My parents really deserve a Purple Heart for raising me. I wasn’t a holy terror, but I was, at times, a force to be reckoned with. To be fair to myself, I never set the house on fire–just myself–but that’s another story. My mom and dad lived in a state of anxious anticipation because they never knew what was going to come out of my life in front of other people.
I can recall accompanying my mother to H.E.B. when we lived in Waco, Texas. Every week my mother and I went down the same aisles of the grocery store and picked up the same things. When my mother changed her pattern, I would question why. I was probably about five and we were on the bath & beauty aisle. Trying to be helpful, I picked up large box of Kotex tampons and yelled, while running toward my mother, “Hey, Mom, do you need any Kotex?” My mother said an elderly lady further down the aisle clutched her shopping cart and almost fell into it. Mama quickly explained in her We-Don’t-Do-That-at-Church that she was well-stocked at home. I didn’t know what Kotex were; I just knew that my mother often bought them.
When I was a teenager, we went to a family reunion. I found myself sitting next to my dad’s cousin, whom I’d never met, and trying to think of something to say to her. My folks never gave me lessons on making small talk, so I quickly searched my mind for something of relevance to share. I recalled that earlier that week I had caught Charles Fox on The Tonight Show, so I announced, “Did you know the guy who sings the theme song for Love Boat once went to a nude beach?” My dad’s cousin laughed nervously, excused herself, and avoided me the rest of the day. I wasn’t trying to be provocative, I was just trying to make conversation.
And there was the time I asked my grandmother if she had sex with my step-grandfather in front of my uncle (her son). I will give props to Memaw, though, she answered the question, but later told me she was mortified to answer such a question in front of her son. I thought, Well, why did you answer the question, then? Again, I don’t have a fetish for geriatric lovemaking, I was simply trying to understand. I had only recently learned about sex, which struck me as having a lot in common with the movie Alien. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would let someone else stick anything inside their body. One minute you’re having lunch and the next, a baby is exploding out of your chest. Why would anyone want to do that?
It’s almost been forty years since I almost caused that old lady to faint on the feminine hygiene aisle of H.E.B., and it still seems like the only time I open my mouth is to change feet.
Recently, a friend’s daughter was catching a ride back to college with a man who was a friend of a friend. “Melissa said he’s a really nice man,” my friend said, more for her benefit, it seemed, than to justify her decision to me.
Before I knew it, I heard myself say, “You know, Ted Bundy was supposedly a really nice guy too, except for being a serial killer and bludgeoning all those sorority girls to death.” The expression on my friend’s face told me that my mouth had struck again.