Chapter Forty-Two Faults
In grade school, I receive the gift of music in the form of a compilation album called Danger: High Voltage. I love this shiny new vinyl that spirals black and serenades my soul. I watch it spin in awe of this wonderful fancy new thing. It’s mine, all mine. The encore and the scratch of needle slides to the tune of side A track five: Precious to me by Phil Seymour—my favorite. I stand at the turntable in the confines of our combined kitchen-living room singing with the music until I’m ordered to stop by the sour faced woman burdened by my existence heralding the perpetual Generation X theme song of our youth: “Go outside and play!”
Tucked neatly in the butt crack of town next to the perpetually brown swollen river, Clendenin Elementary—a picturesque looking insane asylum with a playground and basketball court with four square given prominent space along the side—is a two-story red brick building in the shape of a backward upside-down L. The fledglings—indoctrinated daily into the colonialism and capitalist agenda with their whitewashed history books and autocratic supervisors, otherwise known as instructors—hang their hopes and future on this same indoctrination.
Show and tell with my internees arrive. Forged in the affluent shelf of a hollow home, two cliquish class Tammys approach me and ask if they may borrow my shiny unscratched LP for the night. Young me flits and flutters like a butterfly at being the center of consideration of my pubescent fellow sisters who’ve only ever acknowledged my existence with condemnations for my handmade clothes and classifications of white trash overheard and learned from their narrow-minded progenitors.
Caution and self-preservation at an early age are essential here in this idyllic village. I sense this schooling now in the younger me amongst all the fluttering and longings for acceptance and affection.
Cultivation is the needle of an omen: be wary of cliquish and copacetic girls that covet.
I suppress the auguries of calamity and choose hope relinquishing and allowing them to borrow my brand-new LP. One week later and my precious is still not returned after repeated requests that have fallen on insolent ears. I’m impatient and approach with a new strategy.
My short little body, standing tall, hands on hips—like Wonder Woman—I approach them with purpose and pretend power: “If you don’t give it back to me, I’ll tell my daddy.”
The adult me refuses to stifle my laughter while simultaneously rolling my eyes.
Tammy number one scoffs and laughs, the face of pride and anger, while Tammy number two looks on cautiously, her eyes and mind twitching with deliberation and dancing with motive. They acquiesce with a pout and contempt and I have my record again. Eyeing me warily for a shake, they resume with short memories and thick underdeveloped brains and the tale begins anew.
In the second grade, I’m introduced to another new oppressor the professor: Mrs. McBully, a tall skinny, white woman with an overbite and beehive black hairdo that makes Gramma Lexi look gorgeous and grand. Mrs. McBully—a one-dimensional scholastic browbeater caricatured right out of dullsville—panders to rich parents stuffed with bling and their little cherubic boys implanting the universal personifications of toxic masculinity. When the dueling Davids commence with the boy beatings and I take my complaints to Mrs. McBully, her reply is pointless and pernicious: “They hit you because they like you.”
My younger self, flummoxed, but not foolish, recognizes that when someone hits you, they mean nothing more than malice and an ugly sense of entitlement. I’ve learned this early from the love my alcoholic dad shows my inflexible mom and the rest of the unenlightened males in my family, or the neighborhood, demonstrate toward any assertive lippy female. I, again, stand tall, hands on hips, like Wonder Woman, and argue this uncomplicated wisdom to Mrs. McBully in my second grade vernacular. She squinches in scorn and peers down her long pointy condescending beak to belch out another of her scholarly drillings when the dueling David’s begin a fairy tale of potty-mouth Peyton the patsy. I deny any such act. With a flourish and unsettling amount of maliciousness, she points like a scarecrow and bellows: “To the corner!”
Attempting to merge and disappear, I press into the wall as hours go by persevering and trusting in a just system where I’ve been damned by negligence, spite, and misogyny. I try not to cry and succeed until Mrs. McBully parades the shaming crew repeatedly passed me like a carnival of scary clowns in plush and flashy costumes. The snot-filled breakdown that ensues is one of my worst. The harder I cry, the more they point and laugh while Mrs. McBully sits complacently by with a small smile and a bitter black heart.
The bedwetting starts soon after.
The haze and stretch and I’m drowning, dragging myself slowly out of something liquid and bitter and warm. A long jaring buzzer extracts me gradually; my body and a light pulls at me and I stretch like taffy wanting to stay and wanting to go. I hear the sharp tones of a mad woman in a pinpoint of light as she comes towards me. I stay waiting fearful and guarded. The buzzer gets louder as my eyes focus on the blurry figure standing over me; her mouth—lips flapping and snapping like a weather vane—is blacker than the dark and more penetrating than the buzzer.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” she shrieks ad nauseam. “Can’t you hear that? What is wrong with you? Are you that lazy?” and on and on with the stale insults aimed at my small supine body.
I’m in bed. It’s wet and warm and I smell the urine, strong and ammonia-like. Mom stands over me. The buzzer comes from the small white box next to the bed with long black wired electrodes attached to the foil looking apparatus underneath my bed sheets that I hear loudly crunching underneath me with every move. She turns off the squawking buzzer pee box and pokes at my arm. “What is wrong with you?” Again and again she asks. And she pokes.
The shame and disgust waft off me like the pungent scent of pee and I move to get up and change my sheets. She pushes me back down. “No! You can sleep in it. Maybe that’ll teach you.”
After she stomps out of the room, I inch out of bed soundlessly and take off my sopping wet panties hiding them behind the dresser until they dry. I put on new panties and take some dirty clothes placing them carefully over the dramatically large pee spot. I get back into bed and immediately fall into a deep sleep.
© 2022 Pamela Gay Mullins