Beginning in Blood
Squee! The first sound I remember. Pigs, as I slay them—or rather, watched and learned.
Left at the doorstep of a slaughterhouse, my teenage host birthed me amongst the tree frogs and slugs before disappearing across the low country fog, more nimbly than a ground lemur. I was never to know or see her again, but clearly, she had instincts about where I belonged.
Despite the electricity of locusts chatter that dawn, a hard-working man named Vernon heard my cries and took me in.
Years later, Darlene, the local malt shop marm who hadn’t the good sense to hide from me what Vernon had tried to keep secret, revealed that the teen who’d left me for gator bait was a high school dropout and was known to frequent the prison on the edge of town for “conjugal visits”. Except, he and my teenage host were never married. She didn’t say who the prisoner was, and I never asked, anyone—but Darlene did tell me he was up for murder one, and in her words, that he was “bat shit crazy”.
Vernon figured teaching his newborn son the only way of life he’d known was better for me than the alternative . . . being left alone to be raised by his wife, Polly. She’d avoided looking me in the eyes at all costs. The few glimpses I’d stolen revealed a lifeless, angry soul. Likely scorched by excessive whiskey and cigarettes, her womb was dry, and I got to hear about it during her drunken rants for years to come.
Child labor is an ugly designation. I’d heard of camps of kids in other countries working without education, fresh water, or enough to eat. I’d seen them in documentaries with ribs as their most prominent body features. That wasn’t me, but tell any red-blooded American about my mornings, after school hours, and summers, and you may as well have called Child Protective Services.
Up to my little thighs, later my knees, and eventually my ankles, in ventrals and blood—this, was my way of life. Rank odors, visual debauchery, grisly screams, and the handling of bowels were later to become my drive. All are assaults to normal senses. My senses have never been "normal". I knew I didn’t want Vernon’s life, but the buffet of sensory indulgence taught me much about who I am today.
Looking back on those days, if I could feel, it would be feelings of gratitude and love. Yes, the slaughterhouse would’ve been my first girlfriend.
My only other attempt at one was with a cutter named Vicky. Gossip had it, her much older parents gave up on becoming pregnant years prior. She’d been born a miracle child. Their simultaneous passing was a mystery—a mystery because no one in town talked about it. She had been the only witness to what had actually happened. After that, Vicky moved to our small South Carolina town, and lived with her only other relatives—an uncle by blood, and his wife.
She was thirteen at the end of that school year and I seventeen, when we locked glances in the lunchroom. The space between us sucked into a vacuum—I still can’t recall the physical steps between eyes meeting eyes and standing too close. Awkwardly making our teenage attempt at conversation, we mostly looked down and shuffled our feet. I do remember from that first exchange, that she made me aware of her weekly visit to the town psychologist. I was pretty sure she was testing to see if I’d shun her, but instead I found her intriguing. She became even darker and cooler in my mind.
Those late summer afternoons—when I got off early from the slaughterhouse, we’d slip away to the local bakery and order Puff Pastry Cream Horns. She loved the sound of the cream squirting into their tunnels; queak, queak, queak—until the flaky shell was full. I hated the taste of them, but it made her giggle, and I got to see her braces when she laughed, so I’d order one too. I studied the saliva traveling in slow motion down the rubber bands in her mouth and wondered what other fluids inside her might be as lovely. After logging enough hours together, she gave me the chance to find out.
I promised if she’d let me watch, I wouldn’t tell a soul. She agreed, swearing me to secrecy. Said it was sacred—made her feel alive . . . feel, something. And don’t worry because she’d learned how deep and where she could cut so it wouldn’t kill her. That explained her wardrobe of long shorts and shirts sleeves down to her elbows. I was attracted to what would come out when she opened her skin with a blade—not the act itself.
Our teen tryst was over when I became uncontrollably turned on by an oozing cut she allowed me to witness, for the third time. Could she not see the hard-on in my jeans? I suppose sex wasn’t the reason she sliced at her arms and inner thighs. Probably better it ended. I would soon be an adult with a minor in the world’s eyes.
Though I’d saved every dime, I realized the pittance I was paid at the slaughterhouse would never add up to the cost of a college education. A scholarship was to be my only solution. I had no desire or time for sports, and fitting in with the jocks would’ve presented a definite challenge. So instead, I took every possible advanced class, as well as studying beyond the scope of what our small-town school had to offer. A bonus was that it kept me out of Polly’s sight.
She’d reminded me repetitively that I was lucky to be there, and that she would’ve kicked me out if not for the memory of Vernon, who hadn’t lived long enough to see me escape his hell hole. I was not only accepted into top schools, but also sought after, and at no expense to me. Thanks to Vernon’s insistence that I work alongside him, I’d absorbed excellent Biology lessons along the way.
My humble yet gruesome roots, by most measures, provided both a hiding place and a launching pad. Since leaving the small South Carolina town, one might say I’ve “recreated” myself.
I’ve gotten rid of the glasses hiding my gunmetal blue eyes, through the miracle of corrective eye surgery. My dark-wavy hair has been cut into a clean style, and the uniform of baggy t-shirts have long since been replaced by a wardrobe that doesn’t conceal my six-foot-three chiseled physique . . . earned by physical labor, and not the gym. I’ve even taken up sports of the individual variety, mostly mountain biking and rock climbing.
I needn’t have grown up playing with “Johnny or Sue”. What they may have discovered could’ve left an indelible mark on their soft fortitudes. I required, and still require, anonymity—but to be sure those days are dead and buried, I’ve changed my name.