This excerpt is taken from the chapter


and talks about how I expressed tears as a child, before they became meaningful as an adult

My first tears were not the rewarding kind. I was only five or six and crying was usually a response to teasing. I was the youngest of six kids and, while my parents were easy on me because I was their last, my brothers and sisters harassed me double time. In truth we all harassed each other, but being the youngest, I received the trickle-down abuse from the older kids. Arlene would have a bad day so she'd lay into Debby for getting into her stuff; Debby would see Dave and mock his new haircut; Dave punches Jack for telling on him three weeks ago; Jack assumes the spirit of Godzilla and decimates Rose's "Midge and Friends" collection; Rose sees me and says I'm a crybaby who wets my pants. That would reduce me immediately to tears, and I would scream incoherent nonsense at her while running away, covering my ears. As I ran into each sibling from Arlene to Rose, I'd catch residual flack because I was the easiest target. Being left without a satisfying release to rage against, I'd find the dog and tell him that I think he's stupid.

It took nothing to start me bawling at that age. In some ways, I enjoyed the release of tears and the freedom to rage, but it was a child's cry, not the cathartic, fulfilling release of an adult. I cried back then for the same reason a dog barks. As a kid, crying and screaming were the only ways I knew to express myself. I didn't have the intellect or the communication skills to say, "You know, you're just calling me those names out of misplaced anger from losing that snowball fight earlier." The primal rage of tears and screaming got the point across much better. It was unproductive but the best I had to offer at the time.

As an example of how easily I cried, all my brothers or sisters had to say to set me off were two simple words: Nancy Doss. Nancy Doss was a cute little blonde girl with a ready smile whom I met at school. After playing on the front steps of her house one day, I made the mistake of telling my family of the nice time we had. "Scottie's got a girlfriend. Scottie's got a girlfriend," they taunted. "Nancy Do-oss, Nancy Do-oss." I felt as if I'd set myself up. "I don't even like her," I lied. "She's not my friend. Shaaaad-uuup," I screamed as they chased me down.

If I'd heard Nancy Doss' name spoken normally, such as in polite dinner conversation, it would have had no affect on me. But make the name bi-syllabic and say it twice, adding a mocking tone, and I would cringe like Quazimodo in the bell tower, tears pouring out of my face as I shrieked back, "Shaaaad-uuup." When riled as I was, it was proper etiquette to mutate shut up into that elongated interpretive version of the phrase. From my lips "shaad-uuup" meant everything from, "Leave me alone, haven't I suffered enough?" to "I don't ever want to hear that again" to "I have no choice but to take this rolling pin from the drawer and punish your shins." Occasionally I was able to wrap all possible meanings into one wretchedly annoying screech. I was taunted with other typical childhood teasing, most notably "Scotty Potty" and "Pot-head." (Ah yes, we were a clever lot.) But for some reason the Nancy Doss teasing cut me the deepest.

I grew out of the Nancy Doss phase by age ten or so, but I'd found new reasons to cry and cut loose into furious rages. Name-calling didn't affect me as much, but I started reacting to the slightest comment or criticism as an attack on my personhood. When Rose and Jack were playing cowboys, using the sawed off wooden barstools in our basement as horses, and they told me I couldn't play, I ranted and yelled like Jesse Helms at a Young Communist's Convention. My screams were more poignant, my tears more personal, my anger more venomous and I was more aware of why I was crying. Yet I understod it even less.

At that age my volitility was almost comical. Less bothered by the Nancy Doss teasing, I was looking for newer and more creative ways of feeling victimized. Once I was home alone with Jack. Although Jack has grown to be one of the most important and influential people in my life, back then we had the typical antagonistic big brother/little brother relationship. That day, as I was preparing a bath, Jack remarked on how much water I used to take one. It was a revelation for him as he went to the kitchen, filled a gallon milk carton with water and dumped it into the plugged bathtub. It hardly covered the bottom of the tub. "Look at this," he said incredulously, "Look how much water you use when you take a bath. I'll bet you use over ten gallons."

"What do you mean me?!" I shrieked with all the emotional stability of a hormonally unbalanced teen-aged girl. I broke down crying, "Why is it always me?! You know you're not so perfect. Why can't you leave me alone? I hate you!"

Looking back, that is the favorite irrational tirade of my life. I think about that moment and laugh. Perhaps other things had gone on and I was already at the emotional boiling point just waiting for something to give. Maybe I was on edge for days, weeks or just the past hour, but all it took was the most harmless observation for me to explode. Jack must have watched in shock, thinking, "Whoa! Perhaps a cup less sugar on the Cap'n Crunch would be a good move."

Scott Burton
P.O. Box 581083
Minneapolis, MN 55458-1083

Copyright © Scott Burton