I was a very trusting child. If someone in a position of authority told me something was true, I usually believed them. Which, now that I think about it, is probably why I grew up to distrust all authority as an adult. Because authority is full of shit.
My parents were my first authority figures, which probably isn’t all that much of a surprise, since parents are pretty much everyone’s first authority figures. And I believed everything they ever told me, which is a fact they routinely exploited with the kind of sadistic relish only parents delivering a little payback to their weirdo kid can.
For example, a favorite pastime of my folks was alternating between telling me that they were either going to ship me off to the orphanage, or some supernatural force was going to murder me. ALL THE TIME.
My Other Questionable Decisions
The orphanage threats usually came at the end of some parental frustration involving my being annoying, obnoxious, loud, or excessively weird. Probably all at the same time. And in public.
We’d get in the car, and they tell me they’d had it. They couldn’t take it anymore, and it was off to Boy’s Haven with me, which wasn’t really an orphanage so much as it’s a great local organization that takes in boys aged 5-17 who need a little help, and gives it to them. But in my home, it was basically a Dickensian work house for pickpockets and street urchins.
I did not want to go to there.
But every time I acted up, we were, in fact, going to there. My parents would even start driving and pointing out landmarks along the way, like they were following some kind terrifying treasure map that led directly to my incarceration. The whole time, they’d be telling me things like no one there would be nice to me, I wouldn’t ever get tucked into bed, and – when I did go to bed – I wouldn’t be able to snuggle with my favorite stuffed animals BECAUSE THEY WOULDN’T LET ME TAKE THEM.
It was basically the saddest scene in a Toy Story movie, but worse because I knew they wouldn’t understand. My stuffed animals, I mean. I hadn’t even been given the opportunity to explain the situation to them or even say goodbye. For all they’d know, I just got tired of them one day and never came back. The guilt weighed heavily on my young soul.
Of course, I never did get shipped off to the orphanage. Because they lied.
Spoiler alert, I guess.
The times when they’d convince me that the devil himself was out to eat my soul were, I think, meant more playfully. I don’t think I was being punished for anything when my dad suddenly cut power to the house one night and started walking into the living room with a life-sized, glow-in-the-dark skeleton while he made moaning sounds and said things like, “Mister Funnybones wants your soul.”
Yeah, I think that was just being playful.
Or all the times when we were riding in the car at night, and both my mom and dad would start FREAKING THE FUCK OUT because they’d just seen a witch out the rear window, and she was chasing us. My dad would pretend to speed up, my mom would start having a panic attack, and then…then the witch would attack the car.
We could hear her big, buckled pilgrim boot-heels scraping against the roof. We could hear her long talon nails tearing through the metal of the trunk. We dared not look.
I’d find out later that all the noises came from the power of suggestion and a little help from the retractable radio antenna on the car. It made this whirring, electric, scraping noise that, if you didn’t know any better (because you trusted your parents when they told you that evil, soul-sucking monsters were out to murder your entire family), sounded a lot like a witch attack.
And that’s not even going into how, when we’d go to visit my grandparents on my dad’s side, the car would always barely make the drive across the Swamp Monster Bridge, where all the elaborate stories of supernatural murder, death, and mayhem were that much more believable because the bridge was is Louisiana. Which you’d understand if you’ve ever been to Louisiana.
Those were just the standard lies, though. Then there were the exceptional ones.
The very same year I was being shipped off to The Special Class every few days at school, my dad decided to tell me how BBs were made. We’d gone on a camping trip with the Indian Guides (because I was way too nerdy for the Boy Scouts, and I guess my parents figured adding racially insensitive feathered headdresses into the mix couldn’t really make things any worse), when it happened.
I was marveling at a super tall lookout tower near a lake at the campground (which could’ve just been a normal lifeguard’s chair, now that I think about it), when my dad decided to ruin my life. He pulled me aside and, in whispered tones, conveyed to me the secret of BB manufacturing.
“That’s where they make BBs.”
“Well,” he said – and this is where he would’ve leaned back in his chair and taken a long, satisfied puff off his pipe if we were near a chair and if he’d smoked a pipe – “it takes two guys. One guy climbs way up to the top with a bucket of water. And another guy stands underneath him on the ground, with an empty bucket.”
“Then, the guy at the top takes an eyedropper and sucks up a little water. Then, he carefully squeezes out just one drop over the edge of the platform. And as it falls, it spins and spins and spins so fast that it turns into a metal ball, and the guy at the bottom catches it in his bucket.”
“But,” I asked, seriously concerned for the safety of the poor guy at the bottom, “what if he misses the bucket?”
“Ah,” replied my dad, taking another happy draw from his imaginary pipe, “that’s why he wears a hard hat.”
And that’s how I learned how BBs were made. Which I would excitedly tell all of my classmates at school the following week, but not before I’d burned my foot on a hot coal and rescued a fish from certain death.
See, on that same camping trip, we also went fishing. I only remember two things about it, though: the kid who went to cast his line, caught his hook on his own back fat and then…well, it was gruesome. Let’s not dwell.
The other thing I remember was The Fish. I think it was a perch, because every fish is a perch to me since I know exactly jack shit about fish. At any rate, I managed to catch a fish, and I think it was a perch. But that’s not the important part.
The important part was my immediate regret over having caught the fish. I didn’t want it to die, but I also didn’t want to be the one kid who didn’t want to kill a fish on the camping trip, so I didn’t throw it back. We tossed it in a cooler where it flopped around, gasping for water-air and crushing my soul. I showed everyone I caught it, then closed the cooler and went off to pack up our tent and cry.
Which is when I walked right over the fire pit someone did a horrible job of covering with dirt, because my bare foot found a still-hot coal. Right in the arch. Burned like hell.
So now I’m crying and my foot’s on fire, my fish is dying in a cooler, and all I want to do is go home and never again venture into the great outdoors where sadness lives. We finish packing up, then hop in my dad’s old red truck and head on down the road. With me still crying, my fish still dying, and my foot still burning.
My dad pulls off into a gas station along the way, then goes inside and comes back out with a little styrofoam bowl of water. He sticks The Fish inside, then pops a lid on the bowl and tells me to hold onto it. But not to open the lid, because then bad things would happen and it would probably die.
It was already dead, of course. But I believed him when he said it wasn’t, because authority figure.
He gets back in the truck, then turns on the air conditioner and tells me to stick my foot up next to one of the vents. The AC cools it down and I manage to stop crying for a little while, with my foot getting some relief up on the vent and my fish potentially not dying in my lap.
Of course, it was basically Schrödinger’s Fish at that point, both alive and dead at the same time, and only by opening the lid would I collapse the probability wave or whatever. So I kept the lid on tight. But any time I would start questioning why it didn’t feel like the fish was moving around in the bowl, my dad would come up with some kind of believable reason, and then switch the AC over from Cool to Heat.
Which my foot would quickly realize before I did, after which I’d scream and start crying again. My dad would laugh and shout, “Say hello to Mister Fire!”
After a minute of that, he’d switch it back, and, for a little while, I’d be too angry and confused to question the condition of The Fish.
Before we got home, we took a slight detour near a drainage ditch. My dad hopped out of the truck, came around to my side, and asked me for the fish. I handed it to him, then he told me he was going to set it free in this large body of water I thought looked nothing at all like a drainage ditch. Probably very little poop in it.
He walked over to the water, knelt down, I heard a little splash, and then he came back.
My dad shouted, “He made it!” – and I didn’t question a word of it.
That was a good lie. But then I went back to school Monday morning and decided to tell everyone who would listen how BBs were made, which is how I ended up getting into a fight with a kid named Chuck because SHUT UP, MY DAD WOULDN’T LIE TO ME!
© 2015 – 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.