“If I’m lying may God strike my three kids dead, right now.” Now I always hated when she said that cuz I just knew I was at risk of actually becoming a charcoal briquette. And, if I had become one, my mother would have just doused me in lighter fluid and used me to grill hamburgers. See, I happen to know that my mother is the Devil incarnate. And there is no one and no thing that can make be believe otherwise.
People say them young girls who throw their newborns in dumpsters, or leave ’em in hot cars, or drown ’em in bathtubs, are the Devil. Well, no, they are not. They’re just crazy and they snuff out a life quickly. They don’t torture their babies. It’s the mothers who starve their babies. It’s the ones who keep ’em chained up without daylight. It’s the ones who let their babies get older and then convince them babies they are evil – those are the real Devils.
Well, now think about it. In the bible, it was the Devil that was always torturing somebody to death. Teasing ’em, making promises he wadn’t never gonna keep. Torturing people so bad. Look at ole poor Job. (Well now shoot, that is a poor example ’cause that was God’s doing.) But that ole Devil just tortured ’em and tortured ’em till they doubted everything. Doubted their faith in the Lord and themselves. Toying with ’em until they broke. Anyway, the Devil’s who we’re talking about and besides, my Mama looked like Satan.
My Mama had horns and a tail. Mama has a scar that runs down the middle of her forehead that looks like somebody put a hatchet in her forehead, which is exactly what happened. Mama got into a bar fight with this big woman one time, and the woman grabbed a hatchet off of some man’s tool-belt and buried it in the middle of Mama’s forehead. There it stuck. Mama didn’t fall over dead or nothing, she stood there with that hatchet sticking out of her forehead and blood running down her face and said, “That’s it. Enough is enough.” Then she pulled that hatchet from her forehead and cut that big woman’s head clean off. Mama got 54 stitches and spent about a week in jail. She got off on a self-defense plea. Now, she already had this Eddie Munster widow’s peak in the middle of her head and now she has a scar running from her hair part down the middle of that ole widow’s peak. Surely does. Just like that poor ole ugly boy from that old series on TV. And, if that ain’t bad enough, she wears her hair so that it stands up like horns on either side of that scarred widow’s peak. I swear, it’s just like a pair of horns setting there. Same hairdo for as long as I can remember.
My earliest memories of her are in a hospital. Oh, she loves, do you hear me, LOVES to have surgery. She cannot get enough of it. Yet, for all the surgeries she has had to have lumps, moles and growths and whatnot removed from inside and outside of her body, she flat out refuses to let the doctors remove a small pointy tail that grows at the base of her spine. If it were me, it would drive me plum crazy to have that thing growing on me. It’s ain’t that big. No more than 4 inches or so. But dang, that thing is pointy. I mean her skirts rise up in the back! It has got to poke her when she sits in a chair. And when she wears slacks they are all lumpy in the back. But there is stays. I think she’s proud of it.
Daddy nor any one of her other six husbands ever seemed to mind it either. Except when the two of ’em got to the very end of everything and the fights would get big and real bad, and then Daddy or one of them other husbands would yell something like, “And another thing, I never could stand that ole tail of yours either! That damn thing is evil looking!” And she would say, “You must have me confused with someone who gives a flying shit. Don’t let the front door hit you in your ass on your way out!” And every time it would. The door, I mean. It didn’t matter where we lived, or who was leaving her, they got whacked in the backside by the front door slammin’ em so hard it’d set em sailing for a good ten feet or more. I never could understand why nobody ever took the backdoor. I have always wondered if it would have made a difference.
Mama can out-drink any man. ANY MAN. Mama is stronger than most men too. She threw Daddy Elroy acrost a living room once. He flew clean over the sofa and hit the staircase. He broke three spindles and three ribs he hit it so hard. That man was airborne! Now, Mama is about 5′ 2″ and weighs less than a roach fart and Daddy Cyril was 6′ 4″ (well, he was before the accident. Now he is short in one leg and in height and limps pretty good. But that’s for another time) and Mama lifted him over her head and danced a few steps before throwing him out of a third story window.
Mama dances men to the ground. She’s a fiery dancer too. I seen her dance with a man in a bar one night when we was out jukin’, and she danced him so hot and long that he fell to the ground. He was on the ground on his back, still trying to dance, but more like wiggling like an eel. Well, during the last bit of the song, Mama danced a few steps until she stood over him spread eagle like her hips wagging from side to side and then she stood still and she peed on him. Peed on him! Then she laughed and sauntered back to the bar and sat back there finishing her beer like it was nothing out of the ordinary. I suspect she was not wearing panties that evening.
Now, when I tell most people about my Mama, they think: she is so different and wild and fun and all. It must be so cool to have her as your Mama and whatnot. To be perfectly honest, it’s not. I find her embarrassing and scary and down right unfriendly. Besides, she put me through a wall once cuz I was late getting home. This one time, I got in trouble at school and she showed up in my defense to the Assistant Principal’s office. There she sat in a chair opposite his desk in the man’s own office and he asked her if she knew what I had done, and she barked at him. I don’t mean it figuratively, I mean she actually barked at the man. I was getting expelled for fighting. Yeah, I had issues. Mama got me readmitted with that barking and I never had trouble at school again. So, there is that.
I am not an only child. There are four of us kids. We never talk about the fourth child. Don’t know if it’s a brother or sister. Don’t know if it’s alive or dead. Mama won’t say anything other than there was a fourth baby at some point. And, she always says “my three kids”, so I wonder if it’s even true. We all got different daddies. We all look different. We all got different dispositions. I’m blonde, one brother is a brunette and one is a redhead. Them two boys, the brunette and redhead, she gave the same name to. The same exact name. Middle name and all. They are both named Plywood. It makes me glad I was born a girl. We call the brunette, the one that trains guard dogs with shock collars, Woody. The redhead, poor thing, got the whole dang name – Plywood. No nickname of any kind – not even a Buddy, or a Skippy or a Tex – he’s just called Plywood. I call him Ply or Pliant just to make it sting a little less. Use to, you could watch him splinter a little bit every time somebody said his name.
Now Woody, the brunette one, was always the Devil’s own. He was the apple of Mama’s eye from the git go. He was a Devil wannabe, but, he never had no tail so, pffft. But, you know, for all their love of each other, they fought like they was married. They fought so hard at times, I swear. Why he broke her nose at least twice (I suspect she let him win). He loves nothing more than having a dog in one hand and a electrical device in the other. Electricity is is an excellent tool in the obedience training of dogs. Mama loves her Woody. Forgive him anything. Still, he didn’t stick around very long. He left home and ran off as soon as he was tall enough to reach the pedals in the family car he stole out of our yard. He lives in Germany now, where he trains German Shepherds for some skinheads who moved to the Muter-land. I never could picture a redneck in Germany, but there he is. He’s got a couple of kids. Never married. Beat both of them girls he got pregnant. He’ll get drunk every now and then and call Mama and tell her he loves her and misses her. She’ll send him plane fare to come home. He stays with Mama or at a girlfriend’s trailer. But, after a while, they all start to fighting and he leaves and goes on back to Germany. He’ll get drunk after he’s back there a while and call Mama and tell her he hates her and wishes her dead and she still pays for the call. I just would have to draw the line. I mean, long distance abuse?
My darling, beloved redheaded brother Plywood, however…now that boy. Well, I would take a bullet for that boy. I love him so well. He is so gentle and sweet and well meaning and slow moving. He’d do anything for ya. He’s off looking though. Not like Mama is off looking. He has a really big head. A really big head on a skinny neck. Like one of them bobble-heads. On top of that big head is all this fire red hair. And the ears – well, a mouse could a been his daddy they are so big and stick out so danged far. He’s even got a fine fuzz growing all over em. You can even see the veins in his ears, if the light’s real good. And Pliant is one teeny, teeny, teeny person. I mean teeny smaller than Mama even. When I fold his clothes, after a washing, I feel like I am folding doll clothes. He is just so danged slight. Thin and child like. Delicate is how you would describe him. He chain smokes. Which is odd to watch since he is so childly looking. But then, he was always that way.
When he was born, his head was so big, Mama says he “ruint” her. After him, C-sections only. He has big ole brown eyes that roll around in his head so slow when he is looking for the right word. He’s always been slow of movement. Even as a baby, he never crawled fast, took his time getting anywhere, oft times, he’d stop and take a while to sit and stare at things before he’d start crawling again. Was never in a hurry.
Mama would put him in the front yard in a playpen and neighbors would walk by and stop to comment on how big his head was. And he would look at them, his big eyes rolling slow in his head and then, as if to prove them right, he would tilt his head and it would loll to one side for a second before he flopped over from the weight of it. I’d usually go outside and right him again. Often times, people would stop to stare at his beautiful red hair. I have never seen a color like it. Not in a bottle not on a person’s head. Beautiful color. When he was a child, Mama was so jealous of his red hair, she tried to snatch him bald-headed. Every time he did something wrong, she’d yank a handful of hair out. But, it always grew back thicker and more lustrous. And no matter how old he got, it never changed color. His hair had its own strength.
He made his own way and stayed close to home. Of us four, he was only one that never moved away (well we don’t know where No. 4 is) he was home bound. About the time Pliant was suppose to reach his puberty – nothing happened. He became a young man sorta…he was missing some changes. His voice dropped. He always had a rich resonating voice. But his body. It stayed delicate and slight. That’s about the time Mama started calling him a “freak” or a “fruit” . “You’re a big fruit. You know that, right?” She said that to him everyday all day. “You’re a queer. Why you gotta have such a big head? Why you gotta wear your hair that way?”
Well by God, with the constant name calling and torture she was dishing out to him, she had crossed a line for me. I fought tooth and nail to protect my Plywood. Every time she called him fruit or freak or queer, I’d tell him, “Don’t listen to her. BUT, if you do feel that way, ain’t nothing wrong with it. And, just cuz she says it don’t make it so. You are not a freak. You have a big head to show off your beautiful hair! That’s all.” Finally, Mama and I had a big fight over Plywood. I was 16 years old and afraid she would kill me in my sleep for talking sass. But I couldn’t stand her beating up on poor Plywood. She and I fought and I dislocated her collar bone (she did not let me win, I was stronger than her) and then I walked out that front door. But, I waited till I was way past the front door before I turned and yelled back at her, “You’ll be sorry you ever called him names. You’ll go to your grave sorry. I’ll make you sorry! You hear me, you old bitch? You hear me? And I hate that tail of yours!” Then I ran and ran until I got to a friends house a few miles away. There I stayed for months, all secret like. Eventually, I was able to leave my home town for good. I swore I’d never go back. I didn’t want to be like that.
Well, you can’t stay mad forever. I found a way in life. I made something of myself. Improved myself. I moved 1500 miles away and made sure I stayed there. I stayed close with Plywood by phone. I went home to visit him now and again. Ply eventually grew into his head. Well, he stopped falling over from it anyway. Mama and I eventually found a way to get along. When you know you are leaving, you can stand anything for a day or tow.
Plywood found his place in the world. He came out and it was wonderful. Just wonderful! He had a sense of belonging and was part of a community where he thrived. Boy, did that ever piss Mama off. She made sure he could never keep a relationship going for too long. She would step in and, oh she would squawk and complain. And, if he didn’t react the way she wanted, she would just end herself up in the hospital and he would have to go and care for her morning and night. And there went Plywood’s love interest. They would become disheartened due to Mama taking all his attention and move on. Soon after, Mama would be discharged and go about her business. Her work at destroying being done.
The last time she was in the hospital Plywood called me long distance and asked me to come home, which he had never done. “Mama’s had a stroke.”, he said. “How do you know?” “She’s talking Chinese.” he said. “What the hell? You don’t know that, let the doctor’s determine if she had a stroke.” “I am the one who told them!” He took a deep breathe and exhaled a wheezy sigh, “Listen to me, I need you to come and help me with her.” “NO!” , I said. He persisted until I said I would come home for three weeks and no more. “Not a day more! Do you hear me? Not a day more.” I had learned to limit the demands my family made on me. I had set boundaries. I was in control of myself now. Well, don’t you know before I even got there, she recovered just fine. Plywood was so happy. Still lost me the cost of a plane ticket. Hell, I wasn’t going there now that she was ambulatory and such.
At this point, Plywood had a job he liked. The folks there liked him. Finally, he fit. He fit! He was so popular, he was Godparent to the babies of some single girls at his work. He bought them babies all sorts of gifts. Doted on them babies. Spoilt em. He came into his own. He liked to entertain people by dressing up like Jackie Kennedy sometimes. He looked great too. When he dressed like a woman, he was all sassy and the center of attention. Sorta like a watered down version of Mama. But, he was loved. Even Mama’s stroke and hospital stays couldn’t touch what he had found.
I went home last month to visit Plywood. Mama had just moved out of his house. She had disrupted his life when she left her sixth husband and moved in with him. She had been living in his house rent free for a year and now she had a new toothless boyfriend. When I arrived I went to Plywood’s and we cleaned up and decorated a bit and sat and smoked and drank powdered International Coffee. He said, “Mama has changed.” I said, I didn’t believe and would have to see for myself to believe it. He said. She had lost her physical power. No more man tossing. “She can still drink them blind though. She seems tired and her horns droop some now. But, don’t get me wrong. There is still a fire burning inside of her. Burning, you hear me?”
There is a lit cigarette in Plywood’s right hand, just about all the time. If not there, hanging from his lips. He drinks his international coffee with pride. Makes him feel elegant and refined. We sat in silence as only loved ones can. We smoked and drank the coffee as the sun sank low and the humidity surrounded the outside of the house. Eventually he told me the story of how he through Mama out.
He stood up to her and her boyfriend one night and said he wanted a life. A full life with a future. A bright future. He told her to move out and get her own place. Well, two nights later, while he was out getting milk, she moved out and took every stick of his furniture she could move in 45 minutes. She took the entire kitchen set, the living room set and she even took the bedroom curtains, which she coveted. She didn’t get the bed, so at least he had something to sleep on that night. Together him and I got him all set up again.
He insisted that we go over to her place for a visit. I agreed and I marveled at the fact that her and Plywood acted like it never happened. Like she never stole all his stuff. They sat like it never happened! Like it isn’t HIS furniture she is sitting on in her kitchen. Him and me sat on the floor as a silent protest. Mama just acted like sitting on the floor was something everybody did and never paid us no mind.
Although, he has found happiness, I see that Plywood walks slower than ever now. In fact, Plywood walks so goddamn slow, it hurts my feelings. He shuffles like an old man. It drives me out of my ever loving skull. Walking down the street with him is like eating shit with a needle. Tedious. When we are walking down the street together, he’s carrying a hairbrush in one hand and a pack of Salem in the other. He looks just like a sullen teenage girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Which he is not, he is a 30 year old slow-walking man. I try to humor him to get him moving a bit, but then can’t stand it so I poke him to speed it up a bit. Finally, I stop humoring him and start to push him. I say, “Hey you are not a teenage girl, you’re a 75 lb man! Let’s act like it!” “Yeah?”, he says, “This grown man has to shop in the boys section of the department store for his clothes.” After a while, I ask, “Are you happy?” “Yes,” he says, “I am.” I see that happiness and I see that he is getting along fine. I decide to let him live in his slow happiness and the mood to push him faster leaves me.
One evening during this visit we went out for drinks and boy did we get looped. We got in the car to go home but at the last minute I decided we should stop at Mama’s house and give her a piece of my mind. I wanted to tell her off for everything. Everything. I wanted to tell her how I hated the way she treated us all. I hated that she stole his furniture and his love life. I hated her spitefulness. I hated she lived off him rent free for a year. I was glad to be living far away and gone of her but I still needed my say. I could brew on her like nobody else. I was finally gonna say what was always on my mind. I parked the car and we walked up and I was ready this time. As we came to the front door of the house she opened it and shouted hellos through her tears. She said she cried cuz she was that happy to see us. A mother can always get to ya. Always.
We came in and sat down. She had me off guard, but then I had a beer and I found my courage. I saw my entry to getting everything off my chest. I opened my mouth but, just then, my mother stood up. “Wait, before you say anything. I have something to tell you both. I have something I ain’t never told nobody. You hear me? Nobody.” She took a breath, “Your brother is a hermfodite.”
I could not form words. My brain was disconnected from my mouth. If I had had teeth to fall out of my head, there on the floor they would have lay. After a while my brain kicked in, “What did you say?” “You heard me. Your brother is a hermfodite. He can never have children or a relationship with anybody cuz he’s a hermfodite.” I was still drunk sorta but I knew what I heard. I looked at her with narrowed eyes and said, “Do you mean her-ma-phro-dite? He has the organs and features of both sexes? Is that what you are saying?” “You know, I try and tell you something important and you wanna correct the way I talk. Well, that is what I just said, iddin it – a hermfodite.”
About then I hear sniffling coming from a drunken Plywood, who was sitting next to me. I looked over at him and he was crying and nodding his head in agreement. “What are you crying for?” I asked. “Because, it’s true.”, he said. “Have you two lost your damned minds?”, I screamed. Plywood protested: “No, it’s true. It’s true, I had an operation and everything.”, Plywood sobbed. “What operation? For what? What the hell are you talking about? Did you convince him of this shit?” I was still in my drunken disbelief.
I got up in disgust to get water in the kitchen. Mama took my seat next to Plywood and put her arm around him. I walked back into the living room and looked at them both, sitting there sobbing and crying and hugging. I looked at them both and felt like I was with aliens from outer-space. “Ok, when was this so called operation and what did it do?”, I asked. My Mama took a deep breath then looked at me sternly through tear stained cheeks, “When your brother was two years old we tried to make him into a man.”, she explained. He interjected, “When I was born I had three urinary tracks and the doctors made them all into one. But it never came out right, which is why I pee sitting down.” he said softly with downcast eyes. “I am not a real man, cuz I pee like a girl.”, he whispered. My head was fuzzy so I decided to get a beer to replace the water. I went back into the kitchen and cracked open a Falstaff. I stood for a minute, drank it all in one gulp then stormed into the living room with new found energy.
“OK, now look you two. This is fucking bullshit! I have been around his entire life and there was never a urinary tract operation. You were born who you are. You are not a hermaphrodite. You are Pliant. That’s it, all this is bullshit! There was no operation”, I scream. “Yes, there was!”, he screamed back at me. “I kept it from you to protect him.”, Mama says. “Ya’ll are crazier than, Woody. You know that. Crazier….look, you are just a gay man. That’s it!”, I sputtered. I was losing wind. All the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. I caught my breath and realized my Mama was still muttering about the baby operation that turned urinary tracts into penises. I took several deep breaths then delivered a magnificent belch from the beer I had swallowed in one gulp. I looked at Mama with every ounce of seriousness I could muster, which caused her to go quiet. I turned my gaze to Plywood. “Now listen to me. You were never a hermaphrodite. You are a gay man. Period. Don’t let her get into your head.”
Everything went quiet. It was so still in that room. The horns were staring at me. Then I heard her say, “I swear before God, it’s true. If I am lyin’, may God strike my three kids dead right now.” I looked at her with a cocked eyebrow and said, “That’s it. Enough is enough!” I grabbed Plywood by the hand and lifted him off the sofa. He was airborne. I flew his 77 pounds out to the car where I opened the door and planted him in the passenger seat. I turned the engine over and slammed into reverse so hard rocks shot upward like a fountain. I drove around looking for another bar the only sound was his muffled sniffling.
I found Pirates Alley open and went inside and sat down. We ordered vodka tonics. He continued to sniffle into a bar napkin. I downed my drink and ordered another. “Look, you were not born a hermaphrodite. You hear me?” I ordered another drink and downed it. “This is typical Mama bullshit.”, I said as I slammed the empty glass down. “It is true. I was born with three urinary tracks.” “Oh, for God’s sake, even if that were true, which it is not!, It doesn’t make you a hermaphrodite! It makes you a baby with three urinary tracts.” “But, Sissy, I tell you it is true. I did have that operation. I can never father children. No one will ever love me and I pee funny.” “You pee funny because you have pulled your dick back for drag outfits for so long, it just hides now. That’s why.” I kept going, “If you pulled me back all the time, I’d stay hidden too. Now, it just hangs back I guess. I don’t know why you pee funny but it doesn’t make you a hermaphrodite!” We went back and forth like that for a while. I slowly realized , she had his soul. She had eaten the life out of him. She had mentally beat him until he shuffled with her every step of the way. She had beat him.
I saw Mama once more before I had to leave, but didn’t talk about “the operation” anymore. On my last morning in town, Plywood was with me as I drove to the airport. Plywood said he was better because of my visit. He said he was feeling strong again. I nodded in agreement. “I felt so alone when she had her stroke. Here she was talking Chinese in the hospital and you living 1500 miles away and every time I ask you to come back home you would just say you would never come back here until the end of her days. I ain’t got you and I never know where Woody is until he calls collect from somewhere. I mean, she is there in the hospital talking Chinese and I am all alone with her. I am all alone with that crazy bitch talking Chinese. And, I am thinking I will be alone with her for the rest of my life. Forever. No rest. You said you would only come for three weeks at the end. But you came. You came and now, now that you know everything, I know you will move back home and help me.” My brain froze.
I pulled the car over on the interstate and cut the engine off. Cars sped past us in whooshes. I turned to him. “Pliant, my love. Listen to me, there was never an operation. You were never a hermaphrodite. Taking care of her is making you crazy. You have NO help. You ARE alone. She is no company for you.” I wanted a cigarette. “As long as that woman breathes air I will not live in this town. As long as there is life in her body, I will not move back here. So you really, really ARE alone with her Pliant.” I considered things for a moment. I took a breath before I made my pitch, “But listen to me, you don’t have to be! Don’t stay here. Come with me. Get on the plane with me. Leave here and come live with me. Say you will right now. We can buy what you need when we get to my house. Leave her. You have happiness keep it!”
He looked at me with complete devastation. My heart broke. Now, he was staring out the window. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. “How am I gonna live anywhere else? I am a freak.” “You are not a freak! Look, it’s easy, you just come with me. You move and you adapt to your new place…Pliant, if you stay here…as long as you live here, you will be taking care of her. She will suck the life out of you and put lies in your head. She will kill you. And if I lived here I couldn’t bear to watch her do that to you. I would have to get in the middle of you two. I would want to protect you. I would go crazy. I’d try and help you. And I DON’T WANT TO! I CHOSE NOT TO. I won’t care for her. I won’t do it. She never cared for us. She never cared for you. She uses you. Come with me.”
“I can’t leave her.” he said as he stared out the window. I could see him splintering. I could see parts of him breaking off. And then like that, his head lolled to one side and rested on the window. After a long while, he turned and stared at me. His huge brown eyes showing the betrayal. I had killed his hope of company. Whoosh. Whoosh. I did nothing for what felt like a long time. Whoosh. Whoosh. We said nothing. Whoosh. Whoosh. There was nothing to be said.
Finally I started the car and I drove the rest of the way to the airport in silence. At the curb I got out and retrieved my bags. We hugged and kissed and cried our goodbyes. We said how fun it had been. What a good visit we had. I disappeared into the airport. I didn’t turn to wave goodbye. I couldn’t I was consumed with guilt. I don’t know if he waved or if he fell over from the weight of his head.
On the plane at 35,000 feet the anger welled up in me and I silently screamed curses at Mama again and again for being the Devil. I cursed her for torturing us. I cursed Plywood for believing her. I cursed her for calling him a freak and I cursed him for being a freak. I cursed him for being devoted to her. I cursed myself for not being. I cursed myself for being a monster. Yeah, I had moved 1500 miles away but I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was in hell. The Devil put me in hell. I was burning. She had won. I didn’t escape. No matter where I was in this world. No matter where I went I belonged to them. And, I would be burning in hell for all eternity for abandoning him.