Let me give you (and any new reader we might pick-up) a synopsis of one of the most traumatic events of my teenage life. (If you enjoy trauma, I'm just getting warmed up;) I was busted at school for smoking pot behind the boy's room. Not enough evidence was found for anything beyond a ten-day suspension, but my father threatened me with non-existence, should I remain defiant to him. I gave up my entire stash of homegrown weed to save my ass and my reputation (the truth would have labeled me a snitch). As punishment, I was told to dig a six-foot hole to bury an equal-sized stem. That is it in a nut-shell. I will continue the story with fifteen-year-old me carrying a shovel and a tape-measure out behind the chicken coop on a very warm fall afternoon.
The first two feet was cake. Recent rains had loosened the earth and the spade cut through it like butter; then I hit the first snag. Clay. Clay is evil. It looks like it should be as easy to dig as topsoil, and it mounds up much the same when you dump a shovel-full outside of the hole, but it isn't. The dense, beige firmament known so simply as 'clay' is really boulders that are yet to be born. You can tell, because there are little baby boulders mixed in with the dreadful stuff. They make your shovel shriek and moan when you strike them with all your might, much the same way my back did after a few minutes trying to dig through the shit. For the next hour or more, I struggled to dig another foot.
Looking at my now three-foot deep hole, I made another disheartening discovery. It was much too narrow. Because of the way spade digs, it was becoming a cone-shaped crater and the bottom was barely wide enough for me to stand. How was I to go another three feet when I had just enough room for the shovel and me? I couldn't. I had to expand it and make it twice as big.
By the time I had scraped down the sides of what was sure to be my tomb (I still wasn't convinced that my father's wrath had been fully appeased) and made it wide enough to continue, it was nearly pitch-black outside. That's when I hit bottom - literally. Rocks the size of shoes mixed in with the clay and made my shovel scream to a halt. I was on the verge of crying like a baby when I heard the voice of my father behind me.
"How's it going?"
I fought back the tears and told him about the bedrock I had encountered.
"You can use the pick to help you dig the rest of it tomorrow. Your mother wants you to come in for dinner. It's getting late."
The next day was hotter still. That might have worked to my advantage. Heat is good for sore muscles, and I had pain in places that I never suspected there was anything other than bone or fat. By noon the soreness was gone and, with the exception of some bleeding calluses on my hands, I was feeling pretty good.
My mother brought me out a tray of food for lunch. She didn’t say a word – she didn’t have to – the pity in her eyes said it all. It was as if they were saying, “I’m sorry I married such a harsh man. He wasn’t that way when we met. He was actually quite charming.” I gobbled up every crumb and jumped back in my hole. I had work to do.
I attacked the ground with gusto. There was no way I was going to let the last foot and a half carry over into the next day. The pickaxe was a blur as I tore into stone after stone. I had measured a long stick and broke it off at six-foot, so I had an easy way to measure my progress. Just as the last rays of sunlight filtered through the trees, I cleared the last bit of clay and rock from my hole. The measuring stick was well below the rim on all sides – I had finished.
A sense of great accomplishment came over me. I had battled the earth and won. My victory was short-lived when I looked around and realized that a five-foot-five boy cannot simply step out of a six-foot deep hole. A root, close to the top, seemed to be my only hope. It gave way and sent me onto my backside with a thud. The walls were smooth and too crumbly to dig footholds into. I was trapped.
By the time my father came to get me this time, I had figured that this was all a part of his plan. He had known that I couldn’t get out of a hole that deep, so he would just let me die there and save him all the work of killing me. Of course, that wasn’t the deal; instead, it became a joke that I was ‘stupid enough to dig a hole that I couldn’t get out of’. He pulled me up by the handle of my shovel, before walking me back home for dinner, laughing at me all the way.
The next day, he told me to get the stem from the garage and go out to my hole and bury it. I desperately wanted to ask him to come out and measure the hole and give some sort of recognition for all my hard work, but I had no standing in his eyes now. I was a ‘druggie’ and that meant that I was lower than dirt.
I always found it ironic that he made me bury the stem, but then he gave away the quarter-pound of my weed to a guy he worked with who smoked pot. Dad mentioned this one evening while we were eating dinner, in casual conversation, like it was no big deal. “Old So and So said that your shit was the best homegrown he’s ever smoked.” He even said it with a bit of pride in his voice. Of course, it was fine that his work buddies smoked pot, but it wouldn’t be the last time he expressed his displeasure at my smoking it. It wouldn’t be the toil and pain from digging a six-foot deep hole that made an impression the next time.
Next week, I will tell you what not to do if your child is caught doing something that you disapprove of. Until then, yours truly,
That’s a wonderful story, DB. So vivid I can see it all—right down to the look in your mother’s eyes as she issues that unspoken apology for marrying such a harsh man. “He was charming once...” It could be a scene from a film.
Strangely enough, I can see what your father was trying to do, but then he went and muddled the message by giving the weed away to a buddy. Is it just me or was that a completely weird thing to do? A real mixed message to send?
I don’t really have much of a story this week, so I’ll just talk about strawberry milkshakes instead. Rape is a very strange thing—psychologically, that is. That might sound quite a detached thing to say, but after more than three decades I am detached from the event. I was detached right from the get-go even, one of the odd things about rape. The effects, although immediate and obvious to others, weren’t at all obvious to me. It would be decades before I saw that various dysfunctional behaviours that developed had their genesis then.
To take a really trivial example, on what was quite literally the date from hell, Kevin bought me a strawberry milkshake. He was under the impression he was buying a whole lot more, of course. Years later I suddenly thought: “I’ve not touched a strawberry milkshake, or any kind of milkshake, not once, not since...”
It was not a conscious thing, this giving up of strawberry milkshakes. I merely exchanged them for double whiskeys on the rocks and thought nothing more about it.
Another odd thing is it didn’t occur to me to go to the police, not until it was far too late to do so, and this in spite of the fact that it was a pretty violent attack. I think I must have felt that what happened was somehow my fault. I’d agreed to go out with him, after all. AND I’d let him buy me a strawberry milkshake. And then of course, I’d always thought of rape as something that happened in dark alleys with strangers carrying knives, and not at the end of a strawberry milkshake.
So Kevin got off scot-free. Another crime, in fact, although I do understand why rape so often goes unreported.
I started to go off the rails big time after that: drinking heavily, and if something was smokable, smoking it. I lost interest in my job. That exciting career as a journalist was about to become both extremely short and extremely undistinguished. This was in part because of what had happened to me, but there were other reasons, too.
After my training, I was assigned to work for the Consumer Affairs Editor. Probably because I was a girl, and girls are supposed to be interested in stuff like that. So while the boys got to go off and serve out their apprenticeships writing about exciting things like politics or justice, I was stuck with the price of fish.
Looking back, I can’t believe how lightly I threw it all away, but throw it away I did. In a curious parallel sense, I too was busy digging my own grave (career-wise, that is), M.
I shall never drink a strawberry milkshake again. Okay, maybe not, but I will never be able to drink one without at least a little bit of sorrow. I'm working on my time-machine so I can go back and kill Kevin before he has a chance to get out of prison and do that to you. If we are going to let animals like him go free, they should do so without their manhood intact - not just their testicals - they should be condemned to squat the rest of their lives. I want to go on, and express further disgust, but I think you get the idea. I'm so sorry this happened to you.