My Life

Dispatches from the Wasteland: A Sordid Lie about Deadly Cacti


Background: This is part of a chapter from my first book, a true tale of a crazed vacation in Paris. We are all sitting on the expansive back patio of our hotel, having a few drinks and reminiscing. For some reason that now escapes me, I gave all my family members and friends a French pseudonym in that book, so you might not recognize the characters. It’s really not imperative that you know who is who. It’s the story that is important. It’s always the story. Enjoy.


Now, as we all know, a little bit of alcohol doesn’t just loosen lips, it loosens memories. And Maman loves to have her memories loosened. I don’t mean to imply that she’s a big drinker, by any means. She rarely drinks. And when she does, she usually has one red beer, maybe two. But it’s just enough to get her launched on one of her favorite memory-loosened activities: telling stories about her children (me, Daisi, and Reina are the offspring currently present), children that she loves dearly despite the fact that we could be absolute heathens at times.

  And when she starts into these stories, the three of us cringe. Who knows what embarrassing thing Maman is going to drag out now. (Okay, Reina doesn’t cringe as much anymore. I’m sure her attitude is “Look people, I’ve had a massive stroke. I have to be carried to the bathroom. Do you REALLY think that I’m going to be bothered by Maman telling you about the time I stole her company car and went joy-riding with my friends? No shame in my game. I’m good.”)

  But Daisi and I still tremble, depending on the listening audience. If we’re surrounded by people who have heard these stories a hundred times (Maman’s “shuffle play” feature tends to keep repeating the same songs), we don’t care. But if there are newbies gathered around (like Tatum and Nynette, and to some extent Trace), the shame factor can definitely escalate. Because there’s no telling what will come out of Maman’s mouth.

  So, she starts out with some fairly innocent stories, mostly of the “that is so cute!” variety, and, at first, it’s all well and good, with everybody chuckling here and there. Bit by bit, however, Maman starts edging into the danger zone with stories that are a little cringe-worthy. Still nothing lethal, but warning signs are going off in my head. And then she launches into one of the stories that makes me insane.

  The One with the Cactus.

  Some background: It was about 1972 or 1973, somewhere in there. Maman and Dad had just bought a new house, WAY on the outskirts of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. (We actually had a route and box number as an address, okay? This was seriously out in the country. Gravel roads and people with no teeth, that sort of thing.)

  As would anyone who had just purchased a new home, Dad wanted to pretty the place up with some landscaping. And Dad decided to go the Southwestern route, with lots of cacti and yucca plants. Dad also believed that children qualified as unpaid workers who must toil at manual labor based on the whims of the parents who had brought them into this world.

  Which meant Daisi and I had menial, mind-numbing, repetitive chores to complete out in the front yard, a patch of earth that was essentially a mini dustbowl (ergo, the need for landscaping). This went on for several weekends (an eternity when you’re a youngster) since it takes quite a bit of work to turn blowing dirt into a dewy garden of delight. On this point, everybody involved agrees with the initial setup of that fateful day: Daisi and I were in the yard, supposedly working. After that basic premise, the stories veer in two wildly different directions.

  My Version:

  I’m out in the yard, not really happy about having to work when I could be playing with my G.I. Joe or taking apart my talking Bugs Bunny alarm clock to see how it worked, but still dutifully carrying out my assigned tasks. Daisi is out in the yard, not performing her duties at all. (Daisi got away with everything, put that in your notes. EVERYTHING.) Instead, Daisi was following me around while I did what I was supposed to do. I don’t know why she was following me around, as we were already well into the sibling rivalry thing where we usually couldn’t stand to be on the same continent as each other, let alone the same yard.

  But there she is, tagging along as I do whatever I’m doing. She was probably just bored. She knew we couldn’t go back in the house until we were done with our chores, and there was nothing else to do outside since she hadn’t hooked up with any other hell-raising children in the neighborhood yet. (She would eventually find those little friends, though. Trust me.)

  Anyway, I’m walking out of the garage and around to the front of the house. Daisi is tottering along behind me, whining about how hot it is and telling me to hurry up so we can go back inside. I’m focused on whatever my task was, and admittedly not looking at the ground. (And that’s the ONLY thing that I admit to as being possibly, maybe, my fault.)

  Unbeknownst to me, there’s a shovel lying on the ground, face up. I have no idea who left the shovel there. It wasn’t me. I was not working with a shovel that day. Instinct tells me that DADDY probably threw it there, and he told Daisi to fetch it and take it into the garage where it belongs when it’s not in use. And Daisi ignored him, because since the age of two she has known that she had Daddy wrapped around her finger, and she used this to her advantage whenever possible.

  I don’t have any documented proof of how that damn shovel got where it did, nothing that I can present in the court case that will inevitably have to happen before this bit of family lore can be put to rest. I’m just guessing at how the product placement took place, based on what I know of the family dynamics at that time: Daddy just threw stuff down when he was done with it and ordered his mini-servants to secure the item; Daisi promptly ignored any directives from on high and went about her business of being cute and getting things her way.

  End result, this shovel was not where it should have been, the bastard.

  And as fate would have it, my left foot stomps on the business end of the shovel. This causes the wooden non-business end of the shovel to come flying up. The handle whacks me directly in the forehead. (This was back in the day when wooden handles on shovels were the thickness of baseball bats. I’m surprised that I didn’t go flying across the sky while somebody rounded the bases and slid into home plate.) In my confusion and pain, I take a step backward.

  My fully understandable reaction means I slam into Daisi, who was illegally tailgating me and did not have enough time to adjust her speed. And since she was barreling along with all that pre-adolescent energy that none of us have any more, she bounces off of me and ricochets through the air.

  And she lands right on a cactus in a freshly-designed section of rock garden right behind her.

  Horrific screaming ensues. Parents rush out of the house, harsh words are expressed, and suddenly I am the spawn of Satan. It goes downhill from there.

  Maman and Daisi’s Lie-Filled Version:

  As mentioned, the first part of the tale is the same. The slave labor was out in the yard, doing what they were supposed to be doing. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, and you could still get a gallon of gas for 40 cents. Maman and Dad had lovingly cleared the area of all satanic lawn implements that could possibly cause harm, checked to make sure that our inoculations were up to date, and then retired into the air-conditioned comfort of the family dwelling for a “bit of rest”. (I was still too young to understand that “bit of rest” meant “grab a quick round of hurried nookie before the damn urchins start banging on the door of the master bedroom”.)

  At this point, our narratives begin to differ greatly.

  According to Daisi, that radiant celestial being who fell from the heavens into my parents arms as far as they were concerned, she had been the perfect example of a dedicated Peace Corps worker, tirelessly doing everything she could to transform our mini-dustbowl, third-world bit of property into something very akin to Eden. She had labored for hours to keep the dream alive.

  And she was heartbroken to learn that her questionable brother had shamed the family by doing absolutely nothing to help us win “Lawn of the Month” from the Neighborhood Association. The bitterness of my worthlessness was hard to swallow, but she turned the other cheek and began following me around in an effort to assist me with the chores I had been given, minor little tasks that paled in comparison to the greatness of her own efforts which had brought joy to the entire world in their beauty and completeness.

  So, she’s trotting along behind me as I leave the garage, with bluebirds fluttering around her, chirping a song of praise and weaving flowers in her hair. She has no memory of seeing a shovel, anywhere. At the very least, if the shovel had actually existed, the bluebirds would have pointed it out, stopped her in her dainty tracks, and then whisked the Satan Spade to a land far away, like New Jersey.

  All the sudden (according to them), I turned into a Demon of Madness, snatched up my little budding saint of a sister, and threw her into the cactus with all my might. Then I supposedly stood over her helpless body, repeatedly mashing her further into the cactus to ensure that hundreds of little barbs would pierce her delicate, angelic skin. It was only when her cries of unendurable pain echoed throughout the neighborhood that our parents were alerted to my monstrous actions, and they raced out to pull my wretched body away from the glowing aura that was Daisi.

  End of lie.


  Seriously, that’s how my life was at the time. I couldn’t do a damn thing right. Daisi could toot thunderously in church and everyone would heartily applaud the most adorable example of atmospheric disturbance they had ever seen. In that same church, I could very quietly, barely whispering, ask if I could use the facilities and suddenly find myself banished to the parking lot, sitting in the family car and instructed to think about the many ways in which I had just offended God.

  Side note: A few days after this incident, when our parents were once again not in the vicinity so they couldn’t be called upon to testify in a trial about their offspring’s actions, Daisi took a steak knife out of the cutlery drawer, marched into the front yard, and hacked the landing-pad cactus into bits. Daisi don’t play.

  Flash forward to the present, sitting on the patio at the Paris hotel. Everybody’s reacting to Maman’s version of The Cactus Story, with knee-slapping and hearty guffawing and the general belief that I would actually hurl my sister into the evil sharpness of a succulent.

  Fine. Believe what you want. But you still have to depend on my apparently homicidal ass to ensure that you remain alive in this foreign country where you don’t know what you’re doing. I have the trump card. Even if that card smells like cactus.

  I clear my throat. “Okay, then. Why don’t we head out and find a place to eat?” Translation: Maman, don’t tell another story like that right now or I will bring out stories of my own, little ditties wherein I fully describe the contents of that special drawer in your nightstand. You know, the drawer with the paraphernalia that totally widens the eyes of a 9-year-old just looking for a pencil? Yeah, THAT one.


Originally published in “Screaming in Paris” and subsequently shared in a redesigned format a few years ago here on Bonnywood. Modified a wee bit for this latest re-post. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you CAN buy this book, although only in digital format on the Kindle. (Details and links are in the right sidebar of this blog. It’s always been there, but don’t worry if you never noticed, as most people don’t.)

Having said that, I realize that some of you have read the book and submitted delightful reviews to Amazon, so please don’t be offended by the possibility that I don’t appreciate you. Every single book sale warms my cactus heart, truly.

Continuing our moment of honest bonding, I should also say that almost all of the reviews of said book fall along the lines of “really funny, but DAMN this book is long”. I certainly need to edit it down some day. That day just doesn’t happen to be today. Still, give the link a click, if you feel inspired. I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but a sudden spike in book sales would certainly give me some degree of validation that MY version of The Cactus Story is the true and faithful one…

Story behind the photo: A snap of the daily goat run in Cómpeta, Spain. It’s an accurate depiction of how I felt herding the family through Paris in that book you should buy if you really love me.

No pressure, of course.  😉

Cheers.


26 replies »

  1. I think we all have a Daisi. Mine was a Gary. The sibling who could charm, and lie, and glow, and do no wrong, with or without twittering bluebirds. Got the worst whipping of my life because of him. He eventually became a millionaire while I eventually became a lowly paid graphic designer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was SO annoying how Daisi could skip along in her cute little outfits and be beloved by all. Then again, I was a morose little child who spent too much time alone, reading books and creating alternate universes in my head where siblings and parents did not exist. I suppose it’s no wonder that my parents (well, the particular duo I had at that time) found her refreshing and fun compared to my pale and tragic essence… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I OWN “Screaming” already, along with the Wetness one) and no thanks are necessary for the blatant plug of “Unexpected Wetness”. Which is a really, really good book, as is “Screaming”. Okay, enough sucking up. (whoever wrote that review and included the phrase ‘but too long” is a parsimonious word phobic who probably needs lots of pictures to break up the monotony of an actual story. No guilt assignation intended to them though.)

    I have such a sibling and I’ve been such a sibling as Daisi (cute name). I was my daddy’s girl and youngest sibling was Mama’s boy (not that he acted like a mama’s boy, they fought like two wet cats in a bag when they were together because they were eerily alike in temperament . I digress. The third sibling, the ‘middle child’ was beloved by everyone he ever met, so the sting of not being a ‘favorite child’ SHOULD have been moot. He’s grown into a bitter old man though, so maybe those wounds don’t heal.
    As both my parents are deceased, there’s nothing to be done about it either. And we two “favorites” in the sibling trio were always being handed “middle child” as a perfect angel who went to church regularly, didn’t cuss (too much, my mother removed any second thoughts we might have had about cussing), he went on a Mission and Got Married In The Temple, two Utah Mormon humongously significant events. Why he is bitter I have no idea. He has no cause as I see it, but maybe it’s a cactus scenario.

    The youngest of my siblings and I loathed each other from practically the day they brought him home from the hospital as an infant. Cute photo ops of me (clad in some sort of sleeveless dress affair holding my dear tiny baby brother in an actual tin bath (where they got that is anyone’s guess) . I look less than pleased to be holding him, and you can almost see me calculating what might happen if I drowned the little rat. He has that startled vacant baby look on his face, but his mouth is open. A situation which has endured to this time. He either talks too much and doesn’t know when to shut up, OR if offended, will give a silent treatment to the offender that makes certain monks look quite chatty in comparison. He also went into law enforcement as a career. Our closeness has not improved.

    So throwing your sister into the cactus OR being hit in the head and understandably knocking her in there are both forgivable acts. After all, you might have had opportunity to drowned her. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • You’re perhaps weary of me saying this, but have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy your comments? Every word entertains me. Okay, shoving that aside and moving on.

      I do have to agree that “Screaming” is too long, so I don’t really feel TOO emotionally-wounded when someone says such. I wanted to include every detail, and I got carried away, as every detail is not necessary, especially for folks who were not there. I really do plan to shorten that mess into a truncated version that zips along rather than meanders but, as is well-established, I have focus issues, and it might be 2037 before I get around to it. Assuming that I’m still here.

      Trivia: All of the “French” pseudonyms in “Screaming” were chosen by my best friend Tiffany whilst I was converting the blog posts into book chapters. Interestingly enough, she insisted that her character be named “Tatum”, even thought it is decidedly un-French sounding. But that’s what she wanted, so that’s where I went.

      None of my siblings (and there are many, technically, due to various divorces and marriages) ended up being what I thought they were going to be, including myself. Well, there’s one brother that has consistently proven to be an asshole since Day One, so I guess he wins some kind of continuity award. But I rarely ever speak of him in my stories, which is best.

      There’s a certain photo I’ve used for three or four blog posts over the years, wherein I’m perched in a grassy locale on my maternal grandparent’s farm, with me clutching the wee bairn that was a budding Daisi. I would imagine that the mortified expression on my face is quite similar to the expression of yours in the photo of you reluctantly scouring your younger brother in the tin bath. Perhaps you recall seeing such?

      Finally, I must say that having siblings does teach one a few things, namely that you might be a bright star at a certain point, but there will come a time when something newer and shinier gets more billing than you do. And perhaps I’m going too far, but I think that the sad state of modern society is the result of too many people not understanding that it’s not always about them. Humility is key to proper development, and too many folks these days never got that key…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Since my siblings are all much older than me (the nearest in age is 10 years older) I was raised pretty much as an only child. For me, my siblings were distant, removed, and much-admired. Their lives looked exciting and interesting and I couldn’t wait to have the freedom I thought they had. I had friends with the same problem as yours, though. They were blamed for all kinds of malfeasance that was usually caused by the youngest one. They admired me for my lack of in-house siblings …

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually the first in my string of siblings, a line the ebbed and flowed throughout the various marriages and divorces. So, in one sense, I had an advantage in that I somewhat knew the parental protocols before the rest of the offspring did, and I was therefore more adept at maneuvering the minefields. On the flip side, said advantage was mostly over-ridden by said string of siblings, with each new arrival causing (whatever parents I had at the time) to think “Oh, here’s a new opportunity. Let’s try to do better with this one, shall we? We’ll just write that first one off as a tax deduction…” 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A life time ago we were in Florida. I don’t recall if we were living there at the time or it was a vacation event. Either way, we were at the beach and I decided I wanted to join the teenagers who were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the ocean. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know a single one of them. They were way out there, that was cool, that is where I wanted to be. Unbeknownst to me, my brother was tagging along behind me trying to keep up with big sis. At some point he suddenly turned around and was headed back to the beach wailing. He had managed to step on a sting ray and gotten jabbed in the ankle. It wasn’t pretty. It was also all my fault. If I hadn’t gone out that far, he wouldn’t have gone and it would have never happened. Um..okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I know this sensation well. I was the firstborn, so I somehow became the default guardian of all those that followed, despite the fact that, you know, PARENTS, should be the guardian. So I was constantly held accountable for the young uns misdeeds, despite my desperate rebuttals of “but I’m only ten years old!” Nope, it was all on me, and this probably explains every blog post that I have ever written. Well, most of them, anyway… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep. First born here also. Held to higher standards, provider of summer meals, keeper of safety. Even though I managed to set the woods on fire and tell my youngest brother that the tomato soup and macaroni concoction he loved looked like worms in blood. Now, that one got me in trouble but it was hilarious at the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I simply can’t fathom who you might be talking about, with the lie-truths. But I have a sudden craving for Cheetos. 😉

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. For some reason, my memory is crystal clear about the events and happenstances in the first, oh, thirty or so years of my life, so I can scribble these nostalgia stories day and night. But the second half of my life? It’s mainly a blur, with only critical high-points breaking the surface. It’s sad, really, that blurry gap. I do think the brain gets full at a certain point, and the newer memories don’t always find a place to land in our mental filing cabinets…

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is an excellent point that I can so relate to. The second half of my life is sometimes a blur. I never thought about the brain getting “full” but I totally see that. Memories overload.
        Catch you later.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this was one of the first of your Bonny efforts I stumbled across in the past. Now, the rant; You older kids had it easy, lavished with all the parental love and attention that dissipated upon the arrival of the second sibling. Not enough attention left for poor Number Two, as my parents lovingly called me. Then, nine years later somebody, ahem, makes a mistake. Suddenly Number 3 is afforded all those long fallow ‘goo-goos’ and ‘oohs’ and ‘ah, what a treasure, what a precious wee Prince.’ But am I scarred and twisted? Am I sad? Vengeful? Vindictive? Oh no, not I, I’m not not bitc- bitter. Nope. Not. Me.
    Ah, those carefree and cactus free happy (Daisi) days. Who could forget ’em? Though we’ve all tried.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So, you’re a middlun’, are ya? Things have finally clicked and I now see your posts in a new way… 😉

      I would imagine that most folks were not thrilled with their positioning in the offspring product lineup. There are pros and cons to each assignment level, coupled and confused with our misperceptions concerning those other ranking possibilities. If everyone was happy about their lot in life, the concept of war would be but a thing of the distant past…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I also had a Daisi, or rather a Dan. My brother could do no wrong, and I was always the villain. If I’d had access to a cactus, I’d have turned him into a human pin cushion without hesitation. But obviously I believe your shovel story😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trust, the primal part of my mind would have relished hurling succubus Daisi into the succulent, but I knew better and therefore I didn’t. I can’t really speak to your own situation, but I know that in my own drama the disregard for (my) truth was the result of being raised in a conservative family in a conservative state. Once those folks form an opinion, and they do so quite quickly, it doesn’t matter how much they are presented with irrefutable facts, they will NEVER change their mind. And so it goes…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The best cacti story I’ve ever heard. It is even better than the movie “Rashomon” in which people tell different story concerning a man who’s murdered. Only one thing actually happened but there are different versions of it, according to different people. I tend to believe your version of story. However even if you become whimsical from time to time, I won’t blame you. Childhood tends to be boring for all children, but especially so for children with energy or imagination. If you tried to release some of the pent up steam, it is just natural.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a refreshing comment, as it appears that you fully understand both my past situations and my current inclinations. Some folks develop differently than others, even within the same family, and it’s nice to encounter kindred souls, near and far, who respect that.

      And “Rashomon” is a terrific movie, as I’m sure you know. Even decades later it still rings as a true reflection of how a single incident can be interpreted in an astonishingly-varying rainbow of perception, with the various colors shaded by individual biases and preconceptions…

      Like

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