I’d just gotten my period. It was 1991. I know, because that’s when I fell in love for the first time. It was with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. The hit song, ‘Smells like Teen Spirit,’ just came out. The tune turned into a war cry for our capricious generation. Everything around me was tingling with life. Ever since, my world is a mosh pit.
Mother is explaining the complicated matrix of womanhood over sweet tea, biscuits and unsalted butter. We are sitting on the expansive front deck, in the freshness of early, Sunday morning sunshine. The two of us, save the high-back Adirondack chairs.
I’ve grown up thinking father is as worthless as a carpet stain, that he was oppressive and controlling, ran away with that, “whore of women,” she frequently says. But in reality, it’s mother who controls my thoughts.
“Look,” she says, pointing her twig of a finger, disdainfully at Melissa. Melissa is the neighbor’s adult daughter. She and her new family have finished their weekly brunch with the overbearing, boring in-laws.
The older neighbors live directly across the Wisteria, one house south. Mother says they’re in just the right location and distance from us, not true neighbors, because they’re not on the same side of the street.
Hubby and the only granddaughter, Ellie are first in the car. Ellie is nearly four, a sweet orange blossom sensation on her mother’s olfactory glands.
“There is no need to train her, yet,” mother says, her eyes transfixed on the animalistic ritual of the family departures. After her comment, she rests her pointing finger and hand back on the wooden armchair.
“You see, Katie, you are at the stage in life when each month, you’ll sour a smidgen.”
“What do you mean by sour, mother?” I turn my eyes toward Alyssa for an answer. Each time I think of her name, or have to pronounce it, it sticks to the back of my throat. Just the thought of it forces me to recall the taste of foamy lilac, guest soap; the one that’s always the least expensive at the market. Alyssa’s name makes me gag.
“Womanhood, Katie, to put it quite simply is ink in blood. By using this special ink, you will begin the daunting task of writing the first page, in the chapter, of what will uniquely become your life’s story. Everything before you will be smudged and altered by it.”
“My friends say, it’s when you get horny, whatever that means.”
Mother’s face turns into a bruised Rubik’s Cube.
“That’s part of the problem, Katie. Let’s get back to the basics. In terms of the practicality of your monthly infection, you can purchase scented inserts, so you smell of rose garden, and of course, there are a variety of mini-pads. Keep in mind, any brand that you choose will be based on the moon’s ebb and flow.”
“The moon has something to do with all this too mother?”
“Yes, Katie, focus! Eventually, you’ll be able to use your inky tinctures to keep men at bay or should you choose, under control. And, if you find yourself pressured into certain activities, say on a hot late night when men are most sweaty and foul, you can choose to contain their advances. It can be used as an excuse to even end foreplay.”
“Ok, mother, but what about now. What about, boys? I am starting to develop an interest in them. Doesn’t all this relate somehow?”
“Daughter, it’s time for the most important part of our lesson!”
“Yes, mother?” I situate myself in the chair as if it’s the first day of school. I imagine I’m in my favorite class, Biology 101.
“Katie, you must fight any feminine urges. Boys are like an end of summer blackberry thatch, too many thorns save the sweetness. There’s a certain scent of decay about them, as they grow into September. And then there’s the conundrum of getting high from all of their pheromones.”
“Ewwww, mother, that’s sick.”
“Deep in this metaphorical briar patch is where they thrive, in the damp darkness, where the sweetest berries purple themselves. Way inside, in the pitch of shadows, is where they ripen as sweet as bloody barroom knuckles.”
“So, I’m a little confused, mother. Have you ever liked boys or men?”
“I liked one of them, once, you’re biological. Look what that got me–you.”
“You always say he’s a bastard, maybe dead by now. When I was very small, I thought Bastard was his name until aunt Lilly told me different, that it’s really Tommy.”
“Hush Katie, don’t speak his name. Besides its Tom now, ah, was!”
Now I’ve irritated mother. I didn’t want to do that. That means that there will be some sort of punishment down the road.
Mother sits forward on the edge of her chair and cinches her knuckles white. Her lips turn flat and thin, lose color. She stares off into the past and continues.
“Katie, those funny feelings inside of you will eventually fade, once you are old enough to learn the wicked intentions of men. Boys are one thing: a wooden sailboat in a pond, with paper flagging’s, digging deep enough in the flower garden to discover a devil’s horn, using their mother’s silverware, growing into men who go off to die in war. Men are a completely different animal.”
“So, you do like boys, mother?”
“I tolerate them. Most boys begin their existence in the jungle. They are birthed as black-backed Jackal’s. By the time the jungle completes its dark spell, they’ve morphed into dark maned, blood-thirsty lions.”
“Lions, mother, really?”
“Yes, male lions! Then they all sweat and stink of carrion and dried blood, blossom ticks, nurture internal parasites and invite Tsetse flies to dine. It’s common knowledge now, that they kill the cubs of their rivals over something as stupid as territory. They’re all about possessiveness, dominance and testosterone. They all become obsessed with the disgusting process of procreation and natural selection.”
“You make nature sound so terrible, mother?”
“No, nature is fine. Males, men are terrible, Katie. And don’t you ever forget it.”
“Wow, how can I, ever?” Inside I am smirking, thinking she is crazier than a shit-house rat.
“Ok, I guess we’re done here, Katie. Please keep your monthly things under the counter, in the guest bath, and use your chore money to purchase any needed medical supplies. They’ll help you out at the supermarket.”
“Oh, Ok mother,” is all I could squeak out. I’m a mouse again. I watch the teal-colored screen door begin to close as she crosses the threshold, back into the shade drawn house. The loud thwack of the door pops my thought bubble. I look across the street at the neighbor’s now empty driveway.
I wonder nearly out load, if I’ll ever want a family of my own, like Melissa, if I can only keep girls.
I’m unemployed, it’s 2008. My cushy business job at the financial district, in Lower Manhattan, has been declared non-existent.
During the next year, the country and my life are in a freefall. I go from a high-rise condominium to living with an abusive boyfriend. One who hates me for looking at the Want-Ads for employment back home in Mississippi? He’s physically resentful toward me for looking forward to a fresh start, to any new life, alone. Mother warned me, not about the stock market, but about the vampireesque disposition of men that might clutter my life. She says the same notion applies, as well, to any of the old men who run the country.
In the short run, I’m forced to live off my penalized 401-K withdrawals, and the good graces of a hazardous and radioactive man, and now, an angry man who is truly bad to the bone.
So, I swallow my pride, call mother, and ask if I can move back in for the short term.