I tried to stay in my room or outside as much as I could. When I walked into a room, it was like a ghostly encounter. The temperature was ice-cold and it was like mama and P**** were holding up crosses. If I was getting a glass of water, their eyes followed me like they were wardens and I was a death-row inmate. When I left the room, I could hear them whispering.
P**** was highly protective of mama and was always on her side. She had been taught that I was nothing and she believed it. She used to tell me that “I got exactly what I deserved.” I believed it then and I believe it now, although the intelligent part of me desperately wants to understand that there wasn’t something wrong with me…..there was something wrong with mama.
I always walked around barefoot. Always. Like I said, I only had the one pair of shoes, they had been handed down from P**** and they were for school.
It had gotten cold and mama said “you can tell it’s winter, her highness is walking around barefoot.” She and P**** would talk about me like I wasn’t there, even when I was in the room.
My room was in the back of the house and was just big enough for a twin sized bed. The window had gaps around it and when it snowed, it would come in. There were no floorboards and there was no door. I had a curtain and one day I pulled it back to try to let some heat into my room.
P**** and mama started talking about how my room stunk…..like me. P**** told me to close it but I didn’t and that was a mistake.
Mama and P**** came into my room. Each took one of my arms and then they threw me out of the house. It was snowing and all I had on was a t-shirt and shorts. Of course, I was barefoot.
I went out to the garage and climbed up into the rafters. I spent a lot of time up there, thinking and crying and wishing and praying. I was thinking that when my daddy got home, he was really going to be mad at them.
He finally came home and went into the house. I climbed down and went to the door. I knocked and I could see P**** and mama sitting there, acting like they didn’t hear me. I knocked again and they still ignored me. I finally said if they didn’t open the door I was going to kick it.
I heard mama call my daddy and I could hear him coming. He always had a heavy walk….almost like a stomp.
He opened the door, grabbed me by the arm into dragged me into my room. He took off his belt and beat me with the buckle side. He rarely beat me and I guess I thought the reason was because I threatened to kick his door.
He slung me onto my bed and sat down beside me. He said “you’re my youngun and I’d fight anybody who said anything against you…but I’ll kill you before I let you walk all over us. Pack your bags.”
I knew what that meant. I was on my way to my grandma and grandpas’ house. It wasn’t the first time I had been exiled.
My grandparents treated me like I was the most precious thing that had ever been born. They would tell me that I was beautiful. That was in such stark contrast to what I heard at home. P**** would come up to me and ask me why I was so ugly. Then she would tell me I looked like a baboon with a purple bottom. She would laugh. I would cry.
I didn’t have the emotional strength to appreciate my grandparents then. All I wanted to do was go back home. I was homesick and didn’t try to hide it. I was so incredibly sad.
I loved the song that Jiminy Cricket would sing….”when you wish upon a star” and I would sing it to myself when I was alone.
Every night, I would look out my window and recite “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” I actually believed that wishing worked.
My grandma and grandpa would tell me stories about my daddy and I enjoyed hearing them. They tried to comfort me as much as they could. They never said anything against my mama even though they knew how she treated me. If they had, I would have immediately jumped to her defense. That was a trait I had. My inherent loyalty overshadowed reality. No matter how bad somebody treated me, I would find an excuse for them or a reason for it to be my fault.
Mothers’ day was coming up but I wasn’t thinking about my grandma. I was thinking about my mama.
Decoupage purses were all the rage. I borrowed a little money from my grandpa and bought a wooden purse, handles and flowers to put on it.
Mama had started working at Iveys, a department store uptown. I walked all the way from my grandparents’ house to the store, which had to have been seven or eight miles. I walked in and mama saw me. She immediately had this “what the hell are you doing here” look on her face.
I handed her the purse and said “happy Mothers’ Day.” She handed it back to me and said “give it to your little grandmother.”
I managed to not cry until I got out of the store. I threw it into a garbage can on the side of the road. I walked back to my grandparents’ house and when my grandma asked me how S*** liked her purse, I lied and told her she liked it.
My birthday was coming up and my grandparents were dirt poor. I knew there were going to be no presents but it was okay.
My grandpa called me into the house. I sat down and he handed me a gallon of milk and a bell pepper. I ate the pepper like it was an apple and drank the milk straight out of the jug. They laughed and my grandpa clapped while they sang happy birthday to me. It was a birthday that I will never forget.
My daddy came to see me and brought me a pair of sandals that P**** didn’t want anymore. Then……..he asked me how old I was.
Before he left, I asked him if I could come home. He said “your mother doesn’t want you there, youngun.”
My grandparents lived out in the country and had few amenities. The outhouse was quite a distance from the house. Trekking through three-foot tall weeds to get there was always an adventure. We used a telephone book for toilet paper and we took a bath standing up in a big tin tub behind a curtain.
One day, my daddy came over and he and my grandpa put in a toilet, a sink and a bathtub….inside the house! My grandma was a little scared at first, I think. She just stood there looking at them. I couldn’t wait to get into a real bathtub.
My uncle, A**** lived with my grandparents. It seems like he always had, although he had been married and had a son.
He was always drunk and I couldn’t stand him. He would get drunk, fall down and my grandpa and I would have to go pick him up. I would have to clean up his vomit, while my grandma cleaned him up.
He slapped me hard across the face once and I told my daddy. He said “what did you do?” I guess he thought I must have deserved it.
The only time I ever came close to having an argument with my grandma was over him. I would call him a drunk and she would say that he had gone overseas and “fought for me” in the war. I said “so did my daddy.” She said A**** had seen things a person should never have to see. I said “so did my daddy.” I wasn’t going to win.
It seemed that every time I was taking a bath, A**** had to find some excuse to come into the bathroom. Again, there was no door…just a curtain.
He would come barreling into my room with the excuse that “he thought he heard something.”
He would come into my room at night, smelling like alcohol, kiss me while he was trying to crawl in bed with me and tell me that he loved me. I would tell my grandma that I didn’t like it but she would attribute his actions to exactly that……his loving me.
He had been married to a woman who I thought was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. When I was younger and stayed with them, I would wake up in the middle of the night and she would be sitting beside me in a chair. She was protecting me although I didn’t know it then.
She divorced him and when he got through with her, she looked like the most broken, desperate woman I had ever seen. He had taken everything from her.
I guess he “loved” her too.