If you don’t like what you read in my blog, because it really is my blog… don’t read it; and that’s all I have to say about that.
Is this the truth or from my imagination?
I was seven years old. We lived in one of the grimiest, dirtiest, racially segregated areas in South Carolina. The exact city, don’t really matter and I really honestly can’t remember and I definitely don’t want to ask this is one of those things you don’t discuss. Why we were living there is a whole other story in itself, one for another day…maybe.
Anyways, it was just before day in the morning when I woke up realizing that I was being shaken. I was happy because I figured it was time to get up for school; which meant I’d get to get away from the four empty rooms that made up our two bedroom apartment. We’d been living on the floors of these four empty rooms for about three months. In my young mind it felt like years. It felt like I’d been suffering there just as long as everyone else that lived there had.
There was about 400 apartments in a 6 block radius. All red brick. All 8 floors. I remember very specifically that all the buildings had 8 floors. We lived on the 3rd floor.
“Wake up”, She said to me through cupped lips. The way she’d talk to me when I was talking to loudly in church. “Wake up now”. I inhaled deep. And looked at her eyes. I needed to know who it was I was dealing with. Even then I knew there was more than one person in there. “Wake up” she said shaking me again. Clearly, I was already awake, she just wanted to be sure. “Put this on.” She handed me a pair of jeans and a shirt. I knew for sure I wasn’t going to school. We weren’t allowed to wear jeans.
“Hurry up, Jenny” She said my name with a pause in the middle which always meant the worst. This wasn’t the her I liked. This was the one I feared.
I threw on my clothes, as she hovered in the doorway to my room, like a look out. “Hurry up” she kept saying. I struggled to put on my shoes. And slid on my windbreaker jacket. I walked to her, she knelt down to me “Don’t say anything.” She put her finger on my lips. This was a different her. The one I felt sorry for. The one, even then, I understood.
We had to be quiet not to wake the Bear.
That was the nickname I’d use for my step father to my friends. I won’t dare say it to my mother or to him. I would never live that down. At seven, I hardly said anything, to any adult. I spoke only when necessary. I was so afraid of pleasing them. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, so I just said nothing.
Once we were out the front door and running down the hall stairs. She said “I have to get you out of here.” I rolled my eyes. I’d heard that before. I knew that story already. She’d leave and we’d get an apartment and things would be semi-normal for a while. Then one morning, the Bear would be there making me oatmeal in the morning. Even though. I despised oatmeal. I knew the cycle was destined to simply continue.
Outside, I realized it wasn’t morning. It was night. I must’ve only slept for two hours before she’d woken me up. We were running. It was dark. There were trees. Hundreds of trees, everywhere. We were on a road but there was no sidewalk. We walked briskly down a highway, that had no side walk. The rocks and twigs hurt as they pressed against the bottom of my machine washed Keds. I refrained from complaining. I knew not to.
I knew we were poor. There wasn’t a damn thing close to our building. Not even a liquor store. Growing up in the ghetto in California means that there’s a liquor store, or a liquor mart or a gas station on every corner…not there. We lived right out in the middle of the fucken wilderness. A ghetto in the woods. It’s like all the white people made sure to put us on the outskirts so they didn’t have to see us, unless we was spending money.
“Where are we going, now.” I thought to myself. I prayed that I could at least get my clothes this time. Or my backpack. Victor, a boy I had liked in my class, had written me a “I like you do you like me. Circle one. YES NO” note. I needed to respond to it. I wouldn’t have the chance to. I never went back to that school.
We walked for at least an hour. Non-stop. I started crying silently about thirty minutes into our journey. My feet hurt. Bad. My cheeks were covered in tears and snot. And she hadn’t said anything to me for a while. She only mumbled random nothingness to herself.
She looked out into the street. Shaking her head at cars as the passed us.
Finally, she broke her maddened silence. “You see that shit! They didn’t even stop to ask if we were ok! The fucken cops see a mother and her child walking down the street at midnight and don’t ask if there’s a problem!!! Even in California they’d stop to see what’s the problem! I hate this Fucking place.”
My stomach started flipping as it did when I was scared. My little stomach flipped and flopped and I could feel the constipation build. I wanted to fall over as my poor belly bubbled. If we were at home, I would have been in the bathroom, with the door locked, the sink water running to drain out the sounds of She and the Bear yelling at each other. My little hands on my ears humming and talking to myself. Encouraging myself. I knew, even then, that only I could help me.
We continued walking. She began mumbling to herself in silence again. I think she was crying. I’m not sure. I don’t’ remember. I do remember thinking I’d die if we didn’t stop soon. She was holding my wrist and not my hand, basically dragging me along the unpaved road. I swear it was another hour before we reached the gas station.
It was closed.
The gas station, shit the whole town, was so old and so out dated, there was one of those glass telephone booths that you go inside and close the door behind you. She went inside and closed the door behind her. I sat on the ground with my back against the telephone booth.
I can remember everything she said. It rings in my ears so brilliantly. Like it’s happening right now.
“Operator, I’m going to commit suicide….I just can’t take it anymore….He can’t do this to me again….I’m going to kill myself… I’m going to fuckin kill myself….do you hear me… what are you going to do about it…hello…what are you going to do”
I stood up and I was screaming and banging on the glass yelling “please mommy no! No mommy stop saying that!!!”
She opened the door and knelt down to me “don’t worry, everything’s going to be ok. Really. I won’t let you go back there.”
The woman on the phone, that was now hanging free and swinging, was yelling “Hello, ma’am! Hello!”
We were walking again. This time, we were in what these people called a town. About ten blocks of bullshit ass dusty stores.
We stopped at another gas station. This one was open. I thought about asking for some chips, but decided not to. She brought four bottles of Advil, a Hawaiian punch and a pepsi. I thought about asking if she had a headache but decided not to. She looked at me and smiled so sweetly. I thought about running away from her, but decided not to. She took the tips of her fingers and ran them down my face. I loved when she did that, it reminded me of living in California with my grandma. That's what my grandma always did to me, when I looked sad.
"We have to hurry" she said. Looking back, I know what her plan was.
The police stopped us just before we started marching off into more wilderness again.
They took us to a house full of other women and children. We lived there for about 2 months. I'd only see her in the mornings before I went to school.
Things got better for a while. We lived with a white family for a month. Eventually she had enough money for us to catch the bus back home to California.
This is why I hate the mention of the Carolinas.