27 September 2006

Growing Up the Boy Named Sue

Recently, an acquaintaince of mine and I were discussing a particular instructor we'd both had. He was a large man (over 6'4"), heavy, with a deep, booming voice, and a very rapid-fire, agressive, New-Yorkey conversational style. "Don't you find him intimidating?" my friend asked me. Upon reflection... no. I really didn't. I wasn't even really sure why my friend was intimidated. I relayed this story to my husband, who laughed out loud. "You were raised by something scarier than you're ever gonna meet out in the world. Of course you're not intimidated."

My daddy left home when I was three And he didn't leave much to ma and me Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze. Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid But the meanest thing that he ever did Was before he left, he went and named me "Sue."
...actually, my father died when I was 11. And my stepdad, The Bear, stepped in. I refer to him as my dad, simply because he survived my teenage years, and thus earned the title. My father was a small, highly intellectual, very airy kind of guy. The Bear, as you can guess, is a huge, very earthy kind of guy. He pretends to be big and dumb, but that's only to lure in and trap the unworthy. He used to go choose off tour guides at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant for fun, to test them on their knowledge of nuclear disasters.
Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean, My fist got hard and my wits got keen, I'd roam from town to town to hide my shame. But I made a vow to the moon and stars That I'd search the honky-tonks and bars And kill that man who gave me that awful name.
The Bear didn't believe in sissies. I am the only girl I've ever met who recieved a firearm for her 13th birthday. I'm also the only girl I've ever met who, when in the fourth grade, I came home from school crying because a bully was picking on me, recieved punching lessons instead of sympathy. And then recieved full support when I went on to break the poor kid's nose when he hassled me again.
Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad From a worn-out picture that my mother'd had, And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye. He was big and bent and gray and old, And I looked at him and my blood ran cold And I said: "My name is 'Sue!' How do you do! Now you're gonna die!!"
My mother joked that it seemed sometimes like despite the obvious genetic problems, I'd eventually gotten the right dad, because I was a lot more like the Bear than like my own father. And maybe it's part of youth's belief in their own immortality, but very early on, I forgot that I was not a 6' tall man. I ceased being able to recognize differences in physical size, or in bodily strength.
Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes And he went down, but to my surprise, He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear. But I busted a chair right across his teeth And we crashed through the wall and into the street Kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.
As most teens do, I knew everything. And was not afraid to back up my opinions. The Bear got fed up and threw me out of the house three different times, but I never even got as far as packing before Mom called me back and things were patched. But less dramatically than that, we held nightly sparring sessions. Verbal sparring, that is. The issues of the day, brought to the table with the mashed potatoes, to be ripped apart and analyzed. I learned both my argument style and some of my best phrases of opprobrium during those meals.
I tell ya, I've fought tougher men But I really can't remember when, He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile. I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss, He went for his gun and I pulled mine first, He stood there lookin' at me and I saw him smile.
As I got older, I eventually got to a point where I could argue the Bear to a standstill on some points. I will remember the first day I did that until I die. He just sat there at the table, beaming, despite having been talked in circles for the better part of a few hours.
And he said: "Son, this world is rough And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough And I knew I wouldn't be there to help ya along. So I give ya that name and I said goodbye I knew you'd have to get tough or die And it's the name that helped to make you strong."
I sometimes tell people some of the gorier stories of my childhood, and they're apalled. Not only are they stunned I survived, but they're stunned I'm not still in therapy. And I used to wonder about that too... wonder if maybe I shouldn't be. Then I laugh at myself. Right after my divorce, with my world crashing down around me, I drove home for a visit, and found that the Bear had set aside two cases of .12ga shotgun ammo, and a bunch of targets. My Winchester disintegrated in my hands, I fired it so much and so fast, and having planned ahead, the Bear was standing right behind me with a Mossberg to replace it. I felt better on so many levels. I know people who've spent years of their lives in marriage counselling, and I wonder if two cases of .12ga wouldn't do the trick for them too. But being a small woman in a large man's world, it is astonishing to count how many times in my life large men have assumed they could physically or verbally intimidate me. Like many women, I have been physically threatened with rape, and both times, I have literally laughed in my attacker's face, because I knew there was not a damn thing he could actually do to me. Model Mugging runs courses for women who've been raised, well, properly. The girls I always envied, whose parents bought them their first car instead of making them rebuild it themselves. The girls who lived in genteel homes, instead of homes littered with Viet Nam veterans with shaking hands and haunted eyes. The girls who recieved modelling classes instead of combat training courses. The girls who recieved Barbies instead of 50-round banana clips.
He said: "Now you just fought one hell of a fight And I know you hate me, and you got the right To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do. But ya ought to thank me, before I die, For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you "Sue.'"
I hated, well, most of it, while it was happening. But looking back... I have fought one hell of a fight. I can see the places I would have been crushed, had I not had the raising I did. I think it's Maya Angelou who wrote "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now.' She gets it.
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun And I called him my pa, and he called me his son, And I came away with a different point of view. And I think about him, now and then, Every time I try and every time I win, And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!
It's bizarre and schizophrenic to look back, appreciate so much of what happened, and simultaneously vow that my children will walk as little of my path as I can manage. Oddly enough, the Bear brought that up, last time we talked. He's just itching for my boys to grow up, old enough so he can really play with them. "But don't rush them, or anything" he tells me. "Just let them be." But in the meantime... shh, don't tell... "Bampa" is building Rowan a small cannon, that really fires. Because some things, maybe, shouldn't be changed.

2 Comments:

At 9/27/2006 07:09:00 PM, Blogger Mama Chaos said...

Wow, another woman who received a gun for her birthday. 12 guage shotgun on my sweet 16.

 
At 9/30/2006 10:09:00 PM, Anonymous Dana said...

I'll never forget when my brother and ex showed me how to fire a six-shooter. There was no feeling like it, blasting those beer cans into the air, especially when the two He-Men teaching me could barely hit their targets.

It's therapeutic shooting a gun. Yet, nothing seems to get fixed in wars. Now, that's where some counseling is needed!

 

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