Forgive Me Mama, For I Was Weak

Which is worse?

At age 40 someone I loved ripped my heart out, used it as toilet tissue and flushed it. I was reduced to a wretched imitation of a man. I was swallowed by pain, lost 40 pounds and ended up with nearly without bread or bed. I was broken, pathetic and lost. I wept during the night and cried during the day. Eventually, however, unlike Humpty Dumpty I was put back together – better, stronger but with scars to never let me forget.

Or, at age 26, someone else I loved was stabbed her 19 times by a man who wanted to rob and rape her. Each night for more than a year, I begged “God” to let me die. I did not want to wake up and live through another day of throbbing pain. Her murder altered me but eventually I accepted the reality that life is death on its own terms and that we live at its discretion.

Or, at age 12 standing next to my mother, the first person who ever loved me, when her husband pulled out a gun and shot her nearly a dozen times. I panicked, jumped off the porch and ran. Once I stepped onto the sidewalk, I merely calmly walked away as if nothing had just happened. I did not cry. I did not feel. I simply walked to a store, purchased two items and then finally after I don’t know how long, returned. I could see the pool of my mother’s blood from a distance; but the police refused to let me see my mama, the first person I ever loved.

As was later explained, my mind shut down and refused to let the horror of what I had just experienced rush in and drown me. But that did not account for never crying, never weeping, never being in pain over her murder:

Indeed, I never cried. I never wept. I never begged to die. I did not break. In one sense, I defied the statistics that said I was to become abusive, dysfunctional, damaged and probably criminal; by most measures, however, I excelled and thrived academically and otherwise. Nothing about my behavior would indicate the story of what happened to my mother and me.

For thirty years, I would think of my mother and feel something, but never grief or pain. Until I was 42.

Thirty years later, on my mother’s death day, I decided to face the questions I had avoided since the murder of my friend or the loss loyalty of a lover: Why did I not even shed a tear after seeing my mother shot down mercilessly? Why did I not grieve? How could I be devastated after the death of a friend or after the ripping apart of my heart and not be at least likewise regarding the loss of my mother? I loved my mother; but did I love her less? Were the other two events more tragic or was I some sort of foul anomaly?

The answer came to me on that day in 1993.

For ten years, from age two to twelve, my mother’s husband ruled the household with tyranny and brutality. I witnessed on many occasions my mother being savagely beaten and crumpled; and I, too, bore physical and emotional scars of his madness. He terrorized us. I was a scared little boy who could not protect his mother. I would literally shake and tremble when he went on his rampages.

So, somehow, without conscious thought, after my mama’s death, I was overcome with relief. I no longer lived in quaking fear of a man whose cruelty was egregious. The realization that I was free drowned out any grief or pain I should have felt for my mama. I was selfish and thought only that finally I was free. Instead of weeping over my mother, I was joyful to be free of his brutality. It was as if I was too selfish to feel both pain and relief; I was guilty of choosing the easier of the two.

Once I realized this truth, I felt profound shame. My heart dropped to a jagged bottom. How could a son be like that? What kind of son was I that I missed my mother but did not weep at losing her? I loved her – always did – I missed her – always did. But I never felt any pain at losing her because the joy of not being terrorized left no room for the pain of her loss.

It was then that I broke down and howled and screamed in pain and agony. I sobbed for days begging for forgiveness. I hurt and there was no relief. It was if mama had just died instead of thirty years before. That realization smashed open the door to all the pain, the sorrow and grief that I should have let in on that day in 1963. The agony was raw and unfiltered.

After rising, I needed to manage my shame and my guilt [because there was no way to rid myself of them]. I decided to honor my mama’s memory by celebrating and mourning [celemourning] her birthday and death day, each year, by engaging in her “vices” [Pepsi, vanilla creme-filled cookies and strawberry ice cream]. And each morning, without fail, she comes to the front of my mind – and I feel a sadness. I take time and think of her each night – and tears fall from my heart. Lastly, I legally changed my name; my middles names are her first and middle name. I sign as such each and every time as a matter of endless pride, undying love and deep guilt.

Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 4:47 PM  Leave a Comment  
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4,654 Days

From19 September 1950 to 17 June 1963: The number of days from my birth to the death of my mother. 12 years and 9 months of childhood memories seared into my mind.

During those days, I heard and saw him choke my mother to near unconsciousness then beat her then choke her again to near unconsciousness then beat her again – repeating that pattern until he was tired. I would tremble as if I were convulsing.

During those days, I saw him chase my mother into the street – in broad daylight – beating her with the buckled end of a belt – stripping her red dress off, revealing her slip and bra. I would tremble as if I were convulsing.

During those days, I saw him come home as she was peeling potatoes. He beat her because that is what he did on Friday or Saturday nights. I would hear her scream and plead for him to stop. I would tremble as if I were convulsing.

During those days, I would follow her onto the street, in the middle of the night as he kicked us both out the house – she, tugging on her short slip and I in my underwear running down the street. I would tremble as if I were convulsing.

During those days, I would hear him rant and then tell my mother to wake me up. She would come to my door and call me. I would never answer on the first call … I would stand before him, listening or answering the questions of a drunken fool as my mother stood by, helplessly until he decided to go to bed. I would tremble as if I were convulsing.

Near the end, she wished I were older so that he would not beat her anymore. She knew I was not ready … too young, too frightened.

Near the end she became brave; she left him – and her seven children – only she stayed nearby. She would meet me on my way to school and walk with me the rest of the way everyday. No more beatings and humiliations. No more broken ribs or face broken beyond recognition. No more screaming and begging for mercy.

I would no longer tremble as if I were convulsing.

On day number 4,654, he took me with him to go looking for her. (He retrieved $40 from his pocket and gave it to me. “I won’t need it where I’m going.” His intentions did not even dawn on me.)

We found her, with her mother, visiting with neighbors – a family. He and I stood on the front porch. She came to the screen door. In the softest and sweetest of voices he asked her to step out on the porch with us. She shook her head. He pleaded ever so kindly, in a whisper, like a lover who wanted to make amends. He pleaded.

Finally, she stepped out onto the porch. Folded her arms and asked, so matter-of-factly, “Now what do you want, Odis?” He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket. She held out her hands and in a terrified voice, “Don’t stick me, Odis.” There, as we stood inches apart, he produced a gun and began firing. I panicked. I fled as he continued firing. (Later, I learned, he reloaded and continued shooting – shooting her a total of at least 11 times).1

After running less than a block, I shut down. I stopped the horror from rushing in. I began walking as if nothing had just happened. I stopped my mind as I wandered aimlessly. I ended up at a store and bought an apple and corn chips. I wandered back to the house. I asked to see my mama. The police would not let me see her. I saw the pool of her blood on the living room floor (She had stumbled back into the house – pleading for her life as he continued shooting. Reloading again … then sat on the porch steps waiting for the police.)

The next 30 years, I did not cry. I would remember her death day but shed no tears. Then, 17 June 1993, I had a brutal and life-altering epiphany. For the first time, I wept like a broken child. Thirty years of pain and grief and shame crushed me.

I did not save my mother. The terror of living with him snuffed out any courage I might have had. (Even in my marriage, I was disgustingly weak. Yielding, compromising, and acquiescing just to avoid conflict – trying anything and anyway not to be even remotely like him.)

Too late, I grew a pair. And also,

Too late, I grew into a man who, if it were possible, would avenge my mother in ways that would even make the “Devil”2 glad he wasn’t my mother’s husband. (Would I rather that than to see my mama again if I had to choose between the two?)

In this life, my regrets are plenty but none compares with the regret of failing to save my mama. My heart still bleeds tears for her. My heart still beats with her love for me and mine for her. Her last 4,654 days and my first 4,654 days … too soon she departed, and too late I arrived.


 Yes, I am drenched with a kind of guilt for being used as unwitting bait in my mother’s death and for being worthless as her protector. I also have a sustained disdain for a man who has been dead for more than 30 years. Amazingly, (as far as many social scientist are concerned) I never resorted to anti-social behavior such as drug use, poor performance in school, committing crimes and so forth. I have been able to segregate my guilt and hatred so that they do not interfere with my functions as a productive human being in society. With regard to my marriage, I started out as a weak and always yielding person. I was conflict averse. Later, I began to respect my needs and wishes. In either case, however, I did not resort to violence; nothing could make me emulate the man my mother married. I also, without effort, was the very opposite of the kind of father he was.

In any event, I am accepting of (having reached a kind of resolve) the feelings of guilt and loathing that spring from failing to protect my mama; and I cannot forgive the man who snuffed out her light. To me, to feel guilt-free would besmirch my mother’s memory, and to forgive him would be to dishonor it.

Oh, to be able to return to day 4,653 of my life and know what I know now.

1 The newspapers inaccurately stated my mama and he were arguing. There was no arguing. He calmly and gently begged her to come out. She kept saying no – in the most gentle of ways. Nothing was said, in words or tone to telegraph any anger, hostility or murderous intentions.

2 I use the term “Devil” metaphorically to illustrate the kind of unbridled savagery I would unleash against that man if it were possible … the extent of my abiding hatred for him.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 11:17 PM  Leave a Comment  
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