Douglas Pope (Western Carolina University, US)
I was raised in a home with seven women, all of us living together in my grandmother’s house. I’m talking about two sisters, a foster child, a cousin, an aunt, a mother, and a grandmother, all co-existing in a three-bedroom millhouse with only one bathroom. Obviously, there was some bed-sharing going on and the concept of privacy was about as strange as a mosh-pit at a Kenny G concert. On the boy’s team, there was my father and me, drowning in an ocean of estrogen. The odds were against us from the start.
Now, every year, quite literally, dozens of women from my family gather together for Christmas and Thanksgiving and wonder why, at twenty-five years old, I’m not married with a gaggle of children running around. The answer is simple. I’m terrified of women. I’m not saying that these women treated me badly for being a boy; they treated me like a little prince. But any guy who has ever wished that he had seven women that treat him like a god has never taken into consideration that God has never really had all that much say in how Man worships Him to begin with.
Unfortunately, I can still remember the first time that I realized that there was something unnatural about living with this many women. I was potty training at the time, which I’m sure is traumatic enough for anyone. My mother believed with all her heart that a child learning the proper way to take a dump was a family moment — not to mention a Kodak one. In the evenings, when everyone had gotten home from work or school, she would place the potty in the center of the living room — where everyone was sure to have an unobstructed view of my little, naked baby ass — and she would demand that I sit on the godforsaken thing and go poo. Child abuse laws in those days weren’t nearly as effective as they are now.
I learned how to take a crap with an audience of females cooing and pointing and making comments like ‘Aww, look at his little thingie!’ This is the sort of thing that can cause lifetime problems with erectile dysfunction. At the time, my father was sitting in the corner of the living room, in his favorite rocking chair, his head leaned back, staring up at the ceiling as though willing the sky to open up and swallow him whole. Through the course of middle and high school, when showering after gym, I would be struck by the horrible mental image of someone thrusting a finger at me and proclaiming ‘Aww, look at his little thingie!’ And I’d think to myself, Is this what sex is going to be like? Years later, my father and I would sit on the front porch of his house, talking and enjoying a cold beer in the scorching summer sun, and I would remind him of the incident. My father would set his beer on the ground, lean over and embrace me, and say ‘God help me, I’m sorry, son.’
Female number seven, my Aunt Lori, moved in when I was five years old. She had just gone through a particularly nasty divorce and my grandmother was never one to turn away a family member in need. After her failed marriage, Lori developed an obsession with children and, more than anything, she wanted a little girl. You would think that, between my two younger sisters, she would have her choice of little girls to play with. But this wasn’t the case. One night, when my father wasn’t around to stop her, she started out by painting my fingernails a deep purple color. ‘Isn’t that so pretty?’ she asked. I don’t know about pretty, but I thought it was pretty cool. It made me look like I had monster hands, just like on TV. So, I went along with it. Before long, she had me in full make-up and wearing the little, white flower girl dress that my cousin had worn to her wedding.
‘Oh my gawd! You look like a little doll,’ Lori shrieked as she admired her handiwork. She had taken me into the bathroom to stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the door. I was a little offended at that point. After all, I was a boy, and boys don’t play with dolls.
‘Well, what do think?’ she asked.
My first reaction was to start crying, but I stood there for a moment, studying my appearance. I thought I looked, well, sort of pretty. My dad didn’t think so. When he came in and caught a glimpse of me, he wore a pained expression as though he had just received a swift kick in the testicles. That night, the two of us stood under the glare of the sixty watt light bulb in the bathroom while my father scrubbed my face with a rough cotton rag and a bottle of Dawn dish detergent.
‘Damn women gonna try to take your balls off next,’ he muttered.
‘Daddy, are you mad at me,’ I asked.
My father gave me a tired smile and wiped his own face with the rag, leaving a streak of make-up across his forehead.
‘Naw…you’re still my little man.’
By the time I was six years old, my parents had divorced. My father moved out of the house and I was left alone to the devices of a flock of women who seemed to be turning synchronized menstrual cycles into an Olympic sport. This is not an exaggeration — there was a marked calendar on the bathroom wall over the toilet tank. Just above the economy-sized box of tampons.
It’s a strange thing for a six-year-old boy to discover tampons. Tampons were an unholy relic, mysterious in design, serving functions of which I knew not. I just knew it was a lot of fun to jam the tampons into the water faucet of the bathroom sink and to see how long it took for the pressure to build up enough to shoot the thing out like an unlikely missile. I would stand over the sink, feeling like the captain of a submarine, saying, ‘Ai-ight, gentlemen, you may fire at will.’ My cousin, Dana, walked in and saw this. She started throwing tampons at me, chanting ‘Dougie’s gotta vagina!’
‘I do not!’ I shouted. I didn’t know what that was, but damned if I had one.
Hearing the noise and figuring that Dana and I were fighting again, my grandmother came striding into the bathroom, brandishing her favorite weapon: the flyswatter.
‘What in the world is going on in here,’ she demanded.
‘Doug’s playing with tampons,’ Dana informed her gleefully.
My grandmother gave me a strange look. Apparently, this is not what she had expected to hear. I still had one of the sodden wads of cotton clenched in my fist. I didn’t know what else to do, so I held the soaked sanitary product out to her.
‘I’m sorry, mamaw. I think it’s broken now.’ I said.
Terrified, I braced myself for a butt-whipping that never came. My grandmother grunted, then snickered, and finally broke out laughing until tears were poring down her face.
‘Ah, Lord. I love you, but you’re full of shit, sometimes.’
I swear I haven’t played with a tampon since.
It was around the time my mother remarried that people in our house started going their own separate ways, forming their own sub-families. With my mother’s marriage came a stepfather and a stepbrother. I like to think that our combined masculine powers repelled them like vampires shying away from a crucifix, but I’m probably deluding myself. After we had parted ways, I started to miss the ladies. Not the dresses, but the familiarity that comes with so many people living in close-quarters. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, we reminisce and say, ‘Good time, good times’ and, when they hound me about marriage and children, I tease them, telling them that living with so much estrogen had probably made me sterile.
But, sometimes, I do think about what it would be like to have a son of my own, to tell him to honor these women that love him so much. I wonder what it would be like to hold him against my chest, to gaze into eyes that are a reflection of my own, and to say, ‘Aww, look at his little thingie!
Douglas Pope was born and raised in the North Carolina piedmont. He currently resides in the Appalachians and is working on his first novel.