I wanted to give up on being a writer this afternoon, so then I just hurried up and caught on fire and wrote this.
One afternoon, my brother Adam and I were enticed away from our porch by a group of neighborhood kids promising to show us a field of bamboo. I'm not sure why this prospect was exciting to us, but we took off running up the hill and into the forest without mentioning to anybody where we were going. We pushed our way through brambles and low hanging branches to end up in a clearing where there were a bunch of hollow sticks growing straight out of the ground. I suppose they were some kind of cattail, but we didn't know that. Bamboo was exotic. Panda bears ate it. We decided to cut some open and taste what was inside.
My brother pulled a tiny Swiss army knife out of his pocket and started sawing away at the sticks. He felled one for each of us. I picked up the end of mine and raised it to my tongue and tasted it. It just tasted like a stick.
"I don't think we can eat these," I said.
We decided to come up with other uses for our bamboo. Some of the boys tried whacking stuff with theirs, which worked out moderately well. My brother tried running and jamming the end of his into the ground, so that he would be pole vaulted into the air, but that didn't work either. He just ended up on his butt in the leaves.
Eventually, we all dragged our bamboo stalks out of the woods and held them over our heads like big, wobbly batons and pretended like we were in a parade. I made trumpet noises and led the procession with my stick waving and wiggling all over the place. As we reached the bottom of the hill and approached our trailer lot, a sudden and intense feeling of dread overcame me. I felt like the devil himself had reached into my guts and started rifling around in my belly. From one hundred yards away, I could see the tiny outline of my mother standing in our gravely front yard with her hands on her hips.
"Oh no," Adam said, his bamboo pole drooping obscenely. "We didn't tell her we were leaving."
This was going to mean a spanking. In fact, Adam and I made very, very many mistakes over the course of our childhood afternoons that merited a spanking.
Our parents owned a big, splintered stick that they called "the lickin' stick," aptly named because it was used for giving lickings. I'm not sure where it came from originally, but it looked like the sawed off bar of an old crib. It was thick and sturdy and solid, and rested on the windowsill above the kitchen window. My brother made the mistake once of placing his hands over his behind during a spanking, and he came away with swollen, bruised knuckles and fingers that couldn't bend for a week. He also attempted to run away sometimes instead of standing and facing his beating, which only put the fury and splendor of our vengeful God into the heart of our mother, who was faster and meaner than my brother could ever be. She chased him down every time, the crack of the lickin' stick ringing against his burning cheeks.
I got new pink pants for church on Easter, but before we could all make it into the car to head to the morning service, I walked across the street and through the wet grass of my neighbor's yard. My foot slipped a few times on my way to the top of the little hill where his trailer sat. I got an idea from all that slipping, I guess, because before anybody knew it, I was sliding down that hill on my butt. It was so fast and so slippery that I went back up for a second time, and then a third. By the time my entire family was dressed in their Easter finest, my back side was covered in mud and grass stains so wet and ground in that they were never coming out.
I don't know what was wrong with me and didn't have an answer when my mother asked me, "Amanda, what is WRONG with you?" She had a way of emphasizing her words so that they cut right through your stupidity and got to the person who was hiding inside of you. I remember that about her. When you really disappointed her by doing something really terrible, like ruining your brand new pair of pink Easter pants from K-mart that cost more money than they should, she would clench her teeth and open her eyes really wide and say, "What is WRONG with you?"
My father spanked me for that particular offense. I'm afraid that he must have gotten a little carried away with himself, seeing as how these pants were new and I made us late for church on Easter. I wasn't able to walk very well after my punishment. Angry red welts were raised on my skin, and a kind of tiny madness was raised inside of me.
After I limped back to my bedroom and spent the afternoon crying, I got mad instead of sad. Only, I didn't have anybody to punish, so I took my Raggedy Anne and Andy dolls and I told them, "There is something WRONG with you, children," and I laid them over my knee and beat the hell out of them. Even when they cried, I just kept handing out lickings. My mother walked in on me and asked what I was doing. "I'm hitting them," I said.
"You shouldn't hit your dolls," she told me softly.
"They deserved it," I said.
"Come here," she told me. When I stood to cross the room to fold myself into her arms, I winced and walked gingerly with a bent back. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"Nothing," I said. "My butt hurts."
She took a look at me, where my father had spanked me and she gasped. "Lay down," she told me in a funny voice that was full of sadness, and she went away for a second and came back with a bowl of water, a washcloth and the tub of Vaseline. I burned up of embarrassment as she washed me and spread the salve onto my damaged skin. I hated everything.
Later, she called my father into the living room where we were sitting together on our scratchy tweed sofa, looking at book. "Show him," my mother said, and I peeled my underwear away from where they were stuck to the Vaseline.
He nodded silently for a minute and he knelt in front of me. "I'm sorry," he told me. "I'm sorry that I hurt you."
I didn't see why he was sorry, though. I was the idiot who ruined my pants.