When I was a kid, if I ever got a cut on my foot or on my hand, my mom would make me soak it in hot, hot, HOT water with Epsom Salts for an hour a night for week. That shit would sting like the dickens! She never made me do this when I got cuts on my arms or legs…only when they were on my feet or hands. She would insist that if I didn’t do this, my “wound” would get a red ring around it. I was told that this red ring would become a red line that would follow a vein back to my heart and if I didn’t stop the progress of this red line…if that red line succeeded in making it all the way to my heart, my heart would EXPLODE!!! Man, I hated the Epsom Salts.

In a separate issue, I was warned about the possibility of getting rabies if I were to ever touch any kind of dead animal. And, if I got rabies, the ONLY way to cure it would to get 15 shots RIGHT IN THE BELLY BUTTON with a needle that was about the width of a pencil. That put the fear of God into me. I absolutely HATE any kind of contact with my belly button. Even watching those Pillsbury commercials, I would cringe when one of the commercial people poked the Doughboy in his belly. Just the thought of someone jabbing a spear into my belly button was enough to ensure I didn’t touch anything that was dead.

And I needed to be aware of my surroundings when I was playing, because if I were to ever step on a rusty nail or anything like that, not only would I get the Epsom Salt treatment…I could also get lockjaw and end up starving to death.

Along with these medical catastrophe warnings that were designed to modify my behavior through fear, there were always the things that “couldn’t be done.” Did your parents ever tell you that you couldn’t do something…for no other reason than it simply couldn’t be done? I’m not talking about things that had a consequence, such as “You can’t drink a gallon of Drano expect to live to tell about it.” That makes perfect sense. I’m talking more about things that are supposed to be “impossible.”

I know I didn’t explain that very well, so I’m just going to have to use an example. Let’s choose…oh, I don’t know…going to a wedding. I would want to wear gym shoes. My mom would say, “You can’t wear gym shoes to the wedding.”

“Why not?”

“You just can’t.”

Now, it’s important for you to realize that she was NOT telling me this in a “I’m-not-permitting-you” way. This had all the definite inflection and tone of a “It’s-a-matter-of-fact-and-I-can’t-believe-you-would-ever-think-such-a-thing-was-possible.” Kinda like “You can’t teleport to Rome……teleportation doesn’t exist.”

When I was younger (like 8 or 9), I just accepted it. “Oh, you can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding? Ok, then.”

It really confused me when, at the wedding, I saw plenty of people in jeans and gym shoes. They still looked nice, with a collard shirt and all, but they weren’t in dress shoes or slacks.

When I got older, I started asking her questions.

“You can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding.”

“What do you mean I can’t? What will happen?”

“You just can’t do it.” Again, it was with the tone of something like, “You can’t teleport.”

“Why not? Will my feet melt off my body? Is there some sort of force field keeping out those people who wear gym shoes? Why can’t I?”

“You just can’t.”

Eventually, I learned that this type of thing meant, “It’s just not right or socially acceptable. I don’t agree with it. Although people do it, I would prefer that you, my son, did not,” although I don’t understand why she never just came right out and said this.

I briefly doubted my epiphany on this matter once when, amid my mom’s declarations of “You can’t do that,” I went outside in winter without a coat. The look on her face seemed to say, “What…what is this magic that allows you to do this?” That really threw me for a loop for quite a while but, as I got older still, I figured out that look was her realizing that I was taking control of my own life and testing boundaries. When I remember that look today, I see it as her realization that she was not going to protect me forever and I would make mistakes in my life that she was going to be powerless to prevent.