Show versus Show and Tell


As a kid, I ran away twice because of words not spoken.

After my mother died, my maternal grandmother took me back to Detroit to live with her and her daughter, my maternal aunt. My aunt had five children and supported us all by cleaning rich white folks houses as well as receiving ADC/Welfare. [Later, after I left home, she eventually got a full-time job at Chrysler]. My aunt was almost always shouting mainly because her two oldest sons, [especially the second oldest] were always doing something they should not. Though she never shouted at me, I found the shouting to be disturbing; I never got used to it. I never understood it.

Nonetheless, living with her was far more wonderful than living with my mother’s husband. I lived in utter fear of him. My mother and siblings and I were terrified of the man who eventually murdered her after beating her and us for ten years. Living with my aunt was like a paradise by comparison and she treated me as if I were one of her own — her shouting, notwithstanding. I cannot overemphasize how so much better living with her and my grandmother was by comparison.

But, while living with my aunt, I ran away twice. After the second time, she asked my why. I told her I did not think she loved me. She said just because she does not go around saying “I love you” doesn’t mean she did not. She was correct. Yes, living with my mother, I was her confidante. I was special to my mother; we suffered together at her husband’s hand [he would often torment us both at the same time while leaving my siblings alone]. She expected me one day to save her. I knew my mother loved me. True, my mother never told me she loved me; she demonstrated it — ultimately, dying because she did. Yes, if she had not loved me, and her other children, she could have grown old instead of being murdered at age thirty.

Indeed, my aunt loved me, too — the best way she knew how. She did not have to take me in after my mother died. She could have treated me differently than she did her own – but she did not. I was never mistreated, never neglected, never ignored. My aunt’s love was real and genuine — different from my mother’s but just as heartfelt.

Years later I was able to understand and appreciate this fact. It took hindsight for me to have insight. Sometimes time has to pass before we can understand the past. Ruth loved me and unfortunately it took growing up to realize that. Hers was a different generation. Not a generation that hugged and said, “I love you”. It was a generation that showed rather than told.

It is true that actions speak louder than words but the sound of words can be like the spices in a feast of good food. It is better to love both ways: show and tell. But one of them should always be the least one does if one does not do both.

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Published in: on June 30, 2016 at 11:34 PM  Leave a Comment  
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50 Years


Fifty years ago, my mother stepped out onto a porch and stood next to me. Her husband stood near us both. She feared him but since he brought me with him, she was sufficiently at ease. After all, he had just pleaded so softly for her to step out on the porch to talk. I stood there completely clueless – – clueless as a door knob. Only he knew the agenda; he had come there to fulfill his self-imposed mission. Seconds later, he fired six bullets, reloaded and fired five more. My mother lay in a pool of her own blood. I panicked and fled like a coward.

Fifty years ago on 17 June 1963, I was twelve and we had lived under that man’s tyranny for ten years.

On the fiftieth anniversary of my mother’s murder, these things I believe:
a] When I die, my mother will die again — without ceremony or recognition
b] Praying to “God” or any deity is as effective as praying to a wall
c] As a male, I belong to a species half of whom believe it is their  damn-near divine right to subjugate and marginalize the other half
d] I am ashamed of the half to which I belong
e] Life is not only unfair, it is, at times, egregiously cruel
f] Cruelty is often a function of the image a man has of himself
g] When we come here, we are confined to death row — all the reason to live a life of color in a black and white world

I miss my mother so much; what he did was so wrong — still so hard to believe … so hard to understand … so unforgivable … so painful

But I recognize that death, murder, mayhem and cruelty are as common as their counterparts. My mother’s murder was just one of the billions before her and after her. No worse, no better. That’s life on Prison Earth. Her death is a big deal to me; in the scheme of things, however, it was ordinary. That fact is not lost on me.

Nonetheless, to this day: My heart still bleeds tears for her.

Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 1:52 AM  Comments (3)  
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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.

Epilogue

 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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My Mother’s First Child


I am more afraid of running out of time than of dying. I am not confused about the difference between the two.

If my mother knew all that I have done that I should not have done and all that I have not done that I should have done, she would be both proud and ashamed of me — one just a bit more than the other.

I do not love or hate easily; I believe both emotions are important. One should be done with care and caution while the other with deliberation and decisiveness. Which is which depends on the context.

I realize that the kind of parent one is, is often, to some extent, a function of the kind of parent the other parent is. Somehow, however, that fact does not make me feel any better.

I have been a fool many more times than once — and so have the “gods.”

I have many regrets — as many painful ones as mundane ones. But I do not regret regretting; because I regret, I suffer no delusions about my humanness or the humanness of others.

I am a deist. I believe that a First Cause, or an Uncaused Mind/Intelligence, is responsible for the existence of the universe and all its component parts — including life. Immediately thereafter, this Being or Beings, i.e., “God,” abandoned us and left humans to the devices of the maleficent trinity: Whimsical Chance, the Workings or Agenda of Others and alas, Our Own Doings. Everything that has happened, does happen or will happen can be traced to those three alone — not “God” or his “Devil.” “God” does not deserve credit for any “evil” and no blame for any “good,” or vice versa.

I am my own hero, for who could be a better champion for me than I?

I am not a happy person. There are certain things, however, for which I am happy — even delighted. But in the heart of my heart, between each beat, there is sorrow. I am pained at what humans do to other humans. I grieve at the exploitations, the sufferings, the injustices. I see the strong, and all they do to those not. And my heart weeps. I can only savor the few joys and cherish those who and that which bring them.

I am guilty of not saving m mother — of not being able to deliver her from her tormentor. But in that regard, I am as guilty as Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Jesus, Vishnu Zeus and all the other “gods” because they did not save her either. Nonetheless, their cowardice does not diminish mine.

I hate being wrong; I detest it. In fact, I abhor being wrong so much that I desperately want to know when I am so that I can stop.

I wonder, at night: What did “God” do today?

Published in: on November 10, 2012 at 3:29 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Eleven Pieces


 

I hate being wrong; I detest it. In fact, I abhor being wrong so much that I desperately want to know when I am so that I can stop being wrong.

 

I am a man not because I am a heterosexual male. To me, manhood is independent of one’s sexual orientation. I am a man for the same reason a woman is a woman. Humanity trumps all the labels we pin on each other and humanity is the idea that being straight is no more relevant to being a man or a woman than being a fish has anything to do with riding a bicycle.

 

I have seen many males who impersonate men; they beat women.

 

I want to know everything – everything from why is there each and everything, to how is there anything. In short, I want to know what “God” knows because what we know is worth as much as what we flush down the toilet.

 

I am more afraid of running out of time than of dying. To me, those are two different things.

 

I have never tried to control a woman. To the weak, that was a license to try to do to me what I refuse to do to them. Oh darling, thy name was “fool” and thy status, “alone.”

 

I do not love or hate easily. I believe both emotions are precious; one should be done with care and caution while the other with deliberation and decisiveness. Which is which depends on the situation.

 

I realize that the kind of parent one is, is often, to some extent, a function of the kind of parent the other parent is. Nevertheless, I wish I could start over.

 

I have many regrets – as many painful ones as mundane ones. The most profound regret, however, is not knowing the why that would explain all the regrets and every single other thing about this reality.

 

If my mother knew all that I have done that I should not have done and all that I have not done that I should have done, she would be both proud and ashamed of me – one just a bit more than the other.

 

I wonder why White people do not go to beauty shops to make their hair look like Black people’s natural hair. Then I also ask the obvious question.

Published in: on June 27, 2012 at 3:08 AM  Leave a Comment  
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That’s What My Mama Said


From time to time, in conversations with me or with others near me, people have often uttered words of wisdom or other sayings their mothers have oft repeated to them when they were growing up. They often parrot their mothers with pride or at minimum, with a sense of profound respect. I, however, do not recall any such words from my mother.

I was with my mother for almost 13 years before her murder. During that time, we spent many, many hours together, but I do not recall any sagacious words or pithy sayings that would later serve to guide me through this life. That is not to say my mother never spoke any words of wisdom; it is to say, if she did, I do cannot recall.  But what I do remember are the things she did that are tattooed into the heart of my mind.

To be sure, words can be as important as deeds; though deeds tend to have a longer shelf life. Accordingly, I remember a mother who cooked and cleaned for seven children and an ogre who beat her mercilessly. I remember a mother with whom I would walk for what seemed like miles to Receiving Hospital in Detroit. Upon arrival, we would wait, literally for many hours, before a doctor would see me about my migraine headaches  [headaches that evaporated once I no longer lived with him]. I remember a mother who confided in me about her husband’s infidelity and other cruelties – as if I were the only one she could confide in. I remember a mother who, after she left her tormentor and us, would meet me on my way to school and walk with me each day. I remember a mother who would watch my siblings and me from a safe distance as we played in our backyard. I remember a mother who could have completely abandoned us after being brutalized for more than ten years by the “god” of our hell – but did not. Finally, I remember a mother who let her guard down because I was standing there – neither of us knowing what his plan was – for me to be the audience to her murder.

I do not remember any words of motherly wisdom; I only remember her motherly deeds. Admittedly, there are times when I hear others repeat their mother’s words, I wish I could hear in my mind some words of wisdom that my mother spoke, but I cannot. Nonetheless, I take comfort in remembering the things she did as my mother. I guess it can be said that her actions spoke words of love rather than words of wisdom — and love was what I needed most.

Published in: on April 29, 2012 at 4:54 AM  Comments (2)  
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