To be a Real Man
I stood in the doorway looking at the girl. She was sitting there with her favorite book, carefully looking at the pages with such intense concentration. I hated to interrupt, but the time had come for me to prove I am a real man. Not that she would like it. No, she never liked it, but I couldn’t think about that. My manhood had been challenged and doing this would prove I was strong, powerful, able to handle it. Still, she was so cute and innocent with her sunshine blond slightly curly hair and ocean blue eyes. Her complexion was pure and unblemished. I knew I had to go through with it, but why did she have to make it so hard.
I remembered when I first saw her picture and decided to make her mine. It took a lot of planning and getting advice from some friends in my special group. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it when I finally managed to get her restrained in my car, which was harder than I thought, then brought her to my home. Home was a nice isolated place surrounded by tall trees competing to reach the sunlight. She cried the whole way there and continued inside. If there were neighbors, they would have heard. It’s good that there weren’t. At least, things had settled down some, and she didn’t cry nearly as much. Maybe she decided staying with me wasn’t so bad. I could brag about having her when I met with my special buddies. After today, I could really brag, and they would finally stop teasing me for being too soft and a coward.
I took a step closer, and thunder boomed reverberating in the whole house. Startled, she looked up and noticed me. She didn’t seem worried and quickly looked back and turned the page. Maybe she was going to be okay with it. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Maybe, I would prove to myself and everybody else that it’s no big deal. I took a step closer. Maybe not. Something must have clicked in that brain of hers, making her realize what I was planning because she dropped her book and scrambled away like a chicken that saw a fox. I took a deep breath and coughed. Whoa, that was a mistake. This was not the time to suck in the air. Besides, I had to get that girl!
I didn’t move too fast at first. It wasn’t like she could go far. The house wasn’t big, maybe just about 2000 square feet, with good locks that kept her from going outside. I was hoping she’d realize that and just give up. Then, I guess I was expecting too much. I’d think by now she’d know there’s no point in running. Why, why, why, not just stop and get it over with?
“Come back here little lady,” I called trying to sound like a cowboy. No, I didn’t really expect it to work.
She stopped running just a little down the hall, but when she saw me, she took off again. I knew I was gonna have to run. Going faster than a quick walk was a little awkward to me. It made me feel like I was going to trip over my own feet. Apparently, I should try to get in better shape, especially if I’m going to be doing this often. Surely once is enough. I just have to show that I can do it.
It was like being twelve all over again. There was a mean old man called Mr. Becker, who just wanted to be left alone. They say he used to be a sailor in the military. Now he just barked and growled like a wolverine at anybody who came into his yard or got near his flower bed. So, of course, the flowers became a favorite dare among kids. All throughout summer, all my friends had gotten a flower from the garden, but not me.
“I don’t want to mess up his garden. He really likes it,” I said and of course, they all laughed and said I was just chicken, worse than a chicken. I was a nobody and I couldn’t do anything.
Drastic times called for drastic measures. My honor was at stake, and I needed to somehow get right in the eyes of my friends. So, while my so-called friends stood at the fence, I snuck into enemy territory. My goal, pick a flower from Mr. Becker’s garden and get out alive. Then I could finally feel like I could do anything, and my peers would agree. It was the hottest part of the day and surely Mr. Becker would be taking a nap. I’d be in and out before he knew it, and I wouldn’t take one of his nicest flowers, so maybe he’d never even notice. No sooner did I reach my hand towards a half dead, obviously on its way out brownish, yellowish flower when the door slammed open like a gun shot, and I fell back like it had shot me and landed in a pile of manure. He starts yelling at me and using so many unfamiliar words I’d have to be bilingual to understand, but momma never taught me that language. I slipped in the stinky stuff and had to slide a bit before getting up and getting out of there with an old man waving his walker at me. Of course, my friends laughed as I ran. I failed. Well, not this time.
It seemed this house was too big. I just couldn’t find a place to corner her. Sometimes she’d stop, but every time I got close she’d scream a banshee song and take off again. At this rate, I’d be too worn out to do anything if I ever caught her.
“Look darling, it’s going to be okay. We’ll both feel better once it’s over.”
I don’t know why I thought I could reason with her. She’d never listen. No matter how many times this has happened to her, she still thinks it beyond endurance. I hope once this is over, I will have proven that I can handle this girl, and then they would look at me with new-found respect. My friends who had laughed at me would nod appreciatively, and the ones who did this regularly wouldn’t be able to brag over me.
When I came around the corner, I couldn’t see her. There weren’t many places she could hide, so unless she’d found a way to turn herself invisible, which I know she’d love to do, it shouldn’t be hard to find her. I looked behind chairs, under tables, behind doors, and in several places which, if I were thinking clearly, I would have realized were too small. It seemed like I’d been doing this for hours, but since supper wasn’t ready yet, it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. How far can a minute stretch?
Then the girl got careless. I heard a slight shuffling from the closest. I didn’t think she’d be able to get in that little area, but I guess she got desperate. I walked carefully, like a cat preparing to pounce on corned prey. If I did this right, if I didn’t blow it, I would have her, and maybe she was too tired to fight anymore.
Back when I was twelve, my momma and all the other scheming mommas sent us to church camp. Every day for two weeks they got us in the big room for a meal, but first told us how important it was to accept Jesus as our Savior. It was the way to heaven and the most important decision not just for my life, but for my eternal life. But at that time, it just couldn’t compete with a frog that had made its way into the kitchen near the dining area. We weren’t sure how it got in. I suspected a few of my buddies of bringing it in. However, it was possible it accidentally hopped in while the door was propped open.
We could hear it croaking its amens to just about everything the counselor said. Only we were listening more to the frog than to her. It was amazing how well that rib bit sound echoed through the dining area from the kitchen. The adults were trying to ignore it and down play it. They didn’t want us thinking about frogs during the before meal lesson.
“We’ll get it out later,” Mrs. Tibbit said and smiled sweetly. “I bet it really wants to get out and join its friends. Maybe it’s calling to them now.”
She tried to get back to the lesson. It was about a donkey that could see angels and argue with its rider.
“I bet you can’t catch that frog,” one of those friends quietly said to me.
“I can catch anything,” I said.
He looked at me with an expression that clearly said, “Prove it.” I tried to ignore it, but a few minutes later, when his expression starting turning into a smirk of disbelief, I knew I had to take action.
I snuck under the table and into the kitchen area. There wasn’t anybody in there since they were all out respectfully bowing their heads for prayer. I heard the croak and figured it was in the sink. But then it sounded like it was in the cabinet. The croaks echoed around the kitchen, teasing me in a bad way. But I just had to walk out with the frog. Surely, a slimy little frog couldn’t beat me. I heard a scooting sound under the sink and lunged. I banged my head on the sink pipe, and the frantic frog dived over my back and in the soup, before bouncing on the sandwiches and doing a death defying leap into the room of kids. I came out after it, covered with splattered soup and was stopped by Mrs. Tibbit. Instead of rewarding me for trying to stop the thing that had been heckling her sermon, I was made to miss art time. For all that I still didn’t get to prove I could catch a frog. It hoped out the on its own. I’d better do it right this time. She’d been living in my house long enough to know who was boss.
When I opened the door, I realized I was a lot more tired than she was. She bolted and I almost grabbed her before falling with way too hard of a thud. My left knee throbbed, and I could feel it all the way in my teeth. I was getting angry and was tempted to give up, but there was way too much at stake. I wouldn’t be able to handle the ridicule and teasing again. No, I had to win this thing. It hurt to stand up, and I desperately tried to work out a better plan. I could call for help, but no, others could do this without help, so I could too.
I had to rest a few minutes. I hoped if I waited long enough she’d think she had won. Problem was, I didn’t think I could or should wait that long. It would be better for everybody if it were over. Pausing, I tried to picture how happy and proud I’d be when it was done. I could strut down the hall, sing a little victory song, and maybe next time she’d cooperate better.
Maybe she was just scared. I remember the scariest moment of my life. It was the time I really thought it was all over for me. I figured I’d never get a thirteenth birthday party or get to enjoy any more fun, ever. That time wasn’t when I went to get the flower from Mr. Becker’s garden, but it was slightly after that.
After making it back to my friends, I did something that to this day I wished I hadn’t done. I turned to look back. Every time I revisit that memory I just want to tell myself, don’t look back. Don’t do it. Run away while you can! But of course, I always remember that I did look back. Mr. Becker was coming after me as fast as his walker would roll across the narrow trail through the almost never mowed grass. Our eyes briefly meet then he gasped, his eyes filled with pain, making his face look more monstrous and contorted than ever. It was like he was morphing into a demon. Then he grabbed his chest and fell, his hand sliding down the walker until it landed in the dirt beside his still form.
The other boys saw it all too and we all stood there with open mouths, so wide and so long I’m surprised birds didn’t come nesting inside.
Finally, the oldest boy, he was a whole fourteen-years-old, spoke. “You killed him. You really killed him and now you’re gonna have to spend the rest of your life in jail and maybe even be executed in the chair.
I pleaded, “No, you can’t tell.”
“I won’t, but they’ll figure it out when they see all those foot prints you left behind. They can match it to your shoes.”
Sure enough, there was a trail of my prints that went right to his body. I had to erase them. My life depended on it. Without a word, I broke off a branch and went to messing up the dirt just like I’d seen some fellow do on TV. The closer I got to Mr. Becker, the more scared I got. Would his unseeing eyes be open and seem to follow me everywhere? Was he talking to God right now telling Him all the reasons I shouldn’t be allowed in heaven? Would he already be attracting flies in this summer heat?
Then he sat up so fast I was the one who almost had a heart attack, and he grabbed me before I could think to run. I heard all my friends yell and felt the vibrations of their feet as they rumbled away. He chuckled sinisterly.
“I got you didn’t I,” he said, and I had to spend the rest of the day putting manure around his flowers.
The memory gave me an idea. She was back in the first room, where all this had started. There was another door on the other side which would make this round and round running game continue a lot longer unless I was really smart. I took a step towards her, but before she could run, I grasped my heart and fell. I forgot about my already injured knee, and it took all my strength to hold my heart instead of grabbing my knee. At least, my grimace of pain looked real and stayed on my face as I went still. Barely, I peeked out, hoping my eyes looked peacefully closed.
I held my breath as she got closer, closer, closer. Lightning flashed, lighting up the darkening sky and thunder echoed around us. She hesitated right next to me, and I sprang forward just as lightning struck again. She screamed, but I grabbed her around her waist, and then the real fight began. She kicked and squirmed and cried needles in my head.
“No! No! No!” she bawled over and over.
But I was going to do it. I carried her to the room and tried to hold her down while taking off her pants. Then, well, okay, I’d like to say I did it, but I just wasn’t prepared. Maybe it was because I was too tired, or maybe it was because it was just so much more than I was expecting.
The diaper was just so dirty and her squirming was threatening to release it all over the place. Besides her running around had squashed it into various really bad art works. This was more than any man could take. I didn’t know what to do. It was fixing to be all over the place. In her thrashing, she almost put her hand in it. I felt like I was fixing to lose it.
Like a super hero coming when all hope seemed lost, my wife appeared in the doorway, holding a wooden spoon, watching me as I almost threw up. Our daughter was still fussing and complaining like I was trying to take away all her freedom and her most valuable possessions. This was just too much of a disaster. I gritted my teeth, and then I gave in.
“Help me, honey, you’re my only hope.”
My wife sighed, and gave me the spoon, she took over like the expert that she was. I sat on the bed in shame and put the spoon in my mouth. Whatever she was cooking sure tasted good. The newly cleaned two-year-old was released and hurried after her triumphant mother. My head hung in shame, I followed.
“Next time,” I said carefully. “Next time I’ll do this, and you’ll know that your daddy is a real man.”
She looked at me. She didn’t seem worried.
Determined to prove I wasn’t totally unjustified in failure I said, “Come on honey, we just adopted her like what, four months ago. It took longer than that for me to learn to put the toilet seat down.”
After her eyebrows rose she said, “Let’s just hurry and get her feed and to bed. We don’t want her too cranky in church tomorrow.”
That reminded me I’d again be facing the guys as a failure. I tried one more time. “Do you think we can tell them I did most of the work? Maybe some of it? I did get the diaper open.”
My wife just gave me one of those looks.