(Book excerpt By Donna Mac, all rights reserved)
Erika felt useless. She saw life as a colossal monster chewing her up and spitting her out, over and over again. After nine years of enduring John’s cheating and abuse, she finally left him.
“Nobody wants me, I got two kids, a dead-end job, and I never even finished college.”
Like a wounded bird seeking refuge from the storms of life Erika hid herself in the pentecostal church. Sunday mornings she and her girls, five year old Shena and seven year old Dana, were the first to arrive for Sunday School. Sunday afternoons they were in the church basement eating dinner waiting for afternoon service to start. Sunday evening Erika and her children were right there in the third row, during testimony service singing
“You don’t know like I know what He’s done for me, you don’t know like I know what He’s done for me”
Just as the song was coming to an end Erika’s voice rose above everyone else’s.
“You can’t tell it let me tell it, O you can’t tell it let me tell it, what he’s done for me.”
She dances and spins around as she thinks about how John used to come home at three o’clock in the morning.
“Get yo ass up and fix me something to eat, Erika.”
“John, I’m your wife, you don’t talk to me like that. Where you been anyway?”
“Shut up hoe, and get me something to eat, I’m a grown ass man you don’t ask me where I been”
“Well grown ass man, you should have ate where ever you were, I threw yo dinner in the garbage four hours ago.”
John swung the back of his hand so hard and so fast he never thought Erika would duck quickly enough. BAM! the back of his hand hit the wall as Erika ran to the bathroom and locked the door. “Ahh, ahh I broke my hand, Ohh.”
“You can’t tell it let me tell it, what he’s done for me” Erika sang as tears stream down her cheeks like warm healing balm and her long lean body bent by the burdens of life sways like a reed by the sea of utopia. In a trance like state Erika feels warm and caressed as she heals a little more from her past pain. “Mama, Mama, sit down” whispers five year old Sheena. When Erika opened her eyes everyone else is sitting down, she is lost in a warm glow of acceptance flowing from some unseen realm. Dana reaches into her mother’s purse fumbling around for a tissue, she finds one at the bottom under the makeup bag, it has lipstick on it that Erika wiped off her lips before entering the church doors. As Dana wipes her mother’s tears the lipstick on the tissue leaves red streaks on Erika’s cheeks.
“Oo, you making a mess” Sheena giggles, pointing to her mother’s red cheeks.
Just then Erika comes to herself as she looks questioningly at Sheena and Dana. “Wipe your face Mama before the church Mothers see your lipstick” whispers Sheena pointing to the used tissue Dana is holding. “Oh Lord Where’s my tissue.” As she fumbles around in her purse the makeup bag falls to the floor. A tube of lip stick, a compact of eye shadow and rouge roll under the pew towards the altar. Dana jumps to the floor, swoops her small frame under the pew, and reaches out her fingers just as the tube of lipstick rolls up to Mother Dawson’s polished white Mary Jane shoes. She recovers the forbidden cosmetics before any one notices what happened. Managing to clean her face Erika regains her composure just as the usher hands her the offering basket. “Give and it will come back to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” Erika joins in with the choir as she slips twenty-seven cents that she found in her change purse into the basket.
“What is this I’m seeing?” A ray of sun beams through massive windows that meet a twelve-foot high ceiling, Like radar it spills over the window sill, along the hard wood floor, and shines on Erika’s desk, as she sits in a classroom, listening to a professor and taking notes. “Where did that thought come from? I dropped out of college eight years ago, I got two kids and no money, I can’t go back to school.” Thought Erika.
“Remember me, remember me, Oh, oh Lord, remember me” Reverend Jacobs sang in his deep baritone voice as he stands behind the pulpit. “Turn with me in your bibles to First Samuel Chapter 1 verse 19. …and the Lord remembered Hannah,” he reads in a loud resounding preacher voice.
“My brothers and sisters I just stopped by to tell you that God has not forgotten his plan and purpose for your life. I don’t care what it looks like, how impossible it may seem, God has not forgotten you…”
The voice of the wind howled like a great evil beast travailing in birth pangs. While the piercing light of the crescent moon revealed every movement of five year old Erika, her brother James, and their Mother. Edna Jefferson grips her children’s hands running into the clandestine darkness that covered them like a gossamer shadow, as they escape the wrath of their drunken father Earl Jefferson once again.
“I’ll kill you Edna, I swear I’ll kill you this time” Erika heard her father yell as they ran down the street she grew up on. With blurred vision and a trembling heart, Edna ran pass the big oak tree, (where Earl stole his first kiss), pass the corner liquor store (where Earl drank MD 20 20 with his team mates) into the still darkness of the night. Just as they reached the corner, like a guardian angel from heaven the Dexter bus stopped right in front of the three of them.
Shhh, Snap!, the door slammed shut behind them as they fell into the hard, cold, plastic and steel seat. Warm salty tears streaked Erika’s little face, not her tears but Edna’s. Tears passing from one generation to the next, as James set motionlessly staring into the dark empty spaces of the dingy, cold, city bus.
The voice of the ferocious beast howled louder, while the city bus acted as a shield between us and the darkness.
“Where we going Mama, it’s the middle of the night?”
“Miss do you plan on paying? the fare is fifty cents each” interrupted the bus driver.
“I, I don’t have no money”
” Where you going in such a hurry looked like you were running for your life?”
“I was, mister, I was”
“Well I was on my way to the garage, this is not my route but I just felt I should stop and pick y’all up.” The bus driver noticed Edna’s busted lip as drops of bright red blood mingled with tears began to fall on Erika’s already tear streaked face.
“I can take you to Receiving Hospital, do you need a doctor?”
“Yes, yes I need a doctor, thank you.” Edna said with dazed eyes and a wounded heart.
We spent the night in the cold. clammy, crowded, emergency room of Detroit Receiving Hospital.(describe how it smelled, how it looked and how she felt) as doctors told Mama she had a fractured skull and two broken ribs. Miss Peterson the Wayne county social worker came the next morning and took us to the battered women’s shelter.(Describe the shelter) That’s the day I laid next to Mama and James on a little steel frame twin bed, and dreamed.
Green grass as far as the eye could see covered the earth like a rippling stream, I was standing in the middle of the stream of grass as cascading ripples reached out to the horizon, I was causing the ripples. It was the courtyard of a college campus. Next, I saw myself sitting in a classroom when a sunbeam darted in from the horizon, like a spot light as it shined on my desk, then my pen, then my face. Until all I saw was the golden light. Like warm, liquid fire, It reached into my soul, my heart, my spirit, at that moment nothing was impossible, it was surreal. When I opened my eyes, sun light sneaking into the room from the cracked window pane (softly blanketed) down on me, Mama and James like golden glimmers of hope. We never went back home and daddy never bothered to come looking for us. Mama started to heal on the outside, but the inside was where we all needed the most healing.
“James, James, come here boy” Edna shouted. “You have got to stop stealing food from the kitchen, you don’t want to get us put out of the shelter do you?” James chewed and swallowed his stolen morsels quickly. “I want to go home.” he said while folding his arms across his chest and poking out his bottom lip as far as possible.”James this is our home for now, we have to live here and follow the rules like everybody else.” “I want to go home, I want my Daddy.” “Boy you are seven years old, that’s old enough to know that no one should have to live like we did when we were with your Daddy.” “We had enough to eat.” “I know and that’s why I stayed so long, while he…he…never mind, you know what he did.” “Now James I promise things will get better, but you have to do your part too. Can you just try to follow the rules, and stop starting fights with all the other kids, please? If we get put out of here we don’t have no place to go.” “I want to go home, what did you do to make Daddy hit you Mama?” James said through tightly curled lips, a menacing frown and cutting eyes. “James let me tell you something, no man should ever hit a woman, ever!” ” You must have done something, why was he so mad all the time?” “He was mad because life was kicking him down to the ground and he didn’t know how to fight back, so he took it out on me.”
Earl Jefferson was the star quarterback at Northwestern High School, he could have any girl he wanted, except Edna Washington. She had talent, intelligence, and a future, a four-year scholarship to Howard University. She didn’t have time for athletes.
“Here comes that Earl Jefferson again, I wish he would leave me alone.”
“Girl you have got to be kidding, every girl in Northwestern High School would die to go to the prom with Earl and you told him no, three times!”
“Yes Jennifer I told him no, he only wants me because he knows he can’t have me.”
“let me see, he’s six feet five inches tall, strong, muscular, handsome, like a Greek god chiseled out of black marble and for some reason that bothers you, What’s the problem?”
“He is the problem, he should take himself to the prom because Earl Jefferson is in love with, Earl Jefferson.”
“Darling you send me, darling you send me, I know I know that you send me, honest you do, honest you do.” With a voice like warm, butter, Earl sings gently and softly into Edna’s ear as she and Jennifer walk into the loud, crowded, teaming, school cafeteria. Edna looks away as if she is annoyed and waves her hand as if she is trying to shoe away a nasty fly. “At first I thought it was infatuation but oh it lasted so long, now I find myself wanting to marry you and take you home” “No Earl! no I will not go to the prom with you!” Edna turns abruptly and walks away while Jennifer and every other girl stares at Earl in childish school girl admiration.
“What is her problem?”
“Who does she think she is?” “I love Earl Jefferson, I will do anything for him,”
“He told me that he loved me when I lost my virginity under the back hall stairs in seventh grade,”
“He told me he loved me last night in the back seat of his mustang at Bell Isle.”
These are the thoughts of Cynthia, Paula, Alice, Janice, and Maria, like dreams shattering, hearts breaking, smoking guns hating, women scorn waiting, hoping, unspoken secrets, broken promises, Earl Jefferson’s conquests. Edna Washington’s enemies.
(Describe Edna) Tall, classy, focused, studious, pretty, with big bright expressive eyes, valedictorian of the senior class, daughter of Reverend, Doctor, Christopher Dupre Washington, Pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church. The pillar of the community. Edna sings in the church choir, but never seems to satisfy her father’s expectations.
“I don’t know how a colored girl can sing a song like Amazing Grace, like a cloistered French Nun.” Reverend Washington said impatiently during Thursday night choir rehearsal. “Give the microphone to Jennifer, Edna.”
Jennifer Evans takes the microphone, closes her eyes and sings like Mahalia Jackson in Imitation of Life, as she watches her daddy walk down the stairs of their front porch. He said he was going to buy a loaf of bread but he never came back home to Jennifer, her mother Susie and her little sister Gloria. Two months later Susie Evans walked into Mr. Jones’ Corner Grocery Store.
“Collard Greens and salt pork, sweet potatoes, some summer squash, oh , and I need plenty of flour and corn meal for my corn bread, Mr. Jones. Milk, Cheese and elbow macaroni for my famous macaroni and cheese. It’s Sunday me and my kids always eat a hearty Sunday meal. Put it on our bill Mr. Jones my husband will be in to pay you tomorrow, he got paid on Friday, he’ll be in to pay you.”
“Now Susie you know Charles left you two months ago, you don’t have credit at this store any more you already owe me more money than you can ever pay.”
“No, no Charles will be in to pay you on Monday he always stays out every week end he’ll be back on Monday as usual.”
“Not this time Susie, Charles is gone, let it go, you got to get on with your life, get a job and take care of yourself and the kids.”
Susie dropped her groceries and stared at Mr. Jones with blank, emotionless eyes. A sound like the crash of broken glass fills her heart, as milk spills across the old, dry, hardwood floor, rolls under the counter and stops in front of the cash register. Susie never looked at life with clear vision again.
“Twas grace that taught my heart to sing and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” As Jennifer opened her eyes something like liquid love, the healing balm of Gilead was streaming down the cheeks of every one in the choir loft. One lone tear filled with sadness, pain and shame fell from Jennifer’s eye, it rolled down her cheek like much-needed rain in the Sahara, it caressed her chin, her bosom, her heart ache. Jennifer ran to her seat next to Edna and laid her head on Edna’s shoulder, as she cried silent tears of unreleased pain.
“Why do you try to be so strong Jennifer? Go ahead and let it all out nobody’s judging you.” Edna whispered.
“No sense in crying over spilled milk Edna, I have to get on with my life.”
“Girl we have been best friends since kindergarten and I know you, you are hurting inside where no one can see.”
“My family is on Welfare, my mother is living in a dream world in love with the invisible man, and my little sister is looking for love in all the wrong places. I do not have time for pain, I am the rock of my family.”
“I hope you don’t crumble under all the pressure you carrying”
“like my mother did” Jennifer quipped with angry eyes.
In a hushed whisper, Edna drops her head as she wrings her hands nervously in her lap. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. And you are not on Welfare, your mother gets a check, until she, uh recovers…you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know if Mama will ever…recover, she put all her faith in a man who walked out on her…us…twelve years ago, she still runs his bath water every night, fixes his dinner and waits. She ain’t never going to recover till she wakes up. I’m late for work see you at school tomorrow. Bye Reverend Washington.” Jennifer rushes past Reverend Washington down the aisle and out of the double doors.
Sometimes pain can hit so hard, so suddenly, a person stops feeling for a while, that’s what happened to Jennifer when Charles Evans abandoned his family. She got up early the next morning and poured a bowl of cereal for four-year old Gloria.
“Gloria come eat.” Gloria rushed into the kitchen still in her Pajamas.
“How long is Mama going to look out the window? Did Daddy come home yet? Is it Friday he don’t never come home on Friday?” ”
“Mama been looking out of that window since yesterday when Daddy said he was going to the store to buy a loaf of bread. And no, it’s not Friday, it’s Wednesday and I’m going to school. Mama, Mama are you going to look out that window all day?”
Susie Evans stood in her living room looking out the front window until she collapsed and hit the floor just as six-year-old Jennifer was walking in the front door coming home from school. When Susie awakened her eyes were now her windows and she was a prisoner inside her body unwilling to live, to feel, to laugh, to love, again. Jennifer told every body that her Daddy was dead and her Mama had him cremated because they couldn’t afford to pay for a funeral.
Jennifer sits in her room on the floor behind her bed, writing a poem in her diary. (this is the beginning of Jennifer’s story)
Black men, Left Women and Hurting Children
My Daddy said he was going to buy a loaf of bread
He walked past Miss Ella’s house when she said
You know I’ll take good care of you come inside
My bed is perfumed and my lips are sweet
Lay down for a while
I’ll kiss you from the top of yo head to the soles of yo feet!
She sang my Daddy a lull-a-by
…I hope you die