I ALMOST SLAPPED MY MOTHER

I almost slapped my mother’s face. She was balking and otherwise being impossible and it was exactly the way she treated me when I was like that as a child. Except that her preferred discipline was with a switch or the dog’s leash, a narrow leather strip, which she used on my bare girl’s legs since in those days we wore skirts. It stung and made me dance and I could not resist. There were welts.

My father preferred spanking which he never did in early days but after his concussion they were his constant boiling-over when there was interference. I always intended to accept martyrdom but never succeeded and ended simply running and locking doors.

The physical coercion to achieve behavior is an animal action in one way but not in others, since human motives and emotions are more hidden and mysterious, unpredictable. One can see what an animal is up to, but humans can displace, disguise, delay.

A friend of mine who used to write pornography explained to me how it is done. The simple technique is also useful in sex work: to explore a person, which requires listening to intimate thoughts and figuring out inner structure about life beliefs, esp. those things painful, scary or otherwise arousing. As a person solitary and always resistant to intimacy, I wondered what a pornographer or sexworker would make of me. He thought it came from being academic — holding everything at a distance in the Enlightenment “knowledge is power” sort of way.

It took clues over many years for me to figure it out. I’m probably a fool to tell anyone except that I’m old and private enough to avoid it being used against me now. Anyway, one of the obligations of a thinking writer is to share what is human, universal, and helpful to self-protection.

A friend remarked that I had married my mother. In thinking about this, I came upon a semi-hidden memory. When my second brother was due, my mother had terrible backaches and her doctor advised her to take warm high-retention enemas to relieve the muscle stress of the heavy baby. She acquired a terrifying red enema bag that looked like a torture kit. She hated using it, but she always did what doctors told her and it seemed to work. (I never knew her to have a female doctor.) It hung on the towel rack, sometimes under a towel.

All three of we sibs had trouble with our GI systems in the way called “constipation.” Some label it passive resistance or balking, withholding. Part of this was heredity from our father. Part of it was what we ate though it included stewed prunes from our aunt on the farm. Countering by the doctor was something called “petroaugar” or something like that. It was an early version of combining “fiber” with laxative. Today I take “Triple Fiber” capsules for the same purpose.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, prairiemary.blogspot.com, I wrote:

“NOW THAT THE TABOOS HAVE RECEDED” in which I shared the worries of so many people with their excretions. We’ve heard the terrible stories of people who were so blocked that extreme measures had to be taken.

My mother’s version of extreme measures was to use her enema kit on me, not in the gentle and reassuring way that a later nurse prepared me for the doctor to give me a sigmoidoscopy, but so roughly and with so much anger that it was like rape. This is the source of a kind of pornography that male sex workers understand. It was not out of hatred of me, but of the task.

I never acted on this, fantasized about it, or even remembered it, but it was not a secret. My mother, when I told her about it, mocked me and even when she was dying teased me by asking if I would like her to leave me her enema kit in her will. She had no awareness of the bulb-based nozzles that are available now.

When as a small child I complained about the pain of hard stools, my mother the stoic advised me it was not half so painful as giving birth. The red enema bag, constipation and fertility combined in my child-thought to make me vow never to become pregnant. This was reinforced by my mother’s moral obsession with me when older not getting pregnant. I have observed this vow. I didn’t even date. Ever. No sex with anyone who didn’t have a vasectomy and an income and not until after 21.

My mother and I were locked in what one brother called the battle of the dinosaurs: her determined to get inside me and control what happened there because it was HERS and me equally determined to block and evade her. Once things got so heated that I said I would run away. She said, “How could you make a living on the streets? You wouldn’t even know what to do!”

“I’d soon find someone who was willing to teach me!” She blanched. Until then I hadn’t know how true that was. Suddenly it was real.

When she was old — and this particular time when I almost slapped her — she was not hiding pregnancy but rather her cancer. It was a blood cancer so she didn’t bulge — just got weaker. But she was so secretive that she’d gone for a blood transfusion, on the way home encountered a car wreck that blocked the road, and simply parked, waited for the hour or so it took to clear the way. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going. A cop offered her use of his cell phone but she refused it. She was barely willing to explain when she got home.

By then I was a wreck from realizing she was missing and her whereabouts were unknown. I had called everyone, driven the streets in case there had been a car wreck. I was determined to get it out of her why she wouldn’t accept help. Death was her secret lover and I wanted to grab that.

It was not many weeks until her doctor called me at work to ask me to intervene because he could not convince my mother that she had cancer and that the end was near. I had never talked to him before, never been included in discussions about it. I did my best. Fell short.

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.