I started not sleeping well at night, haunted by an orange light that grew brighter and brighter as it followed me, the burning cherry of a madman out to hurt me. At the age of five, I had no clue what murder was, and barely had an inkling that people died. But, I knew pain, and I did not enjoy it in the slightest. A scraped knee was agony, and a stubbed, bleeding toe was horrible. And yet, I had a feeling that this orange light, this symbol of my terror, this unholy demon of hate wanted to do something more than hurt me, in my psyche.
The Smoking Man swore to the police he didn’t know me, had never seen me before, and wasn’t even watching our house. He’d admitted to a few burglaries in our neighborhood over the last few months, and that he was casing out houses, but kiddie touching wasn’t his thing.
I swore to police that I’d heard this voice before, and it was familiar, and that I was scared. That I could swear that there was rustling in the bushes every night and it just had to be him. I admitted to a fear of the Boogeyman, but he lived in my closet somewhere, not across the street in Mrs. Mara’s azalea.
In the end they turned him loose. Aside from a few cigarette butts in the bushes, and his admission of being a bit of a cat burglar, there was no evidence. I remember watching the steps outside the police station for him to walk out, and when he did, my blood turned cold.
Two things happened that day in July. First, I learned what terror was, and felt gripped by it, completely and wholly. A ringing in my ears echoed through my entire body as though I were a bell my body throbbing and aching as he looked at our house while lighting a cigarette. Nevermind that he didn’t know where I was. That orange flame grew brighter as he stared directly at me.
Second, I learned what a motherfucker, a cocksucker, and dirty fucking prick were anecdotally from eavesdropping on my father talking to the “no good, dirty fucking prick cocksucker motherfucker of a detective” assigned to the case.
Fuck was a word that got me into worlds of trouble. A boy two years older than our pre-kindergarten class walked up to us at recess a few months earlier, while eight of us played Four Square. I’d worked up to Queen, eliminating the always tough to get out Randy. “You guys look cool,” he said. We looked at him shocked. Us? Cool? Cool, dude. “Wanna know a secret?”
I nodded profusely. Anything to look cool, I thought to myself. My friends were apprehensive, but it had already become apparent that I wasn’t all that cool to begin with.
“You guys love your parents, right?” Again, we nodded. “Well, when you go home tonight, if you want to tell them that you really love them, walk up to your mom and say ‘Fuck you, Mommy’, and watch what happens.”
And so, I did. She explained to me that you never, ever, ever use that word ever. And my rear end, that could barely sit down for days understood, too.