“Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t want to do this and if I don’t show up, it means I’m not ready. Just bill me and we’ll call it a day!”
I slammed the phone down and glared at Jesse.
“Damn it! What the hell am I doing? What good is gonna come out of opening Pandora’s Box? I’ve managed to live my whole life, successfully I might add, without needing any of this mumbo jumbo voodoo crap!”
“Baby, you promised you would go at least once. For me.”
She walked towards me, a lazy, seductive smile playing on her lips. When she looked at me like that, she could make me do anything she wanted. Her hands moved across my shoulders, down my chest, stopping at my belt buckle. I felt the heat stirring between my thighs and kissed her hard. She moaned deep in her throat. I held her close, pushed her backwards until her legs hit the bed. Slowly I slid the straps off her shoulders.
We lay together, hot and slick, our hunger satisfied, our breathing normal again. She traced me with her small, soft hands. Felt my scars. Asked me questions. I don’t like talking about them. Brings back painful memories. But she was fascinated with childlike innocence so I couldn’t be angry. When she found the mark on my left thigh I said I had no idea how it got there. She asked me if I was curious. I told l her I let it go a long time ago. Once sharp and obvious in the shape of an iron, it’s now a faded reminder that someone had hated me enough to brand me for life.
I woke up cold and shaking, the glow from the streetlamps the only light in the room. Jesse whispered in my ear, calming me, and then fell back asleep. I laid there quietly haunted by snapshots.
Rewind. Repeat: Her scream pierced the air. Sharp in disbelief. I watched her stumble, one hand clutching her belly, the other reaching out. Dazed, she sank into the chair and stared in growing horror at the TV screen. Three shots. One to the head. JFK was dead. It was November 22, 1963. I was two and a half years old.
I wasn’t born abandoned. I had a family once. A dark haired, flashing eyed Ojibwa vixen and an African American ‘Casanova’ gave birth to me and a brother. Two dreamy, idealistic teenagers, who fell in love, got married and thought they knew the world. Thought they would be the difference. They were wrong. We never had a hope of surviving as a family. All of us had been lost at conception.
We lived in a small, one bedroom apartment and slept on bare gingham mattresses. My brother and I shared a bed. More than once I woke up soaked in urine. I didn’t mind that much. I loved my little man and protected him fiercely. Sometimes we’d wake in the night. Alone. Forgotten. The air quiet and sour. The dream of being the difference died after he and I were born.
Fast Forward: Twenty-seven foster homes and life in a failed childcare system had all but erased me. Casanova? A ghostly shadow passing under a streetlamp. Perhaps, the night he had finally left? The Ojibwa vixen? A terrifying dream that still haunts me. And the little man? Lost him. We held on to each other as long as the system would allow, but were eventually separated. I worried about him. A lot. I had seen the deceitful soul of the desperate caregiver and the darkness a government cheque could unleash. It seemed girls were more adoptable. I was saved. He was lost. When I found him again, much had happened to him in the dark.
Rewind. Repeat: She was ironing calmly, wearing a white slip and humming a tune I couldn’t quite make out. I watched as the steaming iron fell from her hand. She stumbled, one hand clutching her belly, the other reaching out. I started to cry. I don’t know why, but I was afraid. I crawled towards her, needing the protection of her arms. Her reassurance.
Black eyes flashed in anger. “Shut up! Just shut up!” She slapped me. I cried even harder.
Fast Forward: I had a new family. The Backways. Nice people. I was happy with them. I had an older “sister” Kathy who taught me how to roll white bread into plump little balls, coat them in butter and dip them in sugar. We danced to The Archie’s and The Rolling Stones and had pillow fights. Every night I was read to from my 365 Bedtime Storybook. I liked the picture of the New Year baby wearing his banner of hope. I was four.
They came and took me away one day. A man and a familiar brown-haired woman wearing a long white coat carrying a briefcase. She spoke softly and carefully, but her words blanched my heart. I was being given to someone else. I was numb. I had already learned that everything was temporary.
Rewind. Repeat: She was wearing a white slip and humming a vaguely familiar tune. My brother was sleeping in the play pen. I watched as she ironed. I started to cry. I was afraid. I wanted her love.
Black eyes turned on me, flashing in anger. “Shut up, you little brat!” she screamed and slapped me. I cried even harder.
She jumped up and ran past me cursing as she grabbed the iron from the floor. A dark smoldering stain burned deep into the carpet. “Now look what you made me do! “
The baby woke up crying loudly. Black eyes accused me. I knew it was all my fault.
Fast Forward: I have a girlfriend now. Imagine nearly 50 years old and just coming out. Christ. But I wanted Jesse and Jesse wanted me. It didn’t have to make conventional sense. We connected and it felt right. I have yet to understand how the heart works.
Jesse’s got a few demons of her own. She’s trying to find balance. She’s seeing a shrink. Says it helps her to move past her stuff. Says I should do it too. Says I need to talk about my stuff. Says it’s not good to bottle it up. I tell her I’m fine and I don’t need some tree hugging mind guru to dredge up my past. I’ve seen children beaten, teenagers OD, street kids starving and prostitutes get sliced. I’ve seen drunks get rolled and kicked for sport, police rape simply because they could and mothers murder their babies before they’re born. I have barely escaped death. Twice. I have been a victim. But ultimately, I am a survivor. I don’t need to talk about it. It’s life. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. All depends on what side of the bottle I wake up on.
She thinks I see it as a weakness to need a shrink. She’s right. I do. It’s not for me. I’ve got a handle on my stuff. I’m okay. I’ve seen the seedy underbelly, the black insidious heart of humanity and yet I can still wake up and smile at the god-damned sunshine. What more does she want? I refuse to admit I am affected. That I am damaged.
I did meet my mother again. I lived with her for a short while. I was thirteen. She could not have been uglier in her beauty and perfection. She had demons abound that came out to play with the whiskey. I came home from school one day, front door wide open, bright red arterial spray all over our daisy and marigold wallpaper. She walked through the door moments later, her bandaged lover just steps behind her. She had stabbed her in the throat. Weeks later and on the eve of my fourteenth birthday she tried to kill me. If her lover had not stopped her I would have died. I am sure of it. Two months later I ran away.
Rewind. Repeat: She was wearing a white slip and humming “Hey Jude”. The television was on low. My brother was sleeping. She dropped the iron. Three shots. JFK was dead. We both started to cry.
Black eyes turned on me, flashing in anger. “Just shut up!” She slapped me. I cried.
She jumped up, ran past me, cursing as she grabbed the iron. A dark smoldering stain burned deep into the carpet. The baby woke up. It was my fault. She knelt down in front of me, eyes wild with hatred. I watched unknowingly as the iron came down on my thigh, branding the tender flesh.
God! I remembered it all. How could she do it?
The sun was coming up. Jesse stirred beside me. I kissed her awake. Through my tears I told her I was not okay. That I needed to tell my story. I was ready.