Sex and Fried Chicken: Growing up Southern with Cunt, Part One (trigger warning)

“And she just made the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.”

-Pastor Abe at my grandmother’s funeral, Valentine’s Day 2009

I was 15. My mother was in the hospital again, prepping for another round of heart surgery. Aden and I had dated for 8 months. In our small Bible belt town deep in the gut of Georgia, this was enough for his parents to presume we would marry. Thus practically engaged, I was permitted to stay over several nights while my mother was ill.

“Do you know how to fry chicken?,” Aden’s mom asked me over dinner as she smiled benignly, one dark eyebrow lifted neatly in doubt. Her husband loudly hocked a loogie into his napkin. “Uh,” I said, and tucked my purple-dyed chelsea behind one ear. I shot a look at Aden. He knew damn well that I couldn’t even scramble an egg; I’d sickened him trying.

“No, Mrs. M., I’d have to say, no, I don’t.” Aden smirked at his plate. I planted my boot in his shin under the table.

“Jesus!” he exclaimed. “What? What’d I do?” He grabbed for my thigh, squeezed.

“Children!,” Mrs. M admonished, “not at the table. Let’s say grace.”

She bowed her head and murmured prayer while the rest of us bit back grins. Mr. M scratched his elbow impatiently. Aden pinched a roll and tossed a bread ball my way.

“Amen.” Mrs. M. looked up. “Now, V—-, no girl can marry this boy of mine if she doesn’t know how to fry chicken. If you don’t know how, I’ll just have to teach you.” She smiled warmly, brown-red lipstick parted sweetly over light yellow teeth.

“Gee, uh, Mrs. M., that sounds, uh-“

“Your mama never taught you?”

Aden laughed out loud. I opted to dig a heel into his toes. He trapped my shin between his legs and grabbed my knee to pull me under the table.

“Children!”

“Sorry, Mrs. M.” I sunk my nails into Aden’s forearm. He howled and tossed his roll at me. “My mom can’t cook worth shit. She hates it. We live off of hot pockets and pop tarts-“

“Well. I’m sure she’s tired a lot.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that, and-” I pinioned Aden’s feet under mine. He slipped a hand between my knees, skipped his fingers along the inseam of my jeans. “She thinks my step-dad is an asshole, and she doesn’t want to cook for him.”

Silence hung briefly. I sipped water, blushing.

“Well. I’d be glad to teach you. My boy will need his fried chicken when I’m not around to fix it for him. Maybe tomorrow? Before we go visit your mama in the hospital?”

“That would be- real, uh, real nice.”  I picked Aden’s roll off my lap. He sat back and neatly slipped his fork into a pile of peas, smiling in a way that said, yes, I am a useless Southern man-to-be with balls bigger than my ethics, and I deserve a woman who can fry up some good, good chicken.

I leaned to slip the roll back on his plate. “I know where you sleep,” I hissed to his neck.

 —

I noticed it first at 12- the looks my step-father gave me, the unsubtle glances cast my chest and ass whenever my step-sister’s husband dropped by. In the hormonal mind-fuck of puberty I’d gone from boy to BOOM, with swells and protuberances riding unnerving curves. Getting what I wanted became easy. Knowing what I wanted was as elusive as ever.

I remember inserting my first tampon. Alone in the house, upstairs in my mother’s bathroom, always her long black hairs, his gray pubes furring the toilet seat. Cold dusty tile, cardboard applicator, the crack and floral chemical cloy of the packaging. Hands trembling, I studied the diagrams, read the instructions, noted the warnings: toxic. Shock. I crooked a knee on the toilet seat, attempted to part a fissure of self I’d never elected to touch.

I woke up stuck to the tile with sweat. Ears ringing, fish-mouthing air. I lay coiled until my sight returned, then sucked teeth and pulled the bloodied cotton staple from between my thighs. That night was the first night that I cut myself- then just shallow scratches that tingled and itched more than hurt.

How do we know the things we know? How do we know that we know the things  we know, when we learn them like breathing, like pollen sucked through nose and parted lips to gum up our lungs,  microbes and dust mites and dead skin stuck to shrinking airways?

Aden fucked me on the floor of the bathroom, linoleum sucking hungry at my ass and tailbone. I lay limp, let my knees fall open for him, tears pooling in my ears.

These things I knew: Getting fucked against my will was the price I paid for having incited his desire. My fault, my job.

These things I didn’t know: that I could say no. That I had any right to say no. What no felt or tasted like in a body claimed by men.

The taste of no- salty, maybe. Sharp and cracking, crust, crisp. Hot steaming flesh sucked soft from bone. Tendons sticking fast between teeth slicked with oil. Tight sear of hot meat too recently speared from the skillet, blister, boil. Salt and sharp ground into fresh sores. The slow yeasty bloom of nausea,  cramping. The insistent spasm and blow of runs, the burning smear of grime trucking through all arteries and gutways, constricting, closing, more than a tingle now, more than an itch- no. The taste of no.

A throatful of snot collected where he liked to slip his dick. Swallowed quietly,  so I wouldn’t interrupt. He fucked me, finished, fell against me, his cheek against my chest damp with his sweat, my tears.

My father used to sing this song as he drove us through the mountains of north Georgia:

You take a chicken and you kill it
And you put it in the skillet
And you fry it up a golden brown
And that’s southern cookin’
And that’s mighty nice

It don’t cover a lot when you look on a map
But I once studied Geography when sittin’ in my mammy’s lap

You take a K and an E
N and a T, a U and a C, K, Y
And that spells Kentucky
And it means paradise

I said Kentucky
And it means paradise

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