Sometimes there is no other word. I’m not talking about the literal act, but the versatility of these four letters… specifically, when used as a single utterance. It’s when energy demands attention. It’s when options disappear. It’s when the restrictions of time and need collide to create an intolerable situation. It’s when being in relationship becomes impossible but we fight to hang onto that slender thread. It’s when boundaries cannot be found, where respect and joy are replaced with being pissed off beyond belief. It’s when shattered longing screams but isn’t heard. It’s when comfort and solace have dropped off the face of the earth. It’s when happiness and love and surrender dovetail to create an avalanche of indisputable knowing. It’s massive, limiting frustration.
As kids we didn’t have this word, not like today’s generation. They throw around the F-bomb as though it was nothing. On one hand, I think this is healthy. Removing the mystery either creates ambivalence or thrust. It then becomes just another utterance and loses its power to shock or harm. But when the language engine is revved, fueled with emotional nuances, it is one powerful motherfucking word indeed. At the core of its use in any manner is an inherent insistence. You can’t ignore Fuck as an anthem, a demand, a disappointment. Without any explanation, the listener can pretty much interpret what’s going on in the context of its use. Four evocative letters, tiny words encompassing huge emotion. I wonder who set it up this way? Love, Hate, Kind, Fear, Shit, Damn, Kill, Suck, Poor, Rich, Best, Hell. Four-letter declarations that say it all.
We look to our childhood to inform our adult experience. This can have unexpected consequences or become dry discourse. If only we could be adults revisiting our time on this earth as kids. That adage, “If only I knew then what I know now” is actually backward. I think we need to more fully understand what was happening to our young minds and hearts, changing the tense to read, “If only I knew now what I knew then.” For how many decisions in our adult lives would be better informed if we recalled those instructive moments of youth, when we trusted our instinct and didn’t need to have words? When we knew that it was magic to wiggle our toes in the river, cupping crayfish in our hands for close examination? Or plunging our face into that same water for an ice cold drink and then letting rivulets drip down our cheeks? When we acted on impulse and didn’t know if it was right or wrong? Sure, we made mistakes and drove our parents crazy and took risks but didn’t understand the danger. And sometimes things would go wrong, maybe even tragically. But we lived in the moment, in the present, in our bodies. We weren’t detached adults who intellectualize every feeling and situation in order to kill the import.
When my 5-year-old brother leaned over the edge of the bridge embankment, running his blue mitten over the surface sand just to watch it fly down toward the water like granular paintbrushes landing below in patterns and sound, he didn’t know he was in danger. I knew it and told him to stop, to get back, or he was going to fall. Another moment where today I immediately recall that feeling of dread, the big sister knowing that somehow I should be preventing him from doing this but not having the authority to stop him. At my final - Stop It! - he leaned too far and lost his balance. I screamed while watching him do somersaults toward the rocky, icy bottom 20 feet below.
I ran into the house calling out, “Billy! Billy! Billy fell into the river!” And then I went back outside to survey the damage. My mother came flying out after me, and there we saw him in his navy blue snowsuit, wearing one of those side-snap hats with a little brim, his blonde tufts curling out from under it, bogged down with his wet snowsuit preventing his gait from carrying him up the hill to the driveway.
He wasn’t crying or yelling. He said only one sentence repeatedly. “I have boots in my water! Boots in my water!” It was a tableau with motion, me watching him at the bottom of the hill, my mother straddling the icy ground to reach him.
“Don’t fall!” I cried, imagining that they both would be in trouble and me still not knowing how to be in charge. She brought him up the steep incline somehow and then called the neighbor for a ride to the hospital, because she could not drive and even if she had a license in her wallet, my father was already at his second-shift factory job with the car. So Mr. Glenney, good Samaritan, arrived promptly and off we went.
Billy had broken his arm, miraculously avoiding all the other horrors that could have equally occurred. Had his head landed on the rock instead of his arm, this might be a very different story. But it didn’t, and I was not punished because he fell even though I was supposed to be watching him. I made sure to tell everyone that I was watching him, warning him repeatedly to stop, but brothers don’t listen to sisters and it wasn’t my fault. If I had known the word Fuck then, you can bet I would have screamed it.