Note: This is a true story, written from my memory. It is a story my family has told many times over.
“Bring me those scissors.” I will never forget those words from the mouth of Rachel Carter, the mother of my childhood best friend. She was from New England, a big strong woman with a big strong presence, married but the master of the house. She was a gardener and a farmer of chickens, always red and sweaty. She was intelligent, opinionated, and loud – the loudest woman I’ve ever met. And she had seven children to do her bidding – to clean the house which was always messy, to cook the food that was always greasy, to do their schoolwork which never ended. My best friend was her fifth child and fourth daughter, Shelly.
To me at six years old it seemed like Shelly had a wonderful life. Playdates at her house included movies in the big basement, dress-up with their vast collection of age-old gowns, eating whatever one of the older daughters was baking, and of course, an animated and horrifying story Rachel would tell us to scare us out of doing anything silly.
“Don’t you dare bike too fast out of the driveway,” she told us once. “You do that and you’ll get hit by a car. You think you won’t? I can tell you think you know better, but you don’t. I knew a ten-year-old boy who darted out of his driveway on his bike and got pummeled by the neighbor. Died right then and there at the age of ten. You don’t want that to be you, do you? So bike carefully.”
All this to say, Rachel Carter was the kind of person who said many things to me that I will never forget. I never got used to her blunt way of speech. When I first met her, I didn’t know she’d be such an important figure throughout my whole childhood. I didn’t know she’d teach me history and literature and how to make apple empanadas. I didn’t know she had an older sister who thought the apocalypse is coming in our lifetimes. I didn’t know half her children would run away from home someday. But I knew, right off the bat, that she had power. And it all started with “Bring me those scissors”.
I was at the Carter’s house for a women’s meeting, six years old. I barely knew anyone. All the kids played in the basement during the meeting, looked after by Rachel’s preteen daughters. There was a little boy named Tyler who had chubby cheeks and a bowl cut. He was playing with the doctor toys, the plastic stethoscope and thermometer. And of course, the bright orange and yellow plastic scissors. And I don’t remember why (perhaps there wasn’t a reason), but he hit me with them. A quick and painless thud on my forehead, but like the wuss a six-year-old girl tends to be I started crying and ran up the stairs to my mom.
I remember there being a lot of women in that meeting. They sat in a circle in Rachel’s living room, chatting and discussing things intently. They hushed when I came into the room with my tear-streaked face. Without any attempt to downplay my tribulation I told my mom (or rather, the entire room) that Tyler had hit me with the toy scissors.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry…” Mom began. But Rachel cut in, and I will never forget.
“BRING ME THOSE SCISSORS.” Her voice boomed. I spun around and looked at her.
“Bring the scissors,” she said again with a wave of her arm. I rushed down the stairs and retrieved the scissors, which were laying on the ground. I brought them to Mrs. Carter, as if making an offering. She took them in her hands and set them on the floor beneath her feet. Then she began to stomp on them. She stomped on them as hard as she could, grunting with fury. I watched in amazement. She stomped and stomped until the scissors were bent out of shape. Then she picked them up and with a heave of her breath she snapped them in half. When she was done, she handed them back to me.
“Now go throw them away,” she commanded me. As I rushed out of the meeting, I heard her say, “No one will EVER hit you with those scissors again.”
And right in that moment, I knew the woman had power.