By Ted Gargiulo -It began as a silly game my Auntie Tal invented, back when the world was new and I could do no wrong. Figures, I’d find some way to ruin a good thing.
To an only-child/only-nephew, Auntie Tal was like birthday and Christmas rolled together. She was fun, she was flaky and she loved me to pieces. Moreover, she showered me with the kind of foolish attention I rarely received from other adults. Who else could call me Twirp or Eep-shkee-laah and get away with it?
That woman had the shrillest, most riotous cackle this side of the rain forest. Almost anything I said or did would send her into hysterics. Once she let loose, all sanity flew out the window. What a hoot!
Only Tal could have come up with a game like Boo! The rules were simpleenough, even this dumb Eep-shkee-laah could follow them. We’d rest our heads on the kitchen table, close our eyes and pretend to sleep. I’d lift my head and yell Boo! Tal would awaken and act startled. Then we’d go back to sleep; Tal would call Boo! and I would feign surprise. Thus it went, back and forth, until we tired of Boo! and found another productive pastime. My mom thought we were screwy.
So far, I’d never seen my aunt lose her temper, never imagined she was capable of anger. Well, one day this little jackass decided to take the game to a whole new level and discovered something about Boo! that wasn’t in the rules.
I stood in the hallway, outside the bathroom door, waiting for Tal to come out. I wanted to surprise her. The door opened, and I let loose with the loudest Boo!!! my six-year-old throat could muster. Suddenly, Auntie Tal transformed into someone, or something, I didn’t recognize. She yelped, staggered backward, then roared like a sea captain: “Teddy, you scared the hell out of me, don’t ever do that again!!!”
I was petrified, aghast at what had happened. And very, very sorry! Heck, I only wanted to have fun, not send the poor woman to the nuthouse. You can believe that I never pulled a stunt like that again.
But you know what was worse than seeing my favorite relative snap before my eyes? It was realizing that I, young Teddy the Twirp, had the power to inflict such mayhem. Seemed I was always pushing people and situations beyond their limits. I broke toys to see how they worked. I broke them, but I couldn’t fix them. Once I’d reduced a plaything to its springs and stuffing, the magic was gone. So, too, my mischievous tinkering had reduced my aunt to her proverbial stuffing. I’d violated something sacred, crossed a threshold, seen the forbidden underside of a world I thought I knew. I learned something about my aunt, and about myself, I’d have been happier not knowing.
I tried to forget what I had witnessed, but I could not. My aunt just laughed it off and put it behind her. Amazingly, she emerged unscathed, her wits and her innocence intact. In a sense, she remained a child. I was the one who was broken.