Memories of my early childhood are sparse. The ones I have are like an old movie reel. Grainy, with barely legible subtitles and cheesy music.
I was about seven when things switched to glaring color. Pictures, people, and places – all thrown together like a discount movie bin, all at war with each other to be placed on the shelf and labeled: horror, romance, comedy, drama.
There are classics, pulled out and played again and again when I’m alone. There are low budget sequels...
And like every video library, there are those you lend out.
Title: Satan’s Birth
Released: September 1992
I’m no longer going to be an only child.
I’m the forgotten child, left standing in a bedroom at four in the morning while my mother is hustled out the door and to the hospital. Left with twin teenage babysitters that are too involved with themselves to care when I lock myself in my room and refuse to come out.
I’m taken to The Grandmother’s to wait and am slightly mollified when she plies me with cheetos and ice cream.
I haven’t seen my dad in days, but who cares? He’s the one at fault for this mess anyway. My cousin told me to check my new sister’s head for dents when she comes home. No one is amused when I repeat this information to my Nana’s Jehovah’s Witness friends. Nana threatens me with the yardstick.
Mom finally comes home. She’s tired and goes straight to bed, taking it with her. I watch them sleep and wonder what the big deal is anyway. It doesn’t even look like a girl, with a thick patch of black hair on its fat head and as far as I can tell, no neck. It wakes up and starts screaming. I might have poked it by accident.
I’ve never heard a sound like that in my life. My ears are ringing. “Shut up”, I tell it loudly. My mom is trying to quiet it, but then turns to me, angry. She tells me to go to my room. As I walk out I pick up a hand mirror from the dresser.
“Take it back”, I scream throwing the mirror to the floor. Glass shatters all over the kitchen and in the bedroom doorway. I see my dad heading toward me and I know it’s all over.
They’re going to kill me now. Kill me and feed it my snacks. Give it my room and my books.
As he drags me off down the hall, I pray they have cheetos in heaven. The puffs, not the crunchies.
Title: The Curious Case of Brian’s Bullying
Genre: Suspense, Drama
Released: September 1993
It’s not easy being the smart, fat kid. Being badly dressed doesn’t help either.
It’s the first day of third grade and I have to be at the bus stop early. My mom dressed me in kaki pants, white turtleneck, patterned vest, and Keds. I hate my outfit. I know I look like the kid that swallowed Nancy Drew, but agree to wear it when she presents me with a new lunch box. It’s full of my favorites: a snack pack, cheetos, and a ham sandwich. I stuff in another snack pack when she isn’t looking.
I hate the bus. Mine is the first stop in the morning and the last stop in the afternoon. It feels like I spend an eternity bouncing around on those hard black seats.
It’s too dark to read in the morning, but on the way home I stick my nose in a book. People usually leave me alone, but not today.
The normal ruckus is going on around me – kids screaming and jumping, tramping up and down the aisle. Sometime later a body falls into my seat, knocking my book from my hands. I look up and angrily shove them out, sending them across the aisle.
It’s a high school boy that lives down the road from me. His name is Brian and he’s a tall, beefy, red-faced asshole. His book bag has come open and papers are falling all over the floor as he tries to steady himself. I pick up my book.
He turns around and yells curse words in my face, spit flying from his lips. A drop lands on my cheek and I brush it off. “You’re disgusting”, I say with bookwormish dignity. “Fucking nerd”, he screams back. Snatching the book from my hands, he starts ripping out pages.
“Stop”, I yell, but he doesn’t. Furious, I do what my Nana told me to do when boys are being “sonsabitches”. I pull my leg up in the seat and kick him hard in the crotch. I’m amazed when he drops to the floor like a stone. While he moans and cries, I attempt to gather up the pages of my book. They’ve flown all over the place and I have to crawl around under seats to retrieve them.
It’s taking me a long time and I’ve practically forgotten about stupid Brian. But as I’m crawling under another seat, I’m yanked from behind. He’s gotten a hold of my legs and is dragging me down the aisle. I try to kick him loose. He picks me up by my shoulders, squeezing hard, and holds me as high as he can.
The bored bus driver finally decides to intervene. “Put her down. Now!”
Brian grins up at me and yells, “Ok!” Then he throws me down and away from him as hard as he can. I slam into the floor, my head striking a seat leg, and lie there stunned. Before I can get up the bus pulls up at Brian’s house. He laughs as he steps over me on his way out the door. The bus driver shakes her head, but doesn’t comment.
I’m hurting all over, but at least I’m almost home.
By the time I’m dropped off and make the long trek up the driveway, my face is swollen from crying. My mom is standing in the kitchen when I go in. I stand in the doorway, holding my shredded book in my hands, tears coursing down my cheeks. She immediately runs to me and asks question after question. She feels the knot on my head and surveys my dirty clothes while, in between sobs, I explain.
Later she repeats the story to my dad. He’s just gotten home from work, but he’s had a “few beers” first. He is angry and irrational. He takes a gun from the cabinet and tells mom he’s going to go over there and shoot Brian’s dad. Unable to stop him, we wait. He doesn’t come back for hours.
I’m lying in my bed with a compress on my head when I hear him come through the door, singing. He’s drunker still and in good spirits. He and Brian’s dad have bonded over a bottle of Crown Royal.
I turn over and attempt to sleep off his betrayal. Goddamn rednecks.
Title: The Accidental Flashing
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Released: Summer 1995
I’m rarely indoors during the summer months. Every day is long and action packed. It’s the only time of year that an activity takes precedence over reading. I swim and I tube and I ski. My bathing suit is my skin for three months.
I eat less too. Not because I want to eat less, but because of the “no swimming for thirty minutes after you eat” rule. And I never break it. Not because I don’t want to break it, but because my Aunt once ate three pieces of birthday cake, “dove” in, got a cramp, and I had to help tow her in before she drowned. She’s at least 350lbs. People are lighter in the water, true, but I’m not a trainer at Sea World.
I’ve been trying to learn how to water ski with only one ski, but out of all the water sports I do, it’s my least favorite. This is most likely due to the traumatic way my family tried to teach me two years ago.
They hooked the rope to the Jet Ski and handed over the training skis. Brandishing a video camera from the dock, they called, “No matter what you do: DON’T LET GO OF THE ROPE!” Simple enough, right?
They started to go and I tried to pull myself up. I wobbled a bit, then crashed down, sliding beneath the surface. They continued to drive forward while I alternately sunk and rose, holding on to the rope for dear life. Probably around my third or forth time breaking the surface I heard them shouting, “LET GO OF THE ROPE! LET GO OF THE ROPE!” I did as they said. While the Jet Ski turned to come back for me I shouted indignantly back at the dock watchers, “BUT YOU SAID NOT TO!”
They play the video tape all the time. Even for guests.
Today my dad is going to ski. He uses one and he’s pretty good, but he only does it once a year. He’s sober so he probably won’t fall.
I climb in the boat with the rest of the onlookers while dad sits on the dock and straps on his life jacket. He lights a cigarette and climbs down the ladder so it doesn’t get wet. I roll my eyes and toss him the rope as we go by. He gives the driver a thumbs up, his cigarette hanging from one side of his mouth.
He’s up immediately, though it takes him a minute to gain his full balance. On the straightaway he hooks an arm through the handlebar, takes one last puff of his cigarette, and tosses it away. He jumps waves and does a few spins while we clap.
I spend the rest of the afternoon swimming with my cousins. Except for the 10 minutes I stand with my nose to a post on the gazebo for punching Andy and pushing him off the dock. It’s no so bad though. Ben whispers “Andy’s a wiener” every time he passes by and I giggle.
It’s time to go home and we start the uphill walk. “You did good on the skis”, he says. He’s being nice today. Ben said it’s because he smoked pot behind the shed with his dad, but I already knew that. I like him better when he smokes pot. Not my uncle though because he laughs really weird and calls me “Ralph”. “I don’t get it”, I tell him, but he just laughs harder.
I go straight to my room to take off my bathing suit. I pull on the shorts my mom laid out for me, but I choose a different t-shirt. The one she picked has a picture of a pink cartoon elephant on the front. Once she put it in my soccer bag and I had to wear it to practice. That woman is on a mission to make me a laughing stock.
I head to the laundry room to put away my bathing suit. The folding door is partially open and I yank it back, coming face to naked crotch with my dad. For a minute we are both frozen with shock. He turns his back, but I’ve already seen it. I turn around quickly and go back to my room. I feel sick and embarrassed. I lie on the bed and press my pillow over my head. Maybe if I press hard enough the image will go away.
We avoid each other the rest of the night. My mom asks me why I’m acting weird, but I can’t tell her. When I go to bed I hear them talking in murmurs. I know it’s coming even before it happens.
She bursts out laughing and I hear her say the words “you” and “penis”, but that’s all I can make out. I’m horrified. Now she’s going to tell all her friends about it and they’re going to laugh too. It’s not like I wanted to see his nasty thing. Ugh!
I get up the next morning and peer out my door. I’ve decided that I’m going to peek and shout to announce my presence before going through any doors or around corners. It’ll be a pain, but it’s better than having to see that again. I’m convinced I’ll be scarred for life, like that kid at school that caught his parents doing it on his four-wheeler. Now he won’t ride it anymore and he wears dark sunglasses all the time. I’ll probably have to move in with my grandma if it gets too awkward. That thought cheers me up a bit though because she has better snacks at her house.
I make myself a bowl of cereal and turn on the TV. My sister wanders by in her footy pajamas, heading for my mom’s room. After a few minutes they come out and go to the kitchen. It’s demanding grits and eggs again. I figure I can eat twice.
My mom looks at me across the bar and grins. “Good morning.”
I glare at her then turn my face to the TV. She’s never going to let me live this one down, I know it. I plan to call grandma as soon as I finish watching my show and eating breakfast. And maybe a snack.
Proximity, and Revelation.
6 days ago