“Son of a bitch! Come here you son of a bitch!”
“What did you say, Lorraine ?” my mother calmly asked, leaning out the kitchen window.
“Come here you son of a bitch,” I repeated, retrieving my ball from the gutter.
“Where did you learn those words, Sweetheart ?” my mother asked.
“At school today,” I said smiling up into her serene face.
I was 6 years old and this was the end of my first week of nursery school ,which is the academic equivalent of elementary school in the United States. Maybe that was the beginning of my slide into the abyss of literary depravity because here it is, some 50 years later, and y’all…I cuss!!! I’m neither proud nor ashamed of it. I choose to cuss. In fact, there are certain cuss words I find positively delicious! Maybe it’s a product of my very proper colonial upbringing where the word ‘damn’ was cause for raised eyebrows…… I don’t know, but I swear I do love a good cuss word.
As long as I live I will never forget the first time I heard my mother curse. We were new arrivals to the United States, fresh off the boat as it were – or in our case – fresh down the Pan Am stairs. Leaving behind our balmy windward island life my mum and I journeyed alone into the land of Milk and Honey. Fully expecting the streets to be paved in gold, and Cadbury chocolates hanging from trees, my first shocker came as the gypsy taxi pulled up to our apartment. At the time, the best my Mom could afford was a dark one bedroom apartment in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Brownsville, 1970 was a straight up ghetto. It was a rude awakening to urban poverty in the big city :fraught with danger known and mostly unknown to me. I had very strict rules of engagement with the neighborhood children as well as the neighborhood at large. We lived in a building on Sheffield Ave, owned by a fellow Trinidadian woman who, as it turned out, was a chain smoking slumlord of extraordinary magnitude. Having arrived in the summer, my new world was a glorious one. Peering out from behind heavy curtains meant to block out the aluminum gated bars,this strange and wondrous new world beckoned to me nonetheless. The overhead roar of the New Lots subway underscored by the twinkle of a Mr. Softie ice cream truck quickly replacing the call of “fresh fish” and the delivery bell of the ice truck. The days were hot and the nights even hotter as neighborhood kids ran through the open hydrants, their parents plaiting hair and drinking beer on cool concrete stoops. It was magic. The sights and smells so foreign and so exotic, I just couldn’t believe my great fortune at having landed in such a wonderful new world.
Then winter came: cold and wet, bringing icy pelting rain they called sleet. The first whisper of snow, flurries falling in the alleyway, covering the cans, blanketing cars, and stoops and open piles of garbage. White batting, quieting the air and brightening the sun whilst my mind pondered the mystery of “sunny cold days”. It was cold outside and it was colder inside. The landlady who lived upstairs controlled the heat to the building, doling it out in meager, miserly increments. As heat rises, I suspect her apartment was quite warm. But our street level, curbside flat was a meat locker, especially at night. It was on one such frigid night as I lay in the bed my Mom and I shared, shivering with fever and ague, that I came to see my mother in a brand new light. Having lit the oven in an attempt to warm her sick child, I lay in bed fully clothed in socks and gloves under blankets when my mother, out of desperation, retrieved our winter coats to pile on top of me, her face strained with worry and what I now know was rage.
One moment she was ministering to me and the next moment, something was standing outside our door at the foot of the wooden stairs which led to the landlady’s apartment and this she-devil vaguely resembling my mum opened its mouth. Out flowed a barrage of expletives riddled at that woman upstairs, the likes of which I had never seen or heard from anyone, much less the lovely lady that was my mother. She called that woman every “B” “F” and “C” name in the book. (The “c” word was “cow”.) My mother verbally bitch slapped that chain smokin’ heifer across the Brooklyn bridge and back, calling her everything but a child of God. She literally used words I had never heard before. I remember leaning out of the bed slack jawed and bugeyed watching the blazing beauty that was my mum set the night on fire with her tongue. She was a fearsome bitch on wheels….let me tell you. By the time my mama was done, we had some damn heat and that bitch stayed on all night long. I lay down in that bed so excited by the night’s events, I was literally cured. Fever was gone!!!!!! Oh how I loved my mother in that moment. That’s how I learned that my mother actually knew curse words. I never heard her curse ever again after that – certainly not until I was an adult myself, and then it was back to her lovely lady-like “damn its”.
I am not my mother. I cuss. When my daughter was younger, I tried very hard not to use explicatives in front of her, but somewhere in the last few years, as life got harder and the proverbial shit hit the fan, I gave up that ghost. Desperate times, desperate measures etc. I finally said to my daughter, “Look, your Mama cusses. OK?!?!. That’s just how it is. I’m not gonna pretend I don’t. But here’s the deal my love. I know you know all the curse words or….. at least the ones that mama uses. Hell, it’s impossible to grow up around actors and artists, on location, on sets, traveling around the world without hearing these words. But, my darling, you are not allowed to use those words. Why? Because those words …..those very colorful words, have to be earned. You haven’t lived enough life to have earned the use of those words. Until then, you may not use them.”
Does my use of the word shit or the occasional dropping of the F-bomb create a cussing child? Who knows? But so far, my daughter remains a very respectful, authentic child who still plays with dolls in a tree house. She has a very good handle on her inner emotional world and feels safe and free to express it in words. She is clear about her boundaries and mine and the ones which govern our life together. I do not hide from my daughter. Our children see us as clearly as we see them. They learn from who we are as much as what we do. To pretend with my child, to hide from my child is to teach my child how to hide from herself and from others. Hiding breeds shame and also opens the door to shadow living and shadow behavior. I live in the light which, in turn, invites my daughter to live in her light. But as I said before, freedom is anything but free. Mine comes at a premium…..
There are times when I have just offered my daughter a blank check for the next two weeks. So far I owe her a hell of a lot more than I have paid her. But, I’ll make that up when I pay for her college education.
This may not be everyone’s idea of Lovely. I am certain of that.
But what the hell?!?!……… It’s ours.