Moments I recall from my childhood are rarely straight forward. If I am honest, I remember them as a mix of magical and real. This is a moment as I recall it. I was probably 9 or so?
A self-portrait drawn age 11.
Formerly a princess and now a prisoner on Earth, I was sent to live in the Kingdom of Efafra (also known as my family). There, we had to follow very specific rules. The first rule was, don’t upset the Ogre. The second rule, was don’t upset the Ogre, and the third rule was, if you upset the Ogre, “it’s your own damn fault, don’t come complaining to me.” Then, there was the Witch. There weren’t any specific rules written in regards to her, but all natives to Efafra knew to watch out for the Witch. The witch, although oddly, submissive to the Ogre, is the most badass creature you will ever behold, and she doesn’t tolerate any messing with the Kingdom of Efafra. When the earthquake-like explosion happened one house over I knew there was only one explanation: our neighbor made the mistake of testing the Witch.
Our neighbor Al, lived in the house next to ours. He was a bulldog of a man with a rough voice and a perpetually grumpy face. When he was in a good mood he'd pinch your cheeks hard, then offer tomatoes he’d picked fresh from his garden. If you didn’t eat a tomato immediately, he’d stare at you, contemplating whether or not to bite your head off now or later. I always ate the tomatoes. When Al was in a bad mood he'd holler and cuss and on one infamous occasion he threatened to kill my brothers and I, because we were terrible at basketball.
With a fine basketball hoop affixed to the garage, the three of us raced up and down the driveway, laughing, giggling, playing, shooting towards the hoop, and sometimes misfiring and watching the ball sail clear into Al's yard. Usually we’d just hop the fence, get the ball and Al would never even notice. This time, he happened to be passing from his house to his garage, at the exact moment when the ball hit the backboard hard, then soared in the air, landing right at his feet.
The sound of a shriek as high pitched as a train whistle filled the air. It was the steam blowing from his ears. After the steam came rage. It erupted into an audio montage of expletives that were all banned in our house.
“You little BEEEPers. I’m gonna BEEPing kill you. BEEPing BEEEPs. That’s the last time you’re gonna see this ball. The last time you BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP.”
My brothers and I ran from the driveway towards the side door of the house, and into the kitchen while screaming like wild banshees, “Al’s gonna kill us!” Mom, who was pulling things out of the fridge to start making dinner, set the chicken down and listened to our explanations:
“He’s got our ball and he said he’s gonna slash it up.”
“He’s finally snapped.”
“He was cussing up a storm.”
“He said the F-word.”
“And the C-word.”
“And the S-word.”
“Is the S-word a bad word” Stan asked?
“Dad says the S-word,” my brother John pointed out.
Mom's face hardened and in a swift move she brushed by us stepping outside.
Pulled along in her tides we trailed after her, crackling half with terror and half with excitement. Electricity rose in the atmosphere until it felt like we were in the eye of a storm. I looked at Mom. Her eyes were narrowed like a cat’s before they pounce on their prey. Her hair had unrolled from its curls and stood on end like the bride of Frankenstein crossed with Phyllis Diller. Darkness crept over top our small suburban block. Trouble was on its way and it was called:
THE BADASS WITCH OF DETROIT
Just like a lot of families, on the outside, we appeared normal but once you got to know us you’d find we're an odd lot. Ogre-Dad boasted strong lungs. When he shouted, all the land and surrounding animals would quiver, waiting in fearful anticipation of the very worst.
To keep up his lung strength the exotic green of kale, avocado, zucchini, the deep purple of eggplant, or off- white of cauliflower were all forbidden in our family kitchen. He only ate variations on meat and potatoes and dictated that as law within our home:
“All residents shall eat meat and potatoes.”
The rule was draconian. The punishment severe. Mom had a bad addiction to broccoli that she had to hide or else. She’d bury bags of the stuff at the very back of the freezer, and when she got the urge she’d retrieve the delectable green frozen nuggets, pour them out into a coffee mug, cover them with cheese and place the cup in the micro-wave. Before she dared press “start,” she’d open all the windows in the kitchen and turn on the stove top fan. It was too dangerous otherwise. The smell of broccoli could linger in the air and incite a tantrum from the Ogre. It could be the dead of winter and our windows would be open. Then, she’d lean over the stove top fan, mainline her broccoli, and quickly destroy the evidence.
Being children of an Ogre, my brothers and I were ruled with a strict hand. If we didn’t clean our plates or we spilled milk or talked too much or out of turn, or farted at the table, or dared make fun of the bombastic nature of Ogre farts, it was the belt for us. If we were lucky, we simply had to endura-roar. That meant The Ogre roared in our faces until shame rose to blush our cheeks and somewhere inside, we hid away parts of ourselves to keep them safe. The endura-roar was less physically painful, but I’m still retrieving all of my bits and pieces.
Even though he was fearsome, Ogre-Dad loved his family very much. He showed his love in the only way that Ogre's know how: With great flair he would bench press two of us children at the same time, find coins in our ears or remove our noses. (He always gave them back.) He could also take out his top teeth and pop them back in without any pain at all. Magic!
His greatest talent, as far as I was concerned, was his ability to uncover wise advice in his dreams. It often came in the form of miraculous solutions to car repair challenges. That was handy in Detroit where there used to be very strict social rules that all families had to own a minimum of two American cars per household member. When you have 15 cars to upkeep it was generally expected that you might have a bad muffler, or a nice view of the freeway through the rust hole in the floor, for which the judicious use of duck tape encouraged. Ogre Dad would have none of those common ways. With help from his dreams he kept our cars in tip top shape. “I couldn’t figure out how to fix the whizzamabugger on the hob- najigger but my dream told me to crank the jizamalever with a whatnot, and it worked!! I was so impressed with this Ogre skill, that I too began to record my dreams in the hopes of finding great wisdom.
My younger brothers aren’t twins, but they’re as close as twin peas in a pod. The oldest, John, was already a grown man when he popped out the womb. He was kind, social, rational and fiscally responsible. He liked to invent things. Stan is more of a storm, a wild banshee who carries a half-crazed distant look in his eye. As a child he was most likely to be found capturing frogs or insects to observe, or carrying rocks in his pockets. Together, they completed each other, fragile and vulnerable, but whole.
I did not take life in stride as well as they did. Maybe that was because of my alien past or because they had each other to count on. Inwardly, I was in a near constant catatonic state of shock. There were so many injustices in second grade alone, including but not limited to name calling, hair pulling, teacher’s pets, disappointing remarks from Ms. M regarding a certain lady bug drawing that I not only colored outside of the lines, too lightly, but also used improper colors. (This resulted in an endura-roar.) As a habit and a rule, I balled my eyes out pretty much every day. I couldn't handle any sort of cruelty. Dad comforted me with inspired pet names like “cry baby,” and “sissy.” Both Mom and Dad decided I was a delicate child, so they wrapped me in sweaters. I spent the first 12
winters of my life dressed in so many layers I looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters. I had thoughts of rebelling, but swaddled in so many layers, I couldn’t move my arms or legs in protest.
I was also deaf as a child. “Don’t worry, her ears will self correct,” Doctor Fushman said, “she’s still growing.” If anyone had asked me, I could have told them that I wasn't deaf, it’s just that I had a laser like ability to tune out the world.
The eye-doctor diagnosed me as blinder than a grandma with cataracts and said I really needed bifocals, but they turned out to be too expensive so I just wore and removed my glasses as needed.
My adult teeth grew in on top of my baby teeth. They- looked hideous but I could tear apart my meat and potatoes with the speed and skill of a baby piranha.
Before I’d even graduated from elementary school my feet were the size of a pro basketball player.
Did I mention my mole? I have a mole, on the right side of my face next to my lips. Most people think it’s cake. My Aunt flicked my face once trying to get it off and when it wouldn’t budge she said, “you have a little piece of cake on your face.”
She licked her thumb and tried to rub it out vigorously. “Oh, that’s my mole.”
“Have you always had that?” “Yep.”
She broke into laughter. “Just kidding!”
Mom is a Witch. It’s still not widely recognized that in general, Witches are not at all as the fairy tales depict them. They don’t fly brooms or have hook noses, or wear pointy hats and robes. They just want to blend in, but its hard because they don’t see the world like the rest of us. That’s because they’re wise. Actually, the word witch derives from the word “wit,” meaning wise. And a lot more of them are more good than not. But even so, don’t make a good Witch angry because unlike the rest of us, her thoughts carry tangible, instant power and containing thoughts is an advanced Witch discipline that takes decades to master.
My mom is layered and deep. She’s beautiful, in the way that a rose is beautiful with just a hint of danger.
She speaks fluent animal and plant, in part by becoming invisible. Invisibility is a skill that we learn from the animal kingdom. It’s a way to become small and blend into the background. Have you ever walked into a forest and noticed everything went quiet? That’s how you know the forest is hiding from you. The creatures big and small will only return to their normal routine if they think you aren’t a threat. Invisibility is a survival skill. My mother was a natural at it. In time, I would learn it too.
In her happiest moments, she glided around the house, conducting orchestras in other worlds while humming to herself. When she was sad, she retreated into a place beyond reach, where she worked with silent choirs whose resonant emotion-tones influenced the fate of our reality. If my Mother emerged from her meetings infused with joy, everything would go well. If she had only found dis-sonance, there was chaos, thunder and a cold winter that stretched on into spring.
In a way, she was much more terrifying than the Ogre because her magic was incredibly powerful and she hadn’t yet learned to bring it under her control. To my knowledge, her thoughts have caused broken bones, droopy socks and embarrassing illnesses.
Then there was the explosion.
Time slowed. A wave of heat rolled from her finger tips. Out from the thought-o-sphere came a liquid tendril of rage. It looked a bit like the webbing spider-man can shoot from his wrist with a big difference. Mom’s rage, was conscious. It was like a spidey-web with a brain. It awoke resolute to its mission then moved like a tributary seeking its mother river. It rolled past us out the door and we followed, screaming and hollering in excitement. The invisible thought-web moved over the pavement of our driveway, through the grass, between the metal lattice of the fence that separated our yards and slipped through the wall of Al’s garage. It was magnificent and terrifying all at once. What is happening?
I could almost hear it whispering in Al’s ear, “Never threaten my children.” Like a mouse chased from his hiding place, he burst out of his garage. His large belly swished back and forth. The stained armpits of his white tank- top were drenched with sweat. As he dashed towards the protective cover of his home, Mom picked up apples that had fallen from the nearby tree and whipped them his way. She threw like a girl and missed.
Our neighbor, Wilma, who was a one-woman neighborhood watch had called the police early, probably at the very moment she heard Al’s screaming. They rolled up just then, parking at the front of her house which was across from ours. The two young officers got out of the police car with a swashbuckling swagger, looking pleased with themselves. My brothers and I were impressed and got our Fuji-film throw-away camera and asked if we could take a picture with them. They agreed. No one noticed the snake-like tendril following Al, slipping under the door to his house. I don’t think anyone knew how to call off that kind of rage, even if we’d tried.
A few weeks later Al was working in his garage, fixing his lawnmower and it blew up in his face. A piece of the mower shot out and lodged in the grain of the wood shelf behind him. If it had been an inch in the other direction, he might have died. Mom told me what had happened. I imagined the thought-web waiting there all that time, for the right moment to strike, to make its message clear. A shiver ran through my body. Mom and I looked at each other and didn’t say a word.
Al never bothered us again.