Tonight I am wishing I were two. I’d like to start all over again, right with the potty training, even, and try to do everything right this time.
I remember potty training, believe it or not. And for those of you that like to laugh at humorous yarns, this is not one of them so you might want to skip it.
So there we are in Margie’s dooryard. Margie lives in the farmhouse across the hill. When it’s hot it’s always fun to walk through the barn and smell the hay and trampled dust. Hide and seek with the chickens. Swat flies with the cows’ tails. Big lumbering Murray, Margie’s youngest son, is milking the cows and he’ll squirt some warm milk directly into my mouth then laugh when I smile because I like it. He’s proud of me that I’m not wearing diapers and my nickname won’t be Stinky-lady-dink anymore. But it was my nickname for a long time after that, I think; my later memories bring feelings of shame. But not when I was two, that’s just what Murray called me, so everybody else did, too.
So there we are at Margie’s. Everyone is in the kitchen that smells like coffee and sour dishrags. The adults are talking so fervently, I guess. I don’t know, I don’t remember my exact thoughts, remember? I do remember the panic of being caught behind Margie’s torn up chintz covered farm couch, the one all the cats were allowed to sleep on. There the cats were, lazing in the sun slant, and there I was. I must have felt like I had to go to the potty but I don’t think I really did anything until I got caught. Behind the couch. But who knows? Memories from two to now sure can be tangled.
So there we are in Margie’s bathroom, in the old farmhouse across the hill. It’s got lots of discarded clothing on the floor and lots of pictures of butterflies. I certainly won’t profess to remember what I thought or said during those potty-training moments, but I sure as hell remember the process, the why I became trained. Anything foul, even your own soiled underwear, will make a lasting impression if it’s rubbed in your face, forced into your memory. The taste of your own piss when you lick your lips never goes away.
So there we are in the creek (“crick” as Margie calls it) down behind the cornfield. This is a vivid memory, because we used to go there all the time, all summer. Every summer. I remember being seven; Kristine, my sister, is four. Mum is yelling at us. “You kids put sneakers on in the creek! I’m not pulling any bloodsuckers off of you!” Margie wades out in her old-lady bathing suit with the funny looking skirt that just makes her legs look fatter than they are. She hands us our Keds, which we think are totally yucky, and screeches just like Mum: “I ain’t pullin’ off no leeches, neither!” I can already feel one as I run my hands over my leg. They’re probably all over my toes, too. I lift a foot up and wave it at my sister. She grins and digs her fingernails in to pull them off for me. We have conspired on this always. We love leeches. We throw them in her bucket and put just enough water in. Later we will dump salt on them and watch them explode. We do not think this is gross. Mum and Margie do, but they think we don’t do this any more since last time they hit us with the wooden spoon with “Mother’s Helper” written on it in black permanent marker. Mum and Margie sit under the trees and read books. They drink beer. We drink creek water.
So here we are up at the lot. Dad and the workmen are raising the frame for the new house. Krissy and I play on the lumber piles, throw sawdust at each other. We take naps in the little camper we borrow from Uncle Tommy. It’s so hot in there; I dream of wading in the creek. I would even like to see some bloodsuckers right now; they live in the cool underwater world where it’s not so hot. I am eleven and I have small pointy breasts developing. The workman with the orange bandanna in his pocket comments about how fast little girls grow up nowadays. He stares at my chest in my too-small swimming suit top and I now know the feeling of being self-conscious.
So now I am sixteen and I am in high school. I am a shy overweight teenager and I am raped by a teacher I thought was my friend. He tells me he cares, he drives me around in his convertible MG, he buys me exotic ice cream. He takes me to his apartment one afternoon and pins me to the floor, I am captured in a slant of sunlight yet it feels so cold. He shoves himself inside me and he is shocked when I bleed.
I remember going numb, but not too numb. Not too numb to run into his bathroom and lock the door, wondering about how I am going to get home. I remember the pain, the physical, the deep inside where no one will ever invade again pain. The taste of your own fear when you lick your lips
never goes away.
So twelve years later I tell Ellen, my partner, my friend, all about this pain. It is only fair. She is angry with the jokers, the cruel schoolkids who never knew the real situation; they made it out to be all my fault.
So I think back to my mother, who never said she knew what happened. She had to know, didn’t she? Ellen says yes, my mum had to know; but she couldn’t, wouldn’t accept what happened to her little girl. She blamed me, my mother did. She too thought I asked for it. When you don’t wear your sneakers in the creek the bloodsuckers know it. They’ll seep the life right out of you.
So here we are, my mother and I, arguing yet again, screaming nasties at one another until we cry. I am thirty-something and Margie is not here but she still has her chintz-covered couch. And all the cats—children of the ones when I was two—still laze in the sun slant as perhaps they were trained to do.
My mother’s voice is abrasive, insisting that I’m a loser. She calls me many things. I shut myself in the bathroom, the only door with a lock.
She’s still yelling but I’m thinking of butterflies on the wall, back at Margie’s, wishing I was two so I could start all over again and do everything right this time.
Alysson B. Parker is a writer by passion but a secondary school teacher, freelance editor, and journalist by financial necessity. She has published work with Driftwood Press, The Binnacle, Northern New England Review, Ophelia Street, Scars, Kota, Deep South (New Zealand), A Room of Her Own, ExPat Lit, and other miscellaneous publications. A regular contributor to EnPointe magazine, she has lived in many different countries and a variety of funky situations, but right now she and her family – plus two cats and a mutt who should be paying rent – live north of Boston.
« The Cheapness of Daily Life – Marge Piercy MALE VIOLENCE: ARE WE PRISONERS OF MASCULINITY? — Quassan Castro »