Dad had a short fuse. Or so my elder siblings told me as they begrudged me their fact that he’d mellowed out by the time I came along. I don’t know about that. I can remember his fat hand against my butt cheeks when I’d done something out of line. Though for some reason now I can’t, conveniently, remember any of the reasons why.
He must have already begun to mellow out the day I took a straight pin I’d found on the floor and stuck it directly into his stomach. Perhaps the bourbon and coke in his hand kept him from reacting quickly. This isn’t my own memory. It’s another Older Sibling Myth told around the proverbial campfire. They like to tell the one about how I took a pot and hit my brother over the head with it when he wouldn’t turn the channel to Sesame Street. This is an untruth.
It was a skillet.
Dad may have “mellowed out” by the time I’d arrived singing “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” But he did discipline. He was a paper salesman (does anyone do that anymore?) and would take me to printing companies. I can still smell the oil of the printing presses.
Dad had a colleague and friend called Jack. But everyone called him Little Jack. Because of just that. He was a Little Person.
Dad introduced me. I recall being approximately five at the time. And the exact same height as Little Jack.
Dad smiled, “Fleur, this is Little Jack.” I looked at this clearly full grown man and could not comprehend how he could be my height. Instead of saying, “hello”, I just stood there trying to figure this little guy out.
I cocked my head to the right.
And immediately felt my entire five year old body yanked into the air and around the nearest pillar. (It was a pillar. I remember clearly there being a pillar.)
There was a gigantic pointer finger in my face.
Dad stared directly into my eyes.
“Don’t. Ever. Stare.”
The pointer finger froze. Just at the end of my five year old nose. Time stopped.
And then Dad was done.
Stare? I pretended I was legally blind for the next twenty-four hours.
Last week I babysat a little boy, Stevie, about four years old. We walked down the sidewalk in Queens.
We passed a dwarf.
Stevie stopped. Stevie stared.
I gently guided him forward, my hand on his shoulder, calmly explaining that there are all different shapes and sizes in the world.
He didn’t hear a thing I said. He was just trying to figure out how a grown man could be not much taller than himself. Or maybe he was just thinking, “different.” Or maybe, “cookie,” as he thinks “cookie” a lot.
Stevie will stare again.
So … what? Am I to use Dad’s approach? Granted, Stevie is not my kid. But I can’t see myself putting my finger in any kid’s face, let alone one the ones that I know.
But I never stared again.
Is it me? Or a generational thing? Growing up in the South? Did I miss something and it’s okay to stare now? Or do we just pretend it’s not happening… what do we do when the head cocks to the right?
I may not remember why Dad’s hand ever crossed my ass but I do remember why that finger was in my face.
And frankly, I don’t begrudge him one bit.