Imaginary Friends, Pt. V – The Birds and the Bullets

My neighbor shot me in the back three times with a BB gun when I was about eight years old. I was standing on the corner of our front lawn with Hitler’s wet dream and the strange chick from a few houses down. We were using our imaginations, probably playing some version of what the Midwest kids called, “house.”

The first shot hurt badly and I remember continuing whatever make-believe I was in the midst of. After the second shot, which hit me directly in the same place as the first, I began to imagine there must be a bird pecking at my back. I have no idea what brought this imagery to mind. Perhaps it was the simple fact that I’d never experienced this kind of pain before or that I’d just finished watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with my mother and a bullet was the furthest thing from my young mind. I still didn’t move or tell my friends what was happening, though by the third shot that hit, again, in the same spot, they could see the discomfort on my face. They asked what was wrong as I began to cry. I bolted inside, seeking my parents.

“My back, my back,” I was shouting in between sobs and trying to reach the wound, twisting my dominant right arm behind my back, unsuccessfully.

Both my mother and father were telling me to calm down as they sat me on their bedroom floor and lifted up my shirt to investigate. I began retelling the situation and it didn’t take more than five seconds before my dad quickly stood up, muttering angry f-bombs as he stormed out into the warm, summer air.

“Rick! Where are you going,” my mother yelled after him. My dad didn’t stop, but responded, “Call the police! This motherfucker shot her with a BB gun!” By “this motherfucker,” he meant the neighbor boy across the street that we’ll call David because, well, that was his name.

By the time my mother had dialed 9-1-1, my dad was already pounding on David’s parent’s front door, demanding, audibly from our home, “Open the fuckin’ door you son of a bitch before I break it down.” He could be seen pacing from the door to the living room window while continually shouting his demands. Obviously, the parents weren’t home and there was no way David had the balls to open that door.

I am uncertain how my dad was so certain that it was the juvenile delinquent neighbor or that he knew it was a BB gun I had been shot with. David must have made his character evident prior to shooting me and my dad was an army brat, after all.

All of us were relieved that the police showed up before my dad got his wish and got inside. It may very well had been my dad in handcuffs in the back of the cop car instead of David had my dad broken down the door. I recall my dad even saying, “I have no idea what I was gonna do if they’d opened the door.” My dad wanted blood that day and that may be one of the more telling moments in my young life where I could see how much my dad loved me and how far he was willing to go to protect me.

The three BB gun bullets broke the skin, but thankfully, because it was from far range, they did not penetrate. I don’t even have a physical scar. My parents didn’t press charges, but David was required to personally apologize for his actions in front of the police and my parents. When questioned on the reasoning behind his actions, his response was, “Because I wanted to see what would happen if I shot a living thing.” My brother became friends with my attacker some time after the incident, which didn’t last long as David was later arrested and sent to juvenile hall for beating up a handicapped kid.

This is the part where I’m supposed to talk about how it made me feel that my brother would befriend the person who had shot his sister. Like shit. The end.


Imaginary Friends Pt. III

Memo, Tebo, and Julie eventually became my best friends. Sure, I had actual, tangible friends – I wasn’t really a loner at school or in other social situations, but at home, I definitely was.

Between my mother’s understandable desire for “adult time” and my brother’s obvious disdain for his younger sister’s presence, Memo, Tebo, and Julie were really my only choice. Of course, there was also Barbie and Ken. The thing about Barbie, though, was that I had nothing in common with her, nor did I ever have some warped sense of “I need to look like her.” My mother was very good at making me feel good about my external beauty, as well as my internal, but even when the world and my peers were telling me there was something wrong with me, some sort of flaw or imperfection unfit for a fashion magazine or even a third grade yearbook photo, my mother was there assuring me otherwise. She was instilling the confidence I’d need to navigate a society that constantly tells an impressionable young woman what she should strive to attain in terms of outward beauty. Most of the time, these impositions are unrealistic.

In the third grade, the teacher placed our yearbook photos face up on our desks as I had gotten up to grab my belongings at the coat rack. As I spun around to return to my desk, a crowd of students had gathered around my desk, their stubby, little eight-year-old fingers pointing down at what was obviously my yearbook photo, their childish snickers audible from across the room. I reluctantly approached to see what the fuss was and there I was – buck-toothed and shut-eyed, smiling from ear to ear against a wicker backdrop, resembling a beaver more than ever before – the rodent my brother had likened me to at every chance he got.

The hot tears instantly reared their wet, ugly heads in the corners of my eyes as I pushed my way through the mean-spirited crowd, quickly flipping the photo over, and becoming angry with the teacher for placing them face up. My third-grade self needed someone to be angry with and I’d found the culprit as fast as the camera had found my Bugs Bunny smile.

My brother spent much of my single digit youth reminding me of the animal I most closely resembled and attempting to break me down. He was admittedly jealous of me his entire life and his deliberate insults were most likely a product of this complex emotion. At such an early age, though, I couldn’t piece those correlations together quite yet, so my brother’s affection and approval was continually sought even after he would chuck a basketball at my chest so hard, it would knock the wind out of me. His cute friend scolding him for throwing it so aggressively was a nice solace in a moment of such direct disapproval from someone I desperately looked up to.

It took me exactly thirty-two years to fully realize that behavior is more telling in matters of family than blood. And for thirty-two years, my brother’s behavior has told me that he doesn’t want me to be a part of his life. Perhaps the ultimate telling of this revelation was this past Christmas, my thirty-second birthday, when he failed to wish me a happy birthday. I was in Peru, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt as I’ve done so many times in the past, and thought I’d surely come home to a greeting card. I didn’t. My first thought was that for thirty-one years, he was always the first one to wish me a “Happy Birthday” in my immediate family. My second thought was that I should have realized the first time he called me beaver he wasn’t someone I should be looking up to.

What the Hell

“What the hell, ma?” I sit on my living room floor, at my coffee table, staring at my mother’s photo in the frame, questioning the day by day, the events and the chaos, the life that has continued on and never ceased to continue on since she took her last breath. I’ve found myself in this position many times. The “what the hell” is sometimes out of anger that she’s not here to see me through it all and sometimes, the “what the hell” is a nod to her struggles that I am now experiencing firsthand. I have found that history most certainly repeats itself. Most of the time the “what the hell” is a genuine question that I desperately wish she could verbally answer.


Imaginary Friends

I had imaginary friends for years. Their names were Memo, pronounced MEEMO, with the long “E,” Tebo, rhyming with the latter and Julie, the most normal named non-existent friend of mine.

While driving around my hometown, I would often point out random vehicles, wave ecstatically and exclaim to my mother, “OH, there’s Julie!” Or while kneading play-doh between my little fingers at the dining room table, pretending to run a bakery, I would scold my invisible friend, Tebo for burning the cookies.

Tebo! I told you not to forget the cookies! Now what are we gonna do?”

Needless to say, I possessed a great imagination, however, the older I get, the more rumination I do, the more therapy sessions I partake in, it is becoming clearer to me that my three friends were more about an escape from my reality than they were a product of a typical child’s mind.

My mother worked hard for as far back as my mind was able to register the virtue of work and able to perceive time. Though I imagine the nights where I was left alone with my inattentive, older brother and equally as inattentive, alcoholic father seemed to last a lot longer than they actually did. I hated being left alone with them. It’s probably more accurate to state that the impression has lasted longer than the situation.

On many of these occasions, my brother, imaginary friends and I wound up at my grandparents’ home due to an exceptionally inebriated dad who was passed out on the brown, dingy couch spotted with erratic burns from a dropped cigarette or five. After countless attempts to wake him we would call grandma to come pick us up because we were too young to be left unsupervised or so that’s what adults like my father told us.  How’s that for an underdeveloped mind fuck? Besides, what if my dad was dead? In my naivete, I needed another adult to ensure it wasn’t the grim reaper but an excessive amount of booze causing our father to abandon his adult, fatherly duties.  On these late nights, my tired mother would fetch us from grandma and grandpa’s after long hours at work before heading home.

If my dad wasn’t working the following morning, a heated fight would inevitably ensue. In fact, the appetizing scent of bacon cooking in the kitchen would often waft into my slumber and trigger the anxiety, a feeling I was unable to identify at such a young age.  If the sound of shouting hadn’t rudely awakened me, the aroma of dead, fried pig that most associate with an enjoyable breakfast would inform me of an impending argument between mother and father.

Thankfully, inanimate objects, like pewter ashtrays, didn’t go flying across the room meeting the plaster walls with a heavy, sharp crash, sending gray, morbid plumes of cigarette ash into its damaging path every day. Fortunately, my mama and I would leave before it escalated to such levels because I couldn’t bear to see my mother’s pain nor be left alone in her hasty departures.

En route to grandma’s or my aunt’s, my mother and I would sometimes discuss our relationship woes with the men in our family. That was a normal Saturday for me. That was the familiar, what I could learn to count on, to expect.

Hey! There goes Julie!” I would wave at a random Pontiac, “She didn’t see me,” I would explain, disappointment drawn in a southward facing scowl across my little girl face.

Reproductive Health Interrogation

I’ve decided to undergo tubal ligation at thirty-one – AKA I’m going to have my tubes tied. Cue the horrified looks and gasps full of simultaneous inquisition. I wish my reproductive health wasn’t of anyone else’s concern but for some reason we live in a society where a majority, whether consciously or not, believe that for a woman to fulfill her life, she must bear children and apparently that is everyone’s business.

I’ve had my fair share, from male and female interrogators, of the repetitive, “Do you want kids?” “When do you think you’ll have children?” One of the most laughable insinuations came from my maternal grandmother, and I paraphrase, “You know, in my day, your age was prime time for having babies.” And even though she has a daughter of her own who by grandma’s standards is “in her prime,” my aunt will occasionally joke, “When are you having babies? C’mon Linds, get pregnant.” And some of these may be all humorous, but I do take it seriously.

Most recently, I was confronted by an older gentleman whom I had only met once before – a half acquaintance, if you will. After asking me the monotonous, “Do you want children of your own” and then being met with, “No, I’m very happy being an auntie,” he proceeded to ask me my age. He followed this up by divulging his regretful youth as a thinly veiled persuasive speech in which if he could “do it over, he would most certainly have children.” If I were as uncouth, perhaps I would have asked him how he might have done so without the necessary reproductive organs.

But I’m not a rude person by nature and I am also aware that no one means any harm. I just wish that people thought more before speaking, attempted to put him or herself in the shoes of the person that he or she is addressing about such sensitive subject matter. I find it fascinating that when speaking on the subject of reproductive health, people behave as if a woman does not know herself – her mind, body and soul!

My intentions in sharing all this have nothing to do with explaining myself or justifying my decisions and everything to do with you, my reader – the single mother who has decided not to bear anymore children or the young, widowed wife who never had the opportunity to have children with her now deceased husband – Other thirty-one year old women, like myself, so deeply moved by the unknown and yet to be experienced, thirsty for life, cities yet travelled, places yet discovered and people yet met – And even that man, the one who’d wished he’d had children when he had the chance.

The most common question I have been met with since contemplating tubal ligation is, you guessed it because you’re probably wondering, “What if you change your mind?” Well, firstly, I won’t because tubal ligation is a very final procedure – but not irreversible as my doctor repeatedly assured me because he was probably thinking, “She may change her mind.” Secondly, I’m thirty-one years old, my biological clock is not ticking and the time frame for it to do so and become pregnant naturally is becoming slimmer and slimmer. What’s that you say? Sure, there is loads of progress in the fertility field and women are safely having healthy babies past forty now! But that brings me to my final and most important reason – I simply don’t want to have children of my own. This is the one that seems very difficult for people to wrap their brains around – and I’m always gawked at like I’m Pinocchio with a twelve-inch long nose after I state that very real and very primal fact.

I am very much a mother figure in various capacities, therefore, no, I do not feel as if I will be missing out on something. I am blessed with a plethora of nieces and nephews whom I love and adore and two cats who rely on my consistent care.

My own mother was so incredibly sensitive when it came to this subject and I’m forever grateful for her approach. She never once pressured me or made me feel like it was a destiny I must fulfill. With complete understanding, she exclaimed what a joy it would be for her to be a grandmother to my children, she believed I would be a wonderful mother but that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to and I certainly didn’t have to do it to please anyone else.

And I guess I lied when I said my final reason was that I simply don’t want to have kids. While it remains the most important, my final reason is that I don’t want to have children that will grow up without knowing their grandmother. I don’t want to suffer the dreaded morning sickness without being able to pick up the phone and call my mother to complain, gaining her much needed sympathy. I don’t want to go through grueling labor without my mother in the hospital room, by my side. I don’t want to raise another human being in this wild world without the ability to consult my mother’s wisdom. I don’t want to be a mother in a world that is void of my mother.