by: R.E Hengsterman
A road to “manhood” lies littered with lessons learned the hard way…
My head rocks, cockeyed and hard. Thud, thud, and thud again. Before I can escape, I am twisting violent off the floor. There are bursts of electric fear as my insides punch outwards. The world tears in every direction. I extend one hand to find something solid. And the other I press to my chest. It is only seconds from exploding. The moment fractures.
Then it stops. And forever I drift. My lungs burn, but before I can force myself to breathe numbness reaches my fingertips, and a warmth fills my face. Then I wet myself and fall deeper and deeper into the endless pool of emptiness. But I don’t surrender.
I throw my arms and legs outward, reaching for the voices that boomerang between my ears. Pots and pans bang, and I force my head towards the noise, but my neck is loose and floppy. That’s when the support of multiple hands stiffen me upright. But they hold me as if I am a broken. And this only grows the fear inside me.
I try again to make it right, but I can’t.
So it’s made right for me with icy water. I am soaked, my cotton footed jammies soggy to the feet. I gasp and force my eyes open. In front of me, I see the pale, waxy face of my mother. Her lips are moving, but her words are distant and foreign. She is odd, and I struggle to recognize her.
I close my eyes to force the chaos out. And this makes everything worse. The tension in my mother’s grip tightens, as my body shakes back and forth. There is fear in her voice as she calls my name again and again. It’s too much. So I force my eyes back open, and the noise around me slips back into silence. And the tension in her grip releases.
There is the familiar taste of blood from the large split in my lip and it means I’m alive. And I am grateful. I look at the sink where I am perched and watch my feet dangle.
I raise my head and find my mother again. Her eyes are heavy with concern. And I watch as she extends her arms and then drives her hands together with a thunderous clap just inches from my face. My ears violent with truth. The empty spaces around me fills. A few seconds tick until the void closes and the room snaps into focus. I am back.
“What happened?” I ask. My words are slow and careful. Clotted blood clings to my upper lip.
“You ducked,” my mother said. “And you embarrassed your father!”
“Yes, baby. It was time for punishment, and you ducked. Take your punishment. You’re a man now.”
“A man,” I echo.
My mother brushes the loose hair from my face and dabs my bleeding lip with her tissue. She drops the tissue and holds my face tight, drawing me close as if to kiss my lips. Her stare is long and apologetic. Then she releases her hands, and slumps in defeat, her arms dangling by her side.
“You scared me,” she whispers. “Please don’t duck next time.”
“Now go upstairs and get yourself ready for bed.”
I slide myself from the counter, and tramp upstairs, every step leaving a squish and puddle.
Twenty minutes later that I hear footsteps on the stairs, heavy with consequence. I throw back my covers and lay still, making body rigid as steel.
And in the darkness, I whisper. “I am ready now momma. Gonna take my punishment. I am a man.”
R.E Hengsterman is a writer and film photographer who deconstructs the human experience through photographic images and words. He currently lives and writes in North Carolina. You can see more of his work at REHengsterman.com and find him on Twitter at @rehengsterman.