AND ALL OF THESE THINGS IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE
An Excerpt from a Novel by La Vonda R. Staples
Monday, December 19, 2011.
My grandmother prevented me from becoming a murderer. Well, at least from committing that first murder. I’ve wanted to kill my mother for a very long time. Don’t be shocked. She deserves it. She is one of the cruelest, most evil, most vile creatures that God has ever allowed to walk this Earth. No child deserves the hell that she gave me. I guess that’s why I always appeared so fearless. A few years with her and there is no fear of the unknown. I know too well how it feels to be tortured, kicked, punched, mistreated in every possible way. She has succeeded in killing the most precious love. The love from a child to a mother. She has succeeded in creating a person who has no care for the life of another. A murderer has no care for your screams, the tears of your family, or the loss of whatever you bring to the world. That’s what she would have done to me had it not been for the love of my grandmother.
Think of your earliest memory. Was it a sunny Easter morning? Was it a joyful Christmas? Maybe it was when you were three or four and your father took you to your first ballgame. Most people wake up to themselves, their reality, and their state of being to happiness. Some of us, thankfully to God very few of us, wake up to misery and pain. I can see myself as I was 41 years ago. I was sitting in a red chair. I was breathing heavily. “A.” “B.” “C.” But I couldn’t get to D.
The pin went in my arm again. Through my squinted eyes I could see her smiling at me. She was enjoying the whole thing. I had the feeling that she wanted me to make a mistake.
My earliest memory is my mother looking me in the eyes as she stuck a safety pin, over and over, into my arm. The pretense for this torture was making me say my alphabet. I could already read but for some reason she wanted me to say my alphabet. She held me down by my arm and she told me, “if you try to run you gonna get it worse.” We spoke one dialect of English at home and another outside of the home. She wasn’t using her college voice or her church voice – she wasn’t on
display. She was in my grandparent’s home and very comfortable with what she was doing. She thought we were alone. We weren’t. My grandmother must have heard me screaming all the way in the basement. She was a big woman and to this day I don’t know how she managed to sneak up all of those stairs, through the kitchen, and into the dining room. By the time my mother felt her mother watching her it was far too late. My grandmother sprung across the room. “Take yo hands off
of that chile!” Those are the only words I remember my grandmother saying. She became the beast as she attacked my mother with her fists.
She beat my mother in the face. She punched her in the chest. She knocked her down and kicked her again and again. My mother pulled herself back to her feet only to get punched in the face by my grandmother again. They both stopped as quickly as they had begun. My mother never landed a punch and never had a chance to defend herself. My grandmother grabbed my hand and I was taken to the basement with her. Something was decided without words. I was now my grandmother’s baby. It was the summer so I had yet to turn four.
My mother found ways to make me pay over and over again. She would deliberately lock me out of the house and watch as I lost control of my bladder and wet myself on the front steps of the house. I didn’t have to tell my grandmother. It was as if she became a part of me.
She called me, “mah shaddah.” I was closer to her than her shadow.
La Vonda Staples is an adjunct professor of African American history. She has taught children and adults alike. She blogs at http://lavondastaples.blogspot.com/
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