Gunn500x622I don’t remember every beating mom gave us. I just remember that we named them after All Star wrestling moves. She had an extensive repertoire of techniques. The Half Suplex. The Full Suplex. The Spine Buster. Also the body part specific moves: the Wrist Lock, Atomic Knee Drop, and Corner Butt Slam. Some included hardware, like the Lasso from El Paso, which was a leather belt with a welt-inducing metal buckle, and The Board of Ed, a maple yardstick with steel end caps.

We six kids had our own repertoire of tortures as well, those we gave each other: the Irish Kiss, the Hertz Donut, the Purple Nerple, the Indian Burn, the Stop Hittin’ Yourself, and the ever-popular Open Your Mouth and Close Your Eyes and You Shall Receive a Big Surprise.

It wasn’t until my younger sister Emily was removed from custody that it stopped. The Board of Ed left marks where teachers could find them. But by then I was the only child left at home, and I was starting to grow muscles.

Years later, when my siblings and I were all grown and had kids of our own to beat, I accompanied my mother to the doctor’s office to see the results of her CAT scan. He showed us an image of an enormous calcified tumor, an alabaster walnut that was crowding her right temporal lobe.

He asked her if she remembered ever being hit in the head, ever receiving a blow to her temple hard enough that it would cause a sliver of her skull to separate inward, the same way a shard of glass separates from a windshield when it’s been hit by a bb. He theorized that there was a shard of bone in the center of the mass, just as there is a grain of sand at the center of every pearl.

She said, “No, I can’t remember anything. I can’t even imagine what it would be.”

He said, “Are you sure? Perhaps a car accident. It would have caused a concussion. You may have been knocked unconscious.”

And again she said, “No, I don’t remember anything.”

But I remember perfectly well. My grandmother, proudly noting she was never one to spare the rod, told me herself what a bother my mother was: how she was sullen, how she burned the toast, spilled the juice, and failed in math. And for these infractions she was justly punished, with the rap on the knuckles, the slap on the jaw, the punch in the stomach, and the milk bottle to the side of the head.

Thaddeus Gunn lives in Seattle, Washington. You can read more of his work in the Spring 2014 issue of SmokeLong Quarterly. You can also hear him read during the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington at “A Bang and a Smoke” at the Atlas Theater at 8PM on Thursday, February 27th.

 Photography by Liz Wuerffel