I believe my earliest memory goes back to when I was 2.5 years old or thereabouts. My sightline is about a foot off the floor; I must be lying on my belly. Feet enter the picture; they are attached to the legs of a person who drops his shorts and sits down on my potty to take a dump. I feel that fist of rage knotting somewhere beneath my diaphragm.
It’s my cousin Skipper. Not skip, mind you, that’s what girls do; but Skipper as in Gilligan and the Skipper. He’s the son of my mother’s older sister, Aunt Susan, who fell on hard times and has come from California to be near kin, and she has left Skipper with us while she goes up to Greenville to get a job as a telephone operator and a place for them both.
Later she went back to California, and that’s one of the reasons, apparently, that we moved to California. The other one was as the my father put it, “I can’t compete with the niggers.” My mother said she wanted to be near her sister in her time of need.
That’s probably bullshit; the two hated each other. But Skipper was dying. About the time he was ten or eleven, he just shot up to a full six feet or better. Then cancer was discovered in his knee; so they cut his leg off above the knee. But the stuff spread, everywhere and into his lungs.
He was just a year or so older than I, so sometimes on a Saturday morning, they would drop me off at my Aunt’s place where I was supposed to play games with Skipper. He smelled funny. That was when to kill the cancer, they aimed a radiation cannon at you and blasted away. He was six feet of skin and bones with a child’s head attached. And on the right side of his chest were concentric circles that got fainter as they moved away from the center which was bright red and from which I had seen a drainage tube hanging.
I don’t know what we played. Board games I guess, probably checkers; and he had to win of course. Not that I let him win; he was pretty good. But I just didn’t give a fuck. Still, he was annoying because he had to shout out, “Mommy, mommy, I won again. I won again.” Like every time he won, which was every time we played. “Mommy, Mommy, I won.” Again and again and again.
When he died, my Aunt just had to have an open casket funeral. So we all had to tromp by and take at look at him all pasty white with rouge on his cheeks. And dead as a doornail.