*This is just an introduction, not necessarily the first chapter.
When I was very young, five years old or maybe younger, I remember being a happy little girl. I was always resting in my mother’s lap. Most times she’d bounce me on her legs until I broke out with laughter. My hair would be in twisted fluffy ponytails and most times she dress me in light blue jeans and a purple dinosaur sweater. I had big cheeks, wide round brown eyes and was slightly chubby much like I am now. I was a quiet child who observed everything and everyone. If I didn’t care for you, I’d either stare at you or dismiss you all together.
One thing that I remember teaching me was to read. She’d plop me on her lap pick up a book with both pictures and words and ask me what the words were and if I knew what they meant. I learned my colors, numbers, and shapes that way. I don’t know if my appetite for reading or words came from her, but I’d like to believe I was drawn to knowledge from an early age.
My mother also talked to me about not hating people. I think it’s an odd conversation to have with a four to five-year old but it came in handy in my preteens. She taught me to pick up after myself, not to talk to strangers, and ask questions if I needed help. I am not an only child so imagine her having this talk repeatedly five times over to all girls. My sisters and I grew up in a single parent household and we were taught unity. We didn’t have any other choice but to stick together, especially through hard times and believe me, there were a lot of them.
I was too young to know we were poor, or as my mother puts it, financially strapped. As I remember it, we had everything we needed to make it each day, we never starved, or had our utilities cut off. How I came to discover that we were financially strapped was through family members. You see, my grandmother, her sisters, cousins made it a point to make sure we were aware of that fact. I often looked up at my mother and asked why we don’t have as much stuff as our other family members, and she told the truth, she just didn’t have the money to afford extra luxury items. We slept on the floor for years which wasn’t a big deal because at one time I thought everybody slept that way. A mother with five kids can only do so much when the children’s father’s aren’t around. My mother often shopped at the thrift store for us and herself. I recall the clothes not being too bad at all, everything fit with room to spare. She made sure we didn’t look poor but that only goes so far when family members know otherwise. Did they help? It depends on what you consider help. My cousin who lives in Chicago made trips on a regular basis to Kansas City when she had paid time off from her job. Then, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she had a well-paying job which meant when she rode into town on her white horse, she’d gather my sisters and I up and take us shopping. We got things a kid could only dream about. She bought us outfits, purses, shoes, took us to the candy shop, bought us ice cream and told us how beautiful she thought we were. I remember smiling up at her thinking she was the best person ever, she even trumped Santa Claus. Turns out all the gifts and words were all lies and deceit. Once I got a bit older, I realized she did all those things because she felt “sorry” for us; we were those poor kids who needed handouts. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were traditionally held at our great aunts two-story duplex.
Every Thanksgiving Christmas decorations were adorned throughout my great-aunt’s house early. Their Christmas tree was setup in the lounge area in front of a window. The base of the tree was surrounded with fluffy white cotton cloth that was supposed to mimic snow, and there, presents rested, some positioned like dominoes the rest overlapping one another. There were no presents for us though, we could look but not touch. They were always for someone else. It was once said that we, my sister’s, myself, and my mother should be grateful that we were invited in the first place.
I am much like my mother, even as a child, I was extremely quiet and watchful. This could be taken as being antisocial, so when these holiday dinner came around, my mother being the good Christian that she is decided to attend these “family” dinners because she didn’t want to make it seem like she was being antisocial. Anytime we attended holiday dinners, arguments always erupted and my grandmother was always at the center of it all. I’ll talk more about her a little later.
The food was always filling; my great-aunt cooked everything from scratch even down to the pie crust. Contrary to what I said about family squabbles, whenever I walked into my great aunt’s house, you could always feel love and warmth because it came from her. She’s by no means innocent. She’s said things that were totally uncalled for because she’d base her opinions off of inaccurate second-hand information. However, her spirit is totally different from the rest of her sister’s and brother’s, she’s usually a peaceful person. I remember my great aunt saying this: we’re family, and family always sticks together. We may have arguments but we apologize to one another and move on.
My great-aunt made a promise to her mother before she died that she would keep the family together and I have to say that was a tall order that she placed on her shoulders. She kept the family together at other’s expense thinking she was doing the right thing. You never keep something together at the expense of violating someone’s personhood. I know the former sounds contradictory but this is my family, we are a twisted bunch of people. My family is run by women, seasoned veterans who know nothing much outside of their world but pretend to know everything. They are very opinionated and one my view this as a good thing. But no, it is not. They made it a habit of trying to run my mother’s life and ours at one point.
My mother’s personality is nothing like her mother’s. She very quiet, a deep thinker and keeps to herself. My grandmother’s personality is a combination of the Terminator and Hitler. What do I mean by this? As in the Terminator movies, he was relentless. Anywhere you thought you could go or hide, he’d always found you. We never could rest, sleep yes, but never rest because we knew she’d find creative ways to obliterate our lives. When she wasn’t in Terminator mode, her Hitler like personality switched into place. As much as I hate to give Adolf Hitler any credit, he was a mastermind. He got other people to do his dirty work, he was the puppeteer pulling all the strings. When my grandmother for whatever reason couldn’t get to you herself, she’d tell her sister and nieces lies and in turn they’d jump down our backs. The funny thing is, they had no clue that she set them up to tear us down and she got plenty of enjoyment watching them do and say cruel things to us. It’s interesting to see how she got people to dance to her tune without them being aware of it. It’s almost admirable.
And where was my father while all of this was going down? He was in prison. We didn’t have a protector to shield us from the firestorm of abuse that we suffered mainly at the hands of our grandmother. It’s interesting, even though my father wasn’t around, my sister’s and I learned to protect ourselves, not just from family, but people in general. This personally cost me a great deal. I grew accustomed to fighting. I fought against anyone who actively tried to help me. I never had the opportunity to take a day off until I reached my mid twenties.