Posted Monday, March 29th, 2004
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way I used to get spanked when I was a kid and I’m telling the woman I live with about it. “What is this?” she asks. “Are you trying to draw me into some kind of weird sexual thing, involving spanking, because I’ll tell you what. It’s not going to happen. Mark this down in your book,” she says, smiling, hands on her narrow hips, “right next to anal sex. Not going to happen, not ever.” But I’m trying to be serious about this spanking this because really it strikes me as kind of serious. So I tell her again what it was like and the worst part about it, which was the way that my father looked when he was doing it. He looked bored. That was the worst part. When he scooped me up and lay me over his knee, very fluidly, and then bent the leather belt in half and lifted his arm back and I was looking over my shoulder at him, squinting with the anticipation of the pain that was sure to follow the movement of his arm down. There was the initial burst of pain followed by the sting that lingers around, as though thorns were left stuck there in the back of my legs, in my buttocks and then he would raise up his arm and do it again, another blow. The pain was bad enough, but the look on his face, that was the worst part. He was bored, as I’ve said before, as though this were the stupidest thing in a long list of stupid things he had to do that day. It would have been better if he looked like I remember him looking from my childhood, when his face crumpled up, his brow becoming a series of deep lines, his cheeks splotching with bright patches of red, the way he looked when the Cardinals blew a big lead in the top of the ninth and then just fizzled at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, screwing themselves out of another win, when they were in the goddamn pennant race that year and they had a chance, if they could just hold it together, which they couldn’t. I never saw his face all the way throughout the spanking, because the pain would make me squint my eyes shut and grind my teeth and try not to cry. I wasn’t always successful at not crying and I think I might have been crying, now that I think about with all the jargon of psychological realism at my disposal, as much because of my father’s distance and boredom as for the pain that spread itself around my legs, my buttocks, my lower back until it became something like a burn. My father never went on too long with the belt, would give me a few cracks - that’s what he used to call him, “You want a crack with the belt?” he’d say - and then he’d set me on the floor. “Pull your pants up,” he’d say. He meant my pajama bottoms, since it was normally at night, my refusal to go to sleep, that led to the spankings. And when I think of it that way I’m sure that, in perhaps a minor way, my desire to not go to sleep, which often led to spankings, was connected to the fact that I used to have nightmares. “Everyone has nightmares,” she says, sitting down on the couch next to me. We’re watching the muted television. We don’t have cable, but we watch a lot of the three channels we get. “Not like I did,” I tell her. We’re watching the news this morning. They’re talking about the up-coming elections. Perhaps this is what makes me think of the spankings, which were really quite a sad thing in my childhood and have made me decide that when I have my own kids, with this woman I’ve living with, I hope, unless she leaves me, because I won’t be the one to leave her, I love her, I really am happier with her than I’ve been in the company of any other person I’ve known or met in my life, I’m not going to spank them and I’ll hope they don’t vote Republican. I’m sure I’ll be tempted, to spank, I mean. But I won’t do it. On principal. But I tell her, “I don’t think that most people have nightmares like I did.” “How so?” she asks me, leaning over and rubbing her shoulder against me, and just this slight touch makes me want to go into the bedroom with her and have sex, the way we often do, still, though we’ve been together for years and some of my friends don’t believe me when I tell them about our active sex life, since it goes against their own experience, which has involved a diminishment in physical attraction over time. “I used to have nightmares every night,” I tell her. “Every single night,” I go on, to stress the point. “I mean, I could see the nightmares coming. I could be falling asleep and I’d know, before I was even properly asleep, what nightmare I’d have, because I had a series of repeated, familiar nightmares that kept coming, recurring characters in the nightmares, like the witch at the top of the stairs, who was kind of like the boss of the nightmare folks. I’d be falling asleep and see the impending nightmare, not what would happen, but who would star in the dream.” She rubs my arm and leans against me and says, “My poor darling.” Rests her head on my shoulder. The television has a talking head on it, saying the same things they’ve been saying for the past few hours about the polls. I close my eyes. She’s still touching me. It’s like lying with your back to the ocean in the path of the tide with your eyes closed. You know full well the next wave is going to come and it’s going to come soon, but then when it hits you you’re unprepared and shocked in a way. “Yeah,” I say, recovering and going on, “so anyway I think the nightmares must have something to do with why I didn’t want to go to sleep when I was kid, though, as I’ve said, or maybe I haven’t said it, I can’t remember if that’s the reason, exactly. Which I find weird, because I can remember those dreams, perfectly. I can remember exactly what the witch at the top of the stairs looked like and I can remember the way my father’s face looked, bored, about to deliver the spanking. I guess this is depressing, harping, if that’s what I’m doing, on the negative things from my childhood. Because it wasn’t all bad. Not by any stretch. I was a happy kid, I guess. Maybe they would have put me on Ritalin if I were a kid nowadays. I was a little out of control I guess and that must be connected to the nightmares and so to my getting spanked so often. But I’m making it sound like I was getting whipped, which isn’t what I ever called it then and am only calling it now to try and make sort of a joke out of it, every day. I only got spanked every once in a while. Probably not even once a week. More like not even once a month, when I think about it reasonably, but, like the dreams I can recall, vividly, each spanking and this makes them seem more frequent. And there was this one time when we were kids, my brother and I, and we were goofing around in the living room, piling blankets over ourselves and farting and this was making us really giddy and ridiculous and we wouldn’t come to breakfast. My dad wanted us to come to breakfast, but we wouldn’t, for some reason, I don’t know why, we were just out of control and freaking out with our farts, which of course were hilarious to us as kids, and my father came shouting into the room to get us into the kitchen and we wouldn’t go and so he reached down into the covers we’d dragged from our beds into the living room and lifted me up by the neck, his hand around my neck like he was going to strangle me, holding me up above the ground and my brother, was watching made the noise, the breathing noise, that Darth Vader makes in Star Wars and even though I was dangling there, a hand around my throat, I started laughing and my dad started laughing and he set me down and then picked me up and carried me into the kitchen and I can remember pressing my face against his shirt and laughing and not being able to stop even when he set me down in my chair and put a plate of his scrambled eggs, special eggies we called them, in front of me.” “That’s terrible,” she says. “Is it?” I say. “Yes. And I think it’s sad. That’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk about your family.” “Really?” I say, but then nothing else, kind of lost as I’m lost in my memories. She leans up and kisses my cheek. I smile, distracted and almost pulling away from the kiss because I don’t want anything to disrupt the flow of the memories. I’m remembering more and more details, the way the covers smelled that day, their mustiness and then the bright smell of our farts and the fact that it was snowing outside and we were in front of the biggest window in the house that looked over the backyard where it sloped down to the old barn with its antler racks hung above the big, always open door, as we didn’t have animals, the barn just came with the house, though later we’d get geese. On the television they keep showing pictures of the candidates, roaming all around, shaking hands and sometimes holding babies. It is incredible to me that they still do this, the stunt with the babies. She reaches over and picks up the remote and turns the television off. “I’m cold,” she says, pressing back against me. “We could go get under the covers in bed,” I say. “Want to?” she says, looking up at me. “Yes,” I said and we got up and go into the other room, smiling at one another and pulling our clothes off.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by jocelyn johnson on Tuesday, March 30th, 2004 at 9:26 AM
This story: the intensity of these memories, how they string together, how the author pulls at the edge of them to possibly see a bigger picture, feels so familiar.
It feels like watching old film reels, in slow motion, knowing there will be an interuption in the picture; that the film strip will break, or the decrepit machine will spit it out. It feels unreal, like memories around car wreck, or taking a big fall. Thank you, Nathan.
(On a more practical note, the format of one paragraph, with each line pushing up against the next, is a little hard to read on the web)