Springing this on someone so young—nothing good could possibly come of it, nothing.
I voiced my understanding of life, more so of death, with the hope of bringing it to an end more quickly. I figured the more questions I asked, the more confused I looked, the longer she’d torture me with her words, with her facts of life!
It worked, she stopped talking. I promised her, as she requested I do, that I wouldn’t cry when she died. She leaned in, kissed my forehead, and wandered into the kitchen to make me soup. Tomato soup, which I hated. 
To her it was no big deal; it was as if nothing had happened, nothing significant. For me? Ha! It was the beginning of “the end”…for everyone I loved.
That night, and nearly every night after for the next year or two, I would fall asleep thinking of a loved one dying. I would lie there nightly imagining the death of a certain loved one, and cry. I would be sobbing, face first into my pillow, or stuffed animal of the week, snot running everywhere. I would imagine the death of one person at a time. Each night I would cry less and less for this person, and when I couldn’t cry for them anymore, I’d move on—it was someone else’s turn to die.
Within a year or two, I felt confident in my ability to deal with the deaths of everyone I knew in a “mature” and “adult” manner. I was certain that I would be able to keep my promise to my mother, that I wouldn’t cry for the loss of her. In addition I made certain that I wouldn’t cry for anybody. I told myself that I’d be strong and well prepared for the death of everybody I love; I believed it—until the fall of 2009.

Everybody bleeds...

When I was young, very young, my mother taught me all of life’s hard lessons. She held nothing back. Sugar coated noting, worded nothing in age appropriate terms. She simply presented me with these lessons, and left me to decipher them, to deal with them as I so wished.

It was tough.
In fifth grade, my elementary school decided to hold an assembly for every child in my grade regarding the “differences” between the sexes. I can’t be certain why they did such, nor what they hoped to accomplish, but they did it (I’m sure parents today would have a fit over such a meeting, fearing that it would plant the seed of promiscuity in their little ten-year-olds). I think they even went so far as to bring a presenter in from outside of the school to host this!
I recall sitting on the floor in the gymnasium with one-hundred other small children while this man projected anatomical drawings of the female and male sex organs onto the wall. Information about females starting their menses was provided. Material about the growth of body hair, development of breasts, deep voices and body odor signaling the onset of puberty, in both males and females, was being thrown at us.
The snickering and whispering were non-stop.
Sitting around me were other small children, some of whom were making assumptive comments about peeing after sex to avoid pregnancy, and if you have sex while the girl is on her period, pregnancy will not occur. I, having been taught the lesson of the “birds and the bees” years earlier by my mother, had to kindly inform them that all of this was nonsense. That regardless the acts during and after sexual intercourse, if penetration occurs after a girl has become “fertile,” pregnancy is always a possibility—they just stared at me for a moment before continuing with their banter.
Three years later, I was the only girl I knew who didn’t freak out when I started my period. I knew what it was. I knew that the three, yes three underarm hairs that had sprouted, and fuzz that formed “down below” the summer before were sure signs of the monthly crimson tide to come. I started my menses, began using my mother’s sanitary napkins (without needed instructions), and went about my business. It was nearly a year later when my mother finally took note of her more quickly dwindling supply of feminine hygiene products and asked me if “it” had happened. “It had,” I told her, “about a year ago.”
She was up in arms. Asking me why I hadn’t told her. I simply reminded her that she told me years ago what it was, and that it would eventually happen to me; that it was only natural. She just looked at me, and started to say, “You know what this means right. You know that now…” I interrupted her by saying, “That if I have sex with a boy I can get pregnant, I know. I don’t plan on having sex.” 

 I still don’t know how to explain the expression on her face. I don’t know if it was a look of, “Oh my god, my little girl is growing up,” or an expression of, “Damn, I taught this girl well!” Regardless her thoughts, it was what it was. I went about my business, fertile and free...she went about hers, calling my aunts and anyone else she knew to tell them the news, old news.
In addition to teaching me about female fertility, puberty and reproduction, my mother taught me about life…more so the finality of it; the lack of human immortality. I handled the bird’s and the bee’s lesson very well. Absorbed the facts and went about my day.  The next lesson was not as easy of a pill to swallow—it’s still stuck in my throat today…

16 October 2011

Misadventures of an Innocent Mouth

My family was not wealthy when I was very young. My father worked at a local pizza joint, while trying to get his drywall business up and running, and my mother was a stay at home mom. We lived in a rented home in rural Lambertville, Michigan, which was of adequate size. It had four bedrooms, one full bath, a utility room, a large living room and an eat in kitchen. Inside we lived together, happily, my parents, twenty at my birth, my maternal grandmother, diagnosed with schizophrenia twenty years earlier, my older brother, a dog named Bandit, a cat named Samantha, and myself.  The home had dingy carpeting which clearly showed the paths most frequently taken, cheap tile, and worn out wood floors. I don’t remember the walls having any color, nor artwork (other than a wooden and brass piece with the Lord’s Prayer written on it), hung upon them. Our furniture looked dated, and was most likely hand-me-downs from my father’s older siblings.  It was a rather modest existence, but I knew nothing else.
My paternal grandmother lived two doors down, so family was always close by—most importantly my best friend and cousin Crystal, and her brother Adam.  Crystal was a couple of months older than me, and Adam was a few months older, I think, than Carl, my brother. We were very close, the four of us. They often visited our grandmother, thus making our times together quite frequent. One visit, I have never been able to forget, even though I have wished to.
I should have recognized, at the wise age of four, that it was going to be a bad day, or at least an unpleasantly unforgettable one, when I hurriedly grabbed the cup off of the kitchen table and held it to my lips…
I was upstairs playing alone in my bedroom, when my mother yelled up to me, “Crystal and Adam are at your grandma’s!”
I couldn’t stop what I was doing fast enough. I quickly threw on some clothes, well as quickly, and with as much grace as a four year old can, and flew down the stairs.  Upon stepping foot at the bottom, I saw my mom standing in front of the sink, behind her on the kitchen table was my favorite cup. It was an orange, plastic cup with a yellow smiling sun on it which read, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It was a gift from my bible school teacher, and was all I ever drank from. It was my everything. The only cup worthy of me, a child of God!
I ran towards the cup, noticed the deep bluish-purple hue inside and thought how great it was that my mother had prepared Kool-Aid for me. I grabbed the cup with my tiny little hands, brought it to my lips, and began gulping  it down as if I had never drunk before—and then the taste hit me.
What was this awful flavor of Kool-Aid? What had my mother done to me? What had I done to displease her so? Was she really trying to kill me?!?!
I started spitting, choking and coughing. My mother turned to me. Seeing the half-empty cup on the table, and the iridescent bubbles falling from my mouth with every cry and exhalation, her face dropped—as if she knew I thought she was trying to kill me. She grabbed me a glass of water and tried explaining to me that my cup, the cup of God’s child, had only moments earlier been filled, by her, with the cheap laundry detergent of a lower-middleclass family.  
I didn’t understand. I cried, and wailed until the bubble blowing stopped.  She dried my tears, wiped away my snot, and out the door I ran, knowing that I had just narrowly escaped death.
This would not be the only vile, evil thing my lips touched that fateful day…
The majority of the day was spent playing outdoors. I’m sure it was the usual running back-and-forth between my home and our grandmother’s, playing tag, and red-light-green-light. We probably stopped to eat the mulberries which had fallen from the tree behind the driveway. I’m sure we laid in the grass picking, and eating patches of tiny yellow flowers that had an amazingly sweet and sour taste, as we had so many times before. I had forgotten about the horrors of the morning, and was just living in a carefree way, a way one can only do when a child. Life was good.  
By early-afternoon, we had ventured into the home to play with toys inside of the imaginary worlds we created for them. Up in our bedroom, twin beds separated by an old nightstand placed beneath a small window, we sat; the boys on Carl’s bed, Crystal and me on mine. The summer sun was shining in, landing upon the two six year-old boys across from me when I recall my older brother saying, “…You kiss his, and Crystal will kiss mine.”
As it did earlier that day, my mind started racing. Thoughts of bad things happening to me if grown-ups found out that I did this flooded my head. I knew it was bad, but I don’t how. Maybe I could tell by the boys’ body language and the nervousness in their voices…maybe I knew because I had tasted evil earlier that morning. Evil veiled by the sun-shining, smiling face, and our Lord’s words.  
I knew I shouldn’t, but the, “Oh, come on, it’s what people do,” type comments got to me. I caved in to peer pressure. Caved in, and sinned. He pulled his "private" out, it was small, the size of my little finger today. I slid off of my bed and leaned forward towards it, thinking “Please God, forgive me,” and then I placed my pursed lips upon it for a millisecond or less.
I did it. It was done, now it was Crystals turn! I would not be venturing to Hell and back alone today. Right then, my mother, the woman who tried ending my short life only hours earlier, hollered up to all of us, “Kids, it’s time to eat!”
 Adam’s pants were pulled up, and the three of them hopped off of the beds, ran out of the room and towards the steps before I even realized what had just happened.
I stood there alone for a moment, and thought, “Oh God, I am sorry. Just don’t let my parents find out.” I then started the walk of shame towards the stairway, the stairway from which I could hear the clanking of dishes and chatter of small children. Small children who didn’t seem to realized, much less care, that I, their beloved cousin, sister had nearly died, not once, but twice, before lunchtime.