Unlike the other Mexican families on my grandma’s block, ours didn’t bother trying to keep family drama under wraps. What was the point? Of my father’s four brothers, three were lifelong convicts and gang members. When a neighbor’s television was stolen, they’d come knocking on grandma’s door. When a row of plants was torn out of the DeLeon’s garden, one of my uncles was to blame. Missing car radio? Vinnie. Misplaced checkbook? Phillip. Get your bank robbed? That would be Gilbert. Cop cars would just park in front of my grandparents’ house and wait. And every time one of her sons got busted (even if it was her who called the police) grandma would holler and whine from the kitchen window about her poor baby as he ducked into the back of the squad car.

Much like in prison, no one at my grandparents’ house ever used each others’ actual birth names.  Grandma was “Guera” (Spanish slang  for “pale.”) Grandpa was, simply, Asshole. The origins of a nickname were uncomfortably brutal, as nothing about you or who you were related to or what happened to you when you were five or what disease you had was off limits. Some names of friends and family members included: Chemo Joe, Donkey Tits, Horse Lips, Ham Nose, Becky The Flass (“Flat” + “Ass”) Potato Face, Mountain Neck, Stop Sign Ears, N*gger Mike, Whore-a (rhymes with “Dora”) and Jell-O Mouse. There wasn’t a need to break down the reasoning behind my nickname, of course, because it essentially spoke for itself: Oblong Doggy Head.

Every time my dad and his girlfriend talked about my mom in front of me and my brother, they used the nickname “Doodoo.” For years I had no clue who this Doodoo person was. I imagined her some wild lady dressed in a pile of battered animal hides, wrists bound by turquoise jewelry. So of course, I was extremely disappointed when I learned that The Legendary Doodoo was just my stupid mom. The day of revelations came the Friday afternoon of my weekend visit (the visitation order only allowed her to have one child at a time) when she pulled up in her galvanized El Camino―or, “The Devil-ElCo” as my dad would call it―pressing the gas pedal  with her obnoxious wooden high heel. As I was getting my clothes together, I overheard my dad tell his girlfriend, Better go hide in the bedroom, Doodoo’s here. Bingo.

My mom hated that my dad had a girlfriend, even though she wanted nothing to do with him. It didn’t matter to her that he had won full custody of us in The Bitterest (And Most Bizarre) Custody battle of 1979. It didn’t matter to her that she was never invited to school recitals or birthday parties or parent/teacher conferences.  It didn’t matter to her that we never saw her on actual holidays, never gave her Mother’s Day cards, never called her on the phone…What mattered to her was that she might lose her title – we might call some other woman “mom,” the true kiss of death for anyone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The first part of visitation was always the same: a nerve wracking twenty-five minute cross-examination as we blazed down the 405 freeway: Does that bitch sleep over? What does she wear around the house? Was that her peeking out of the window? Where does she work? What do you call her? Have you seen her naked? You know she’s a whore, right? Does she kiss your dad in front of you? Why does she wear so much eyeshadow? Do you think she’s prettier than me? Doesn’t she have her own children? What does she make you for dinner?

I don’t know why she bothered asking me these things. It was a well-known fact my mother never wanted me. When you were born, I was so angry. The doctor had promised me you’d be a boy. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a son. Shit, she placed me in a foster home when I was four, but kept my little brother for nine whole months before she decided to toss him in, too. Which is why, when she picked me up one fateful weekend, and made me hide beneath a pile of dirty laundry in the backseat while she went on a date (dinner! A movie! The whole goddamn nine!) I couldn’t help but ready my mouth with the worst truth vomit I could muster. Hours later, when she opened the car door to see if I was still breathing, I popped up and blurted, Dad and my new mom call you Doodoo! And grandma told me about the baby buried in the backyard. And even Peter calls you Doodoo! (The part about my brother Peter was a lie, but we all knew how much she loved him more than me, so I thought I’d sprinkle a few extra grains of salt in there, free o’ charge.)

My mother didn’t say a word, which made her all the more frightening. She stared out into the darkness for ten years, her mouth a straight red line. Then she started the car and peeled out of the driveway, blasting her crazy Persian belly dance music to heighten my fear and confusion. I covered myself with the laundry and curled into a ball of holy-shit-goddamn-what-in-fuck’s-ass-have-I-done?

When I felt the car slow down to a roll, I looked up and saw that she’d flicked the headlights off and was easing the ElCo down the driveway of my apartment complex—I knew whatever was gonna happen, I was in deep shit by my dad when I came home. When the engine turned off, all I could think to do was duck. When I heard her get out, I sat up to see what she was doing. I wished I hadn’t. I remember this entire sequence without color or sound: She took the crowbar from the bed of the ElCo and smashed my dad’s bedroom window. Then I watched  her smear mud all over our front door and throw our welcome mat onto the neighbor’s roof. Just like that, I pissed all over the dirty laundry.

When we got to her apartment, she was unusually calm, which meant she was either plotting, or satisfied. Whatever it was, I knew I was screwed. If I made it out of this one alive, it meant a) my dad was hit by a bus or, b) God intended crueler things for me later in life. I waited for her to say something. I was hungry, but I knew better than to ask for dinner. After a few minutes of silence, she asked if I wanted some chocolate milk (one of the three things she knew how to “cook.”)  I nodded and hung around to watch her make it, half expecting her to poison me. She kicked off her Candies and grabbed two glasses from the sink, then motioned for me to stand beside her.

It was the closest thing to a hug she would ever give me. And as we stood in the kitchen together, for the first time in my eight long years of life, I actually felt like her daughter. As she held the bottle of syrup over the milk, she said, You know how to make the best chocolate milk? Squeeze the syrup into the milk for exactly seven seconds. It’s perfect, every time. For the rest of that weekend, she didn’t once make fun of my buck teeth or point out the inherited trail of fuzz down my back to her  roommate. 

When I came home, the incident was never brought up. No one in the family mentioned the word “Doodoo” written in mud on our front door, even though it stayed there for weeks. Because my life is my life, our neighbor, Welfare Tommy, blabbed about it and “Doodoo” became my nickname once school started. By the end of the semester, the rumor had turned into a tale of me shitting my pants in class. I did nothing to correct the story. I figured I had earned it.   

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RACHEL MCKIBBENS was born a few blocks from Disneyland, which explains her inability to get along with stepmothers. She recently moved to upstate New York with her ginormous family. Despite not having an MFA, her poems and short stories have snuck into numerous publications, including The American Poetry Journal, Wicked Alice, The New York Quarterly, The Acentos Review, Melusine, H_ngm_n, The London Magazine, and several fun anthologies. In 2009, she became the Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, which amuses her to no end. She has shared stages with Nikki Giovanni, Kanye West, Billy Collins, Martin Espada, Ellyn Maybe, Eve Ensler, and Nick Flynn. McKibbens is also a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and her first collection of poems, Pink Elephant (Cypher Books) was released on Halloween of 2009. www.rachelmckibbens.com

35 responses to “Seven Seconds of Chocolate”

  1. Ducky says:

    Oh, you made me spit jasmine tea out of my nose when I read those nicknames.

    I would have much preferred being called Doodoo. My nickname was Pecker Wrecker (and I didn’t even know what it meant at the time.)

    Loved this. Thanks for sharing.

    • rachel mcK says:

      I just love that someone with “Ducky” as their handle would prefer “Doodoo.” Pecker Wrecker’s a doozey, though. I’ll give you that (and ask absolutely NO questions)

  2. Gloria Harrison says:

    “what-in-fuck’s-ass” is my new favorite curse.

    I was Chicken-leg Sue. My stepdad’s friend called me this. To my aunt’s, though, I always got to be Glory-b, so at least there’s that.

    I’m so glad you made it out unscathed. Well, you know… relatively.

    I loved reading this.

    • rachel mcK says:

      Thanks, Gloria. I always get excited to find out the nicknames that other people were given. My boo calls me “Squeaky” these days. I haven’t had a nickname since…well, that house.

  3. Wait, wait…

    Jell-O Mouse? But… why?

    Loved this, Rachel. And seven seconds. Check.

    • rachel mcK says:

      Jell-O Mouse was my brother. Coined by my Uncle Phillip (Stop Sign Ears.) It didn’t make much sense since my brother didn’t have a mouse-y appearance and never ate Jell-O. But the poet in me finds that it does have a fine ring to it.

      p.s. Seven seconds only works with 8 oz. of milk.

  4. The chocolate milk scene broke my heart on this achingly cold winter morning.

    • rachel mcK says:

      I’m in upstate NY. So the cold is a hammering ache, here.

      Funny, I don’t see any of this as heartbreaking. It’s all so far away now. Even in allowing it to resurface, I don’t feel any of the stuff that I once did. So, I’m glad it can reach folks while I’m able to keep a safe distance at the same time.


  5. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    This was a white-knuckle read. Intense. Powerful. Speak it out.

  6. rachel mcK says:

    I’m workin’ on it, Ronlyn. I appreciate your comment.

  7. Alison Aucoin says:

    I was “Stinker” to my father. No other nicknames. Ever. No “Ali,” which I would have liked, or “Al” which I would have hated.

    My mother has a theory that the prevalence of nicknames in a family is directly related to level of pathology. No doubt she developed this story while married to my father “Bubbie” and living near his relatives “Dubby,” “Sonny,” and “Doll.” I guess it was a stark contrast to growing up as an only child with her parents, “Mother” and “Father.” From my perspective of both sides of the family, I’d say somewhere in the middle might be the path to family harmony, although, of course, I have no real-life experience to prove this.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Greg Olear says:

    Fantastic post, Rachel. Heartbreaking, but fantastic.

    Doodoo’s gotta be better than Flass, no?

  9. Mary Richert says:

    Holy cow, Rachel. That reads like a punch to the gut. It’s amazing how such heartrending experiences can make such amazing and compelling stories. How do you think that works? This is such a painful story that I really shouldn’t like it, yet I do. The nicknames… the mental image of your mother … the way she lashes out … I could read it again and again. Like the House on Mango Street but more raw… or something.

  10. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    rachel mcK,

    Kids used to call my daughter, Lenore, Le-whore. She didn’t like that.

    If my mother were capable of getting along with anyone, she would have loved your mother. That’s a pretty sad statement, eh?

    Really well written, and great bait and switch with the title there.

  11. Phat B says:

    Nicely written. I love nick names. I think I know stop sign ears and donkey tits. Santa Ana? My nickname was “guero salado” in those days.

  12. Ross Hickerson says:

    My mother called me Roo. (Or “Rue,” if you want to really mine that for all it’s worth.) Kids at school……… Inevitably……… Called me Ross the Boss, with “the big, fat hoss” added, in just that particular phrasing, by at least one kid at every school I attended. All the way to 12th grade, in fact. I’m not sure that most of them connected “hoss” with “horse” the same way I did. Which is perfect, in retrospect, since my name means “Mighty Horse.”

    I would have loved being The Boss more if I’d been a bigger Springsteen fan at five or six years old.

    This is a good story. You got the tension just right. I remember all of these knots. Well done.


  13. David Scott says:

    Thank you for this Article. Fathers’ right to be a meaningful part of their childrens’ lives, have been eroded to the point of non-existence. My research suggests that this is a phenomenon consistent throughout the industrialized nations. Children who are alienated from their fathers are more likely later in life to have emotional/behavioral problems, suffer from depression, drop out of school, fail in their jobs, and suffer from other social problems. I invite you to visit my site devoted to raising awareness on this growing problem: http://fathersprivilege.blogspot.com/

  14. Angela Tung says:

    wow! this was such a great read.

    i can’t get over all those nicknames. guess i shouldn’t complain about a one syllable chinese nickname that no one understood anyway.

  15. This is heartbreaking and hilarious. You have captured life with such grace and ease and l am really looking forward to more of your words.

  16. Quenby Moone says:

    Holy Macaroli, that was amazing. I hurt in all the right places.

    Cheers to you, I hoist my coffee mug!

  17. Marni Grossman says:

    This is what good writing is: specific and evocative and funny and beautiful.

  18. Ah, Rachel. So glad to see more of your words here. Rich writing, my dear.

  19. […] new posts by Rachel McKibbens, Elizabeth Collins, and Dawn […]

  20. Jessica Rose says:

    I had to print this out and post it on my wall. It’s comforting to know that I had a childhood exactly like yours (from your story at least) and you have made it so far. Thank you for being my inspiration 🙂

  21. Lauryl says:

    I work as an advocate for families fucked by domestic violence. This piece. This piece. Goddamnit. This one.

  22. Erika Rae says:

    Wow, you’re good. I want to read more. Seriously intense stuff. I also want to hug you.

    • my website will direct you to other crap (poems, flash fiction, my book.) “Good” is really rad, so thank you. I’ll take you out for a milkshake if our paths ever cross, E!

  23. sheree says:

    I went looking for Slades post and came across this instead. I hope you don’t think me rude for asking if you edit your own work? If you do edit your own work, you’re double brilliant in my book. Are you published? If so I need links please and thanks. I’d really like the chance to consume a full book of your writing.

    • sheree says:

      Heh, i see the link on the bio…

    • Hi Sheree,

      Yes, I do edit my work. I do not have some fancy Victorian manservant to do it for me, or it’d be done! I’m working on putting together a manuscript that will suck the juice out of the memoir stories I post here on TNB. I’m really grateful to have this forum. It gave me the proper kick in the ass to start focusing on that. My first full-length book of poems covers what happened when I WASN’T with my mother (which was often.) Thanks, again, for reading.

      • sheree says:

        To be honest, you could write on any subject matter and i would eagerly read it. I have mad respect for your skills as a writer. Cheers! And thanks for getting back to me. I’m a huge fan of Ducky’s and Zara’s writing skills as well. I like a few of the male writers on this site, but, damn, you ladies kick my ass with your posts.

  24. […] RACHEL McKIBBENS found out the hard way how to make the best chocolate milk. […]

  25. jaha says:

    rachael, sweetheat, i have so much work to do before tomorrow. photos, poems, stories and essays to edit. i just cannot keep reading and commenting on your work. i have to get busy. ok, im going to read another story and please let it not be as well written, funny, awesome and the last few.
    as always, i love you.

    jaha zainabu

  26. […] RACHEL McKIBBENS learns the hard way how to make chocolate milk. […]

  27. Juniper says:

    Great short story … wow … you have a serious gift.

    The memoir brought up “stuff” for me an dI was surprised by the parallels in my own past. I also grew up in Orange County. My brother and I were both unplanned and unwanted and were reminded regularly of this. may parents divorced when we were 6 after consulting my twin and I to ask who we would like to stay with. WTF??!! But what really “got me” was how my parents would do the 20 question game when I would go back and fourth between them. It was just as you described. Fun.

    Rachel, I am so impressed with your writing. THANK YOU for telling your story … a story that speaks for so many children.


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