I called my younger sister a whore when I was eight. I didn’t know what it meant, but I hissed it into her ear with the right amount of vehemence.
“You’re just a whore.”
I even pushed my finger into her chest before turning on my heel and stomping away.
The word “just” exacerbated the cruelness of the word “whore” because that “just” rendered all of her other five-year-old qualities obsolete. Of course, she was not a whore. She was my little sister, who was, to me, just a pest.
She told our mother. Even though she didn’t know what it meant either, my sister knew I had said something awful. I had given myself away with my seething tone.
Our mother asked me if I knew what “that word” meant and I said “no” so she told me I shouldn’t use words when I don’t know their meanings.
A whore is a woman who performs sexual acts for money. In the Bible, the whore is often synonymous with Satan. The Whore of Babylon is the Mother of all Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth. But who fathered all of those prostitutes and abominations?
When we were growing up, my mother watched us closely, always. “Like a hawk” as they say.
In the Bible, hawks, like whores, are deemed unclean, and they are listed among the animals that the Israelites must not eat. In nature, hawks are monogamous, although sometimes they don’t bring enough food back to the nest for their hatchlings, so they fight, and sometimes one of the chicks dies.
At the time I called my sister a whore we were living in a house that was built into a hill and our driveway was steep. My mother would perch herself in the front window to watch us and make sure we were safe.
In the backyard of this house, at the top of the hill, there was an ancient oak tree. In the spring, baby songbirds would fall from their nests and the cat would bring their tiny purple bodies to our back steps. My mother would help me try to save them by lining shoeboxes with grass and quilt batting. We dripped sugar water into their open beaks with an old Tylenol dropper, and although they always died during the night, I never stopped trying to save them.
When we first moved to this house, my mother had the town switch our bus stop from the top of the road to the bottom of our driveway. Our bus driver, Irene, lived at the end of our street, and she liked this change because it meant she could drive down the road, stop into her house to feed her two toy poodles, and have coffee and a cigarette before filling her bus with children.
There are two Saints named Irene. Both sacrificed their lives to save their fathers. The first St. Irene, after living a life of torture, was beheaded in the year 384. The second St. Irene died in 1960 after a lifelong battle with Hodgkin’s disease, which was discovered after a biopsy of a lump in her neck.
Sometimes, when it was cold, we would watch through the window to see Irene drive down, and she would beep the bus’s horn so we knew we had at least twelve minutes to get down to the bottom of the driveway.
When it was nice out, we went down early to play with our friends, a brother and sister duo the same ages as my sister and me. They lived two houses down and my hawk-eyed mother watched them, too. Their last name was Crowe.
The crow totem carries the power of prophetic insight. It is said that their black color represents the color of creation, the womb out of which new life comes into existence. Though the crow is a sign of luck, they are also known to be sly and deceptive. One must be aware of their deceiving appearances.
He pulled up in a car that was brown or blue or green. He must have driven by us once and turned around, because the street is a dead end and in order for it to park like that, facing upwards, with the passenger door facing the driveway, he had to have driven down first, past Irene the bus driver’s house. He probably turned around in the circle where we rode our bikes, in front of the house where a kindergarten teacher lived, although you’d never know she was a kindergarten teacher because her blinds were always drawn and she had a big metal gate across her driveway and she never turned on the outside light to welcome trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
When I called my sister a whore I must have known there was something dark and sinister about the word because I waited until we were in the alcove in the hallway by the bathroom to hush it into her ear where our mother wouldn’t hear.
I had heard the word from an older girl on the bus. She had hurled it at another girl while accusing her of looking at her boyfriend. Standing up sideways, leaning her left knee on the plastic bus seat and pressing the back of her body against the window, she flicked her head toward the other girl and said, “Hey. Whore. If I catch you looking at my boyfriend again…” The girl who said it used the vehemence that I emulated when I hissed it at my sister, and then she tossed her head back and laughed without finishing her threat. I thought she looked tough. I don’t remember what the other girl looked like.
When his car stopped at our driveway, I walked toward it instinctively. He either reached over to crank the window down or it was already open, and I could see that the car was full of garbage. The passenger seat and the hatchback were strewn with wrappers and empty containers of the kind of food we weren’t allowed to have. My mouth watered.
“Can you tell me how to get to the school?” he asked, his head slightly stooped, eyes looking upward out of the window to meet mine. He looked like a cobra coming out of a basket. When he said “school” it came out with a lisp and a little spit shot out from between his teeth. Did he say the name of the school? I don’t remember. His knees were knobby.
His penis was slick and purple, like a large thumb with a rubber band wrapped around it somewhere, cutting off circulation and filling the tip with blood. Only it wasn’t a rubber band, it was his hand.
He was white and his hair was brown or grey or blond. His hand was big and I could only see the back of it; his fingers disappeared behind the shaft. He was not wearing pants. His thigh flesh was as white as an eggshell.
The psychology bible, the DSM-V, classifies exhibitionists within a subgroup called paraphilias. The term ‘paraphilia’ is derived from two Greek words meaning "outside of" and "friendship-love."
I gave him directions, but I was nervous and I said, “Turn right at the top of the hill,” because that’s the way our bus went to pick up the rest of the children on our side of town. Really, the school was to the left.
It all happened in a matter of minutes. When the bus pulled up behind him he sped away. I got on first and when Irene said good morning her gold hoop earrings caught the light of the sun. My sister and the Crowe kids were behind me. They didn’t know that the man in the dirty car asking for directions was naked. They hadn’t looked.
We sat in the back of the bus because that’s where the cool kids sit and because we got on early so we chose our seats first. Kevin from down the street was the only one who got on before us. He lived across the street from Irene.
My hands felt tingly when I told them what I saw, and I laughed through it all, like it was a joke. I laughed because I was uncomfortable, because I had seen something I shouldn’t have seen, and because I was ashamed. I laughed because I was weird and what happened was weird and I had a crush on Kevin and his green eyes.
Someone told me I had to tell an adult, so I did, at the school office.
My mother brought my sister and me to the police station to file a report. When I sat down on the chair, the edge of the plastic seat scraped the back of my legs. My mother made me clean my glasses with the corner of my shirt before the officer came in.
“Can you describe the car?”
“It was brown or blue or green. It was rusty.” I didn’t mention the garbage.
“Can you describe the man who did it? What was he wearing?”
I didn’t tell him that I couldn’t remember; instead I said he was a wearing a shirt with stripes. I said his hair was brown. I said he was older than my parents.
Most men arrested for exhibitionism are in their late teens or early twenties. The disorder appears to have its onset before age eighteen. Like most paraphilias, exhibitionism is rarely found in men over 50 years of age.
“What kind of pants was he wearing?”
“He wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“Was he touching himself?”
The shame of having to admit that I had seen what I saw churned the bile in my stomach and sent fire to my cheeks. Now my mother, my sister, and a police officer would know I had watched a man strangle his penis with his hand.
The officer told my mother it would be hard to find him but that they would file a report. That if he did it once he would do it again. That the types of men who do this are habitual offenders and they almost never get caught. The officer promised to put a notice in the paper. Maybe someone would have a tip.
That night, in the quiet dark of our shared room my sister asked, “Did you really see it? What was it like?”
Her questions were a mix of awe and fear. As if the naked man’s penis was a black magic talisman, and because I was the one who had seen it, I was changed.
I could have said something salacious. I could have said something grotesque. But when I looked at her lying below me in the bottom bunk, with her small body tucked under the log cabin quilt my grandmother had made, her big eyes imploring, I knew that she somehow understood that what had happened had terrified me. And my terror was scaring her, too.
“But the grossest part was that his car was full of garbage. And his hair was really dirty.”