All the Difference in the World

When I was eight, my neighbor,
Mike, who was seven, knocked
on our front door and asked
if I would help him spell
some words he was writing
in chalk on the sidewalk
in front of his house.

He needed guidance with some
of the tougher words he had not
learned in school that he was
trying to spell phonetically, but
they did not look like he
thought they should.

In particular, he needed help
with the D Word, the S Word,
the A word, and of course,
the Queen Mother of all
swear words, the F Bomb,

Don’t ask me how it happened
to be that I knew how to spell
all of these words, being the
good Baptist kid that I was,
but I did, and I was happy to
oblige, good friend that I was,
what with him being younger
and less educated and all.

Slowly and carefully I spelled
them out as Mike squatted
on the sidewalk and wrote in
variously colored chalk letters
large enough to be seen from a
low flying plane. The color changes, 
he explained, were required
because we needed to make sure
that these words were extra pretty.

I would note, at this point,
that it is important to make clear 
that never once did I personally
utter a single one of these heinous,
horrible, and utterly offensive
words. Not out loud at least.

And so it was that I was more
than a little surprised that after
all of this generous help I provided,
Mike sung like a canary when
his mom got home from
work and surveyed his, well, our,
handiwork. He ratted me out
like a little prison snitch.

His mom’s loud knock on our
front door, and the way she
laid into the doorbell and
would not let up until my
mother had answered, really
should have been all the
warning I needed to make a
run for it right then and there,
but instead I stood at the door
behind my mother, transfixed
by the grip Mike’s mom had on
his ear, and the way she kept
yanking on it as she spoke,
emphasizing her displeasure
by ratcheting up the look of
pain on his face.

When Mike’s mom had finished
telling my mother just exactly
what she thought of me
leading her poor, innocent
son down the road to perdition,
ignoring the fact that I had
heard her use some of these
very words, if not all of them,
on her way out her front door
headed to work that very
morning, Mike’s mom spun
on her heel and hauled
him by the ear back down our
front steps and off to the
dungeon in their basement
to continue with his torture.

My mother, in turn, hauled me
off to our bathroom, where
you can imagine my shock
when she told me that it was
necessary for her to wash out
my mouth with a bar of lye soap,
as if I were the criminal.

The issue that confused me most
was the fact that I had not
uttered even one single syllable
of the offending words, a point
I made very clear to my mother
as she rolled up her sleeves and
began the process of unwrapping
the bar of soap and getting it wet,
like an executioner preparing the
chair, her not buying my explanation
for a single second, ending my plea
for mercy by pointing out that I was
making a distinction without a difference,
to which I replied that I thought it
made all the difference in the world
as she firmly slid the bar of soap into
my mouth and told me not to move.