Monday, January 31, 2011

Profanities and Other Sundry Joys of Childhood

I remember very clearly the very first time that I ever heard the "F" word. I remember every vivid detail. I remember the way it made me feel a flux of charged energy-- excitement and terror and joy. It stopped me in my tracks and divided time. It was a deflowering of sorts.

I was a kid who feared correction. I hated getting in trouble. I hated it when anyone else got into trouble. Any time that one of my brothers required a spanking, my sister and I would leave the house and I would cry in the front yard. Sarah would try to make me feel better by saying things like, "Libby, it's his own fault. Mom told him that if he left Legos on the carpet and she stepped on them one more time, he'd get a spanking. He just didn't listen." I was a sensitive girl, to be sure but mostly I was afraid of everything. Authority figures were to be obeyed without question, big kids got the right of way and one must always err on the side of caution. I know that if I ever have children, they will behave in this same way. Those poor, terrified, unconceived children. When I was really little, I used to make up words and sing them--undeniably a harmless past time. "Dillypop" was one in particular. It must have bugged the H-word out of my older brother because once he'd gotten sick of it he informed me that I was saying a curse word--repeatedly and that if I kept doing it, then he would tell mom. I freaked out and begged him not to. I think that my reaction was a little more dramatic than he'd anticipated and he used this as leverage for days.

Isn't it incredible how simple words, a collection of sounds--really, can prompt such a visceral reaction? In our house, I don't remember that my parents used curse words with much regularity. If my dad said, "damn" then we were dealing with a man of complete seriousness. "Clean your damn room!" Don't question it. Just do it. It's in the best interest of your hiney. One day, I had to have been in Kindergarten or the First Grade, I made a decision that not only was I going to say "dang"--but I was going to do so in front of my parents. I'm not sure what prompted this but it was a huge life decision for me. And that night, during the evening meal I gathered up all of my guts, held my breath and finally said, "Can I please have some more dang spaghetti?"

No one noticed. What a bust. I continued to experiment with "dang" and finally decided to incorporate "heck" into my vernacular.

But on this night I was exposed to the worst word of all of the words.

As young'ins, we attended Awana. On paper Awana is a children's ministry program sponsored by the local baptist church. In actuality, it was an evening time daycare so that parents could have some time to themselves on Wednesday nights. It was also another place for me to feel intimidated physically, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually. Also, at Awana, the kids who are mean to you in school are even meaner because there's not really anyone to tell them not to. There are adults, sure, but they don't know the kids and they're just trying to get through the next couple of hours alive--just like I was.

The most horrible part of Awana was the bus ride to the church, which was about fifteen minutes outside of town. All of the kids met on the high school lawn and then we were packed into the bus where 9/10 times I would crawl under a seat to keep warm and avoid an at-random public flogging to be administered by the red-headed, 15-year-old 8th grader.

The night in question was one late in the school year, the sun was starting to stay up a little later than usual and the tease of summer was obvious. As usual, I found a spot in the grass and waited quietly for the church bus to arrive. The grass was still brown from the winter but the ground wasn't cold anymore. Behind me, a friendly wrestling match between boys arose, like usual and got a little carried away, like usual. Only this time, it went on too long and got pretty loud. I was panicking, looking for an adult but I didn't see any. I turned around to see what was going on and I saw Jared Fox, my neighbor, slung over an older boy's shoulder and then land--flatly on the ground. Jared was a nice boy. He was smart and always wore clean clothes and never said mean things to anyone. I don't know how he got caught in a scuffle of this magnitude. Just as he landed, the church bus rounded the corner--promptly ending the fight. Everyone scattered away from the fight. The older boy walked away, cocky and chuckling to himself. I walked over to Jared who was still laying there, coughing. I said, "Are you okay?" In one graceful motion, Jared lept from the grass, ran past me and landed on the back of the other kid who smashed face-first into the ground. As he ran past me I heard him mutter under his breath, white-hot, motherfucker."

I had never, in my whole life, ever heard "motherfucker" but instinct told me that this was the worst word of all of the words and that if a mom had heard it, he would have been in more trouble for that one utterance than for tackling the older kid to the ground. I watched as grown-ups covered the scene, tearing the boys apart and punishing Jared to the highest degree. I felt terrible, I knew that Jared was a good boy who had been treated unjustly but those adults didn't know a good kid from a bad one and they didn't really care, either. On the bus, I called the monitor over and told her, sheepishly that Jared didn't start it and that the other kid hurt him real bad before the bus showed up. Bus Monitor said that it wasn't my business. She walked away and I whispered "motherfucker" to myself for the next fifteen minutes, looking out the window and growing more and more powerful every time I said it.

I love remembering it.

What kind of a kid were you? Was cussing a big deal, growing up?

(photo credit:

1 comment:

Ryan said...

"...the tease of summer was obvious."

Perfect, Libby. Perfect.

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