I was a sickly child. My parents worried I would be a runt. At night I would wake up to find them rolling me over on my stomach and shining a flashlight up my a-hole to see if I had worms. Apparently the worms came out at night. We walked around barefoot all the time and stepped in manure and chicken shit, the kinds of materials that had worms.
I had a part in a Christmas Pageant at the community center. Halloween things were held there, apple bobbing and pin the tale on the donkey, and in the summer picnics. Everybody brought fried chicken and potato salad. Once at a picnic I looked up from a chicken leg to see little Tommy Byrd standing directly over a washtub full of ice tea with his pee-pee out. I was not the only one, but it was too late, as little Tommy let his stream fly.
I don’t remember my part at the Christmas Pageant. I had a costume though, and I liked doing that sort of thing. But this time, I knew I was sick. My ear hurt like hell and I was pretty sure I had a fever. But I didn’t want to upset the apple cart because that would upset my mother. She had made my costume, and I didn’t want to let the other people down either. So I didn’t say a word about my ear or my throat that was getting sore.
After the Pageant, a lady looked at me and said, “My, that boy’s color doesn’t look good.” And then she felt my forehead and said, “This boy is burning up.” I was at 104 when they took my temperature; then it went up to 105, and by the time the local nurse arrived it was up to 106. I don’t know if the local nurse had any nursing training or not, but I expect she did. She lived by herself in a little trailer and was always there to help with a stomach ache or a burn or a cut off finger.
She decided to take direct and vigorous action to break the fever. They were worried about potential brain damage. So she decided to give me an ice water enema. I had never had an enema and didn’t know what that floppy red bag full of water was for or the tube either. But I soon did and was astonished. The adults whispered to me, “Now hold it as long as you can. Hold it.” Because the longer I held it in the more effective it would be. I thought I was going to burst open right there on the spot.
I jumped out of the bed and, covering my nakedness as best I could, I sort of ran and sort of shuffled behind a curtain where the chamber pot was. After that all was darkness.
They said they found me still sitting on the chamber pot and fast asleep. The dump must have taken it all out of me. But the enema broke the fever. I didn’t suffer any major brain damage that I know of; though that night my left ear drum ruptured, but with only the slightest loss of hearing.
Eventually I had to have my tonsils taken out. I was getting strep throat and was infecting myself over and over again in a way that somehow involved my tonsils. We went up to the hospital in Greenville. The doctor said count backwards from ten. I don’t think I got to eight. All was darkness.
I woke up feeling pretty shitty. My mother stuck her head in the door acting all cheery and asked did I want some ice cream—like I would be all overjoyed by that—and did I want chocolate or vanilla. I said, “Go to hell!” My mother denies I said that, but she lives in denial, so who knows. I know for sure it’s what I said in my head. I also knew it was a bad thing to say because the first time I had told them to go to hell, they grabbed me and washed out my mouth was soap.
As Freud says, civilization progresses with a sword in one hand and a bar of soap in another. That’s civilization for you.