Cough Syrup
by Richard Hutchinson

Runestone, volume 3


Cough Syrup
by Richard Hutchinson

The babysitter had arrived. Tee-Tee was a heavy set, dark-skinned teenager from upstairs. Tee-Tee rocked a Jheri curl hairstyle so well activated that my mother noticed how the combination of curl activator, shine oils, and sunlight had darkened the back of her neck. My mother made a few “black neck jokes” before giving her a hot rag, cotton balls, and rubbing alcohol to effectively clean it off.

I was still laughing 15 minutes later.

It was while my father was in the living room watching television and my mother was getting ready that she remembered the medicine. She realized they’d be out when I would need to take the next dose of my newly prescribed cough syrup.

“I can do it myself!” I said. Besides, it was only one tablespoon. I had watched my mother do it. Surely, I could too.

In the middle of my argument, my father’s searing baritone broke the air. “She said NO! Now, stop going back and forth.” He mentioned that an adult needed to give me the syrup. I suggested Jheri curl-girl. He responded, “Go sit yo hard-headed ass down until I get back and don’t touch that damn medicine.” 

As the hours passed too slowly for my sleepy 7-year-old brain, I decided not to wait up for them. I tiptoed to the kitchen, grabbed the medicine from the refrigerator, took exactly one tablespoon, and jetted off to bed. That was easy. 

The next thing I remember is my father shaking me to wake me up—bottle and spoon in hand—when I declared with pride: “I took it already.” 

“Who gave it to you?” he asked.

“I did. I was sleepy, and . . .”

“Oh! You grown now? You taking medicine by yourself? Didn’t I tell you… I’m gone whoop yo’ ass today.” He left to grab the belt, came back, shut the door, and yanked me toward him.

Each time the belt smacked my skin, I felt the welts form. There were too many lashes to count. At first, I thought this was a normal whooping, and that it would be over soon. It was not. I screamed and yelled my repentance, but it bounced off of the walls. I deserved this. I was broken. He needed to fix me. He still loved me. Didn’t he?

That’s when the course of the ass whooping changed. The black leather belt hit the floor. He balled up his fists, and said, “You think you grown huh? You want to be grown? I’m going to beat you like you grown.”

I couldn’t answer. There was no answer. I was a child. I tried. I screamed louder as each blow hit my tiny body. I searched his eyes for love… for something more than the pain he was inflicting, and there was nothing. He meant only to cause pain. It felt to me like he was beating someone else—someone he didn’t love.

I was his enemy, not his son. I was hated, not loved. I was something inside of him that he did not like and did not want to see in me. I was a rule breaker—a challenger of authority, or even worse… a faggot. I knew it way back then. So did he, and everyone else. 

My heart drummed loudly against my inner ear. My breath was frantic and thinning. I screamed and screamed, but no one came. Finally, the door swung open. 

“That’s ee-fucking-nuff! Don’t hit my child another muthafuckin’ time.” 

He put me down and looked at my mother. He was still and dumbfounded. She was enraged. Strong. She was my hero. She heard me and came for me. She had become all too familiar with being a container for his rage, yet she was still not broken enough to ignore my screams. She knew she had to protect me, or else he would have broken me forever.

My father walked off defeated, visibly sad. He went into the bathroom, sat down on the toilet, and wept. My mother went to console him, and possibly explain her actions. She wanted him to know why it wasn’t okay for him to beat me like that.

“Why are you crying?” she asked my father.

“I just don’t want him to end up like me or some worthless nigga on the streets,” he exclaimed.

“He won’t.”

“You can’t do that,” he snapped back. “You can’t stop me from disciplining him.”

“That’s not disciplining him,” she said with a low voice. “You were whooping his ass. You can’t hit my son like that.”

“Well, let him be your son. You raise him and see how he turns out.” He had stopped crying.

My father hated the limpness of my wrist, the arch in my back, and the flittiness of my speech. To him, I was something that needed to be fixed. A project for him to pounce on until every part of me projected hyper-masculinity, like him and all of his homeboys. Popping of my hands upward from the inside and smacking my head whenever I was too sweet, too annoying, or too weak for his liking. He had to toughen me up. No son of his, especially not his namesake, was going to be a faggot. 


RICHARD HUTCHINSON

William Paterson University

Richard Hutchinson studied English writing and political science. His mother bought him his first journal, where he honed his passion for self-expression. He has always been intrigued by the personal narrative, as well as how he can use imagery to bring his reader to the moment. He is currently working in education while completing his first book and blogging at RichieAtItAgain.com.

 

Richard Hutchinson studied English writing and political science. His mother bought him his first journal, where he honed his passion for self-expression. He has always been intrigued by the personal narrative, as well as how he can use imagery to bring his reader to the moment. He is currently working in education while completing his first book and blogging at RichieAtItAgain.com.

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