51.5 times around the sun, and I still wince. Still afraid of getting in trouble for unknown crimes. I answered a question. I asked another question. Without permission, however, a question is a dangerous thing.

I remember once when I was about 3, I got very curious about the writing on the bottom of a cup.

Dinner table.


I turned the cup over to see the bottom, not understanding that the milk would spill.


We all went still. Except my dad. He reached for his dinner knife and turned it over in his fat hand, took the butt end of it and hit me on the forehead. I still remember it. I don’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday, but I remember that. I remember the white cardigan I wore, and the ceramic cup shaped like Dopey from Snow White. I remember the welt building over one eye.

Punishment. Ages 1-7, the punishment was what would be called positive punishment– my folks added undesirable punishment. Hold still and get spanked. Switch. Belt. Fly swatter. Wear tights and long sleeves the next day. I learned to wince in anticipation of what would inevitably come. And it came.

Decades of perfectionistic behavior followed. Avoiding all spills in order to avoid the wince. I am realizing that I did all of that, all 5 fucking decades of non-stop perfectionistic pursuit, because I was afraid of punishment. I was wincing my way through accomplishments.

As a grown woman I have learned about negative punishment–the taking away of something needed, or comforting. Like a job. Or a husband. Or years of years.

Now, in this 5th decade, I still find myself wincing–waiting for what inevitably comes if anyone so much as reads a sentence not vetted, contextualized, massaged, messaged to indicate protocol has been followed. And it comes. And when it comes, it comes with the sole purpose of taking something necessary with it. Like money. Like health insurance. Like waking up everyday with the children who came out of my belly. Gone. Gone with the wind. That’ll teach me to be interested in the truth.

As I circle the bases on the 52nd time on this planet–still wincing, I have realized that it’s best to keep my curiosity, questions, and answers to myself. I don’t drink milk anymore–having grown intolerant of the lactose.

I like to think that it’s different. I dare say I will wince before I take my last breath. And it will come.

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