Monday, August 15, 2005

The butcherwoman of Phoenix

You know those butcher knives, the ones with the large rectangular blades that the Chinese use to chop a whole duck into squares right through the bones? My mother once slapped me across the face with the flat side of one of those.

She was in the kitchen. I don’t know where my dad was. It was early evening; she was cooking dinner. So it was likely that he was sleeping; he’s worked the graveyard shift for as far back as I can remember.

Me? I was in the living room playing with the pieces of a Monopoly board game – animating the shoe, thimble, etc., into something other than the capitalist story for which they were designed. Out of nowhere, for I was a quiet child, she found me and screamed for me to put the board away before I lost all the pieces. Then smacked me across the face with the knife. She was a small woman, but the blow was hard enough to roll me to one side. At first, I couldn’t cry I was so shocked. But when the tears finally did come, they were silent, lest I draw her attention to me once more. I don’t recall my exact age at the time – somewhere above six, somewhere below ten. Seven maybe? Old enough to know what damage she could have caused had the edge of the blade been turned even slightly towards me.

Later, she apologized. In hindsight, I imagine it was more out of fear than real remorse – fear of what my father would do if he found out. (Some perspective: a couple of years later, during a long, drawn-out custody battle, when my father contemplated having me testify, I fearfully told him that I’d choose to live with my mother. I was a truthful little fucker, even when my life was at stake. As a consequence, I was never put on the stand.) My mother’s apology came too late. If I hadn’t already feared her, from then on I morbidly feared her.

I revisited this incident this past weekend, in the silence that enveloped my boyfriend and me during what should have been a two-hour drive home from upstate New York. The ride ended up being four-and-a-half hours long. The fight had nothing to do with the length of the trip, but it sure as hell affected how the trip felt. We needed the extra two-and-a-half hours like we needed spontaneous nosebleeds. What did we fight about? Well, it seems my boyfriend feels invalidated by me.

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