I don’t mean “four-letter” dirty words. I mean words that dig you, poke and prod you, words that sit with you like a splinter under your skin, that make you do things you don’t want to do, that irk you like an itch you just can’t….quite…scratch.
My word is “responsible”. I was christened with that word at 4 years of age (maybe before, but I don’t remember) when my first brother was born. It was reinforced twice more when 2 more siblings followed: a sister when I was 6 and another brother when I was 8. My parents were the traditional 1950s couple when I was little. My father worked and my mother stayed home and took care of us. And I helped, as the little girl in the Shake & Bake commercial was so fond of saying.
“You’re responsible,” they said. YOU have to be good. YOU have to set the example, do well in school, don’t talk back, don’t make a fuss. No, you can’t have that, go there, do that, because there’s 3 more of you kids and YOU’RE the responsible one. So, I was. I was “good”. I always remembered that there were others who needed more, wanted more, and maybe deserved more than me, so I learned not only not to ask for what I wanted, I learned not to WANT what I wanted. I did what was expected, and thought that WAS what I wanted. I was responsible.
When I first started kindergarten, my family lived out in a rather barren area on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. I know it was very close to the airport because when the planes flew over to land, it seemed to me that their shadows blotted out the entire back yard. I know my mother had to put down the telephone if she was talking until the plane flew over. It was that loud.
I rode the bus to kindergarten, which I caught at the top of our dead-end street. I remember there being vast prairie all around and this street with maybe 10 houses on it just sort of stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Our back fence was barbed wire and there were cows on the other side.
The first day I went to school, my mother sent me out the door and told me to follow all the other kids and get on the bus and get off where they did. Nowadays everyone makes such a huge deal of taking their kids to school, videoing the event, pictures for posterity, and I just got told good bye and the bus stop is up the street. I don’t blame my mother–after all, she had a barely 2 year old and a baby either on the way or in the crib, and it was maybe only 4 houses up the street.
So, I followed the kids, and got on the bus and went to school, dutiful child that I was. Only trouble was, I had never ridden a bus before, and I never paid attention to the orientation of our street when riding in the car, and I had obviously never come home from that school before, so when school got out and I got on the bus to come home, I didn’t know where to get off. I just kept riding the bus. I remember it was raining, and at some point, the bus pulled over and there was my mother, in the car, with the wipers flailing, having to come rescue me from the bus. After that, I learned when to get off the bus.
Even though there were only a few houses between ours and the bus stop, there was one that I didn’t like. This house had bigger kids and a big dog that liked to chase people. I never liked walking past that house because the older kids loved nothing better than to “accidentally” let the dog out to chase me. It wasn’t a mean dog, but that doesn’t matter to a little kid when the dog’s teeth are eye level to you. One morning, the kids let the dog out when they were leaving to get on the bus. I had told my mother and she just told me to not run, but just to walk quietly and the dog would leave me alone. I tried to do this but I can still remember the fear that coursed through my entire body. It must have been pretty obvious because those kids laughed their heads off.
Worse, when I got to the school, as I was walking around the bus, I tripped over one of those cement dividers between parking spaces and did a nice header onto the asphalt parking lot. I was such a graceful kid. Oh, that was great for a ton of laughs. I picked myself up and went into the kindergarden class, knees bleeding and dress all messed up. I remember the look of kindness and sympathy on the teacher’s face. Even though she didn’t leave the class room with me, she told me to go wash up in the rest room. It was empty because class had started and as I sat in the stall washing off my stinging knees, I wanted nothing more than to call my mother and have her take me home. My knees and hands hurt from falling but worse, my heart hurt from having all those kids laugh at me. But I knew I couldn’t even ask to call her because she was taking care of my brother and sister and didn’t have time to come and get me. I had to be “responsible”. And so I was.
This was my mantra growing up and well into my adult life. Now, I have nothing agains personal responsibility, and I do believe we all ultimately make our choices in life, but I am frankly tired of the word “responsible”.
Recently, I had a “bust-up” with my siblings and I was informed that I guess I’m “responsible” for my sisters perceived “failings” in her life because I’m too “intimidating”. I have no idea what that means. My own perception is that because we are 6 years apart, we weren’t that close growing up. I was in college before she started high school. I was married to my abusive first husband while she was running around doing whatever it was she did during those times. See, I don’t even remember, I was too busy trying to avoid emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a maniac, so I don’t see how that bad choice could have intimitated anyone. I completely screwed up my life for a long time, yet she thinks I sat in judgment of her, apparently. Trust me, she and my brothers were the LAST things I thought of, except when my Ex would threaten them or my parents, I would do whatever it was he wanted so he would “behave”. Because I was “responsible” and I didn’t want anything to happen to the people I loved.
In fact, I had a baby because he threatened to skip bail and put my parents’ house in jeopardy if I didn’t shut up and get pregnant. I sure didn’t want that to happen, and since I knew they never wanted me to marry him in the first place (and they were right), I couldn’t just go to them and tell them this (in my mind), I had to be “responsible” and keep my end of the bargain. So, baby it was.
I hate that word.