Feasting on a Banquet of Bull
In my family, we tease because we love.
Taunting, tall tales, creating fantastical stories to be snickered about for years to come.
“Remember the time I convinced the two of you that seagulls grew from seeds? How excited you got when you spotted the unplanted field in the rain, the one with the seagulls all on the ground? It was good that we told you the truth before we sent you off to school, huh?”
It’s how we teach our children about the world around them. How to question assumptions, to not blindly believe everything they hear.
“So the Tooth Fairy came, and left her pencils. Jesse’s name in gold at one end. She looked at them, happy but wondering what the name on the other end was. So we told her that Czechoslovakia was her tooth fairy’s name. She believed that until she was 10.”
It helped us hone our skills. To tell fables with a straight face. Not lying, but public speaking. The ability to think on your feet when questioned, to build a fantastical castle from a single strand of an idea.
One afternoon, I was sitting, waiting for the bus. It was hot. I was tired, and all I wanted to do was read my book in peace.
The unpleasant sensation of being watched started raising the hairs on my arms one by one. Before too long, I felt like one of those spiny caterpillars. It’s a pity that some people don’t know that those ones will leave a rash, if you bother them.
Inwardly, I sighed, put down my book, and looked up into someone’s forehead.
The eyes were fixed firmly on my leg.
“Uh..hi? Eyes up here…”
“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just…what happened?”
It’s at this point, I debated inwardly. Do I tell them the whole story? How I got hit by a car, and had Osteomyelitis. Had over 100 surgeries, almost died, ended up in a wheelchair. How I fought my way back from that, working hard to become an upright, walking member of society. How hard it was. How alone I felt. How much pain there was.
His eyes had drifted back downward, oblivious to my internal conversation. It’s not like he’s even listening at this point.
I say it short. Clipped. Like the answer still makes me angry. Like I want to strangle it with my bare hands. I live for these little moments.
Suddenly, I’m interesting.
“Oh my god. Really?”
“Yeah, I was swimming on this beach in Florida. It was late, and I was tired. I should probably have been paying better attention to what was going on, but I was 15 then.”
It’s the attention to detail that sells it. He’s transfixed. I pause, and take a sip of my Diet Coke. Savoring the moment.
“So, I had just caught the wave out, and I’m swimming away from shore, and something touches my foot. I notice, but I figure that it’s just crap in the water. I replay that moment, over and over in my mind. If I’d just paid better attention, maybe things would be different.”
Artfully, I glance away and down, as if to contain my emotion. I sneak a peek at his face to see how far to take this little charade. There’s not a drop of empathy here, just the slack jawed enjoyment of a farm-boy at the freak show. Passively drinking in all I have to give. Well then. No one said that this show was free.
“Suddenly, I smell copper, and I’m bumped so that I’m facing back to shore. The teeth are so sharp, I don’t even feel it at first, until the salt water really gets into the wound. Like my leg was a mouth, and it was chewing on a mouthful of tinfoil. This silvery grey thing zips past me, and I smell copper even stronger. I don’t even bother looking back. I know it’s a shark, and I know it’s bad. I don’t even know how I make it to shore.”
“Oh my god. Really…”
I have him, but time to really bring it home.
“So I’m crawling up the shore, and now I’m in pain. I can feel every grain of sand digging into the raw meat that’s spread out, like a red, oozing butterfly. I’m leaving a trail, and I don’t think I can move anymore. It’s still coming, though. Amazingly, it bellies up on the sand, and just keeps coming for me…”
I pause. His mouth is open, and he looks a little green. Good.
“No, not really. Jesus, you believe everything you hear?”
I know that voice. “Hey, Dad.”
I’m getting to my feet, and my dad takes over. I do love seeing the master at work.
“..what a crock.“
“So what really happened?”
My father goes deathly still, and I can swear that his complexion pales. The sky drifts into an unsettling shade of grey, and he swallows. Hard.
“…It was a dark afternoon, and the thunder started booming at around 3..“
That dude will never take a shower during a thunderstorm again.