Saturday, November 13, 2010

Birds of a Feather

I don't know why I find this so hard to tell.  I'm scared to revisit my past...afraid I'll get lost there.

My friends know me by a different name...they do not know who I am. They do not know what I am.  They don't know that I am Catherine's daughter.  They never met her.  But when they look into my eyes, she peers out.  She is long dead,  but she breathes through me.  They don't know that my past stains the canvas that makes up my life.  Would they still be my friends if they knew?  How would they judge me?  Would they see me as tainted and too dirty to be a part of their lives?  Birds of a feather....I remember someone else, a long time ago telling me that they could not be my friend, because they would be judged by associating with me....birds of a feather flock together.  It wasn't my fault... but I was judged wanting and unworthy.

I thought this girl was my best friend.... she was my only friend and I was thirteen.  I never had many friends.  I wasn't allowed to.  My world was Big Momma and Mr. Nap and their liquor house.  I knew how to pour a fifty cent shot by the time I was five years old.  By the time I was six years old I was keeping the books because neither of them could read.  People would come in through the week to get a drink on credit.  Friday's were when everyone settled up.  If they didn't ...either Big Momma or Mr. Nap would go looking for them with their thirty eight and they would way or another...sometimes looking down the barrel of a gun.   The sound of gunshots were as commonplace  as pigs feet on Saturday and church on Sunday.    People would fight and bleed and then come Monday morning they headed back to work, hungover and battered.  The police didn't bother about colored people shooting or stabbing each other with ice picks when I was a little girl. 
I thought everybody lived that way ....carrying a pistol. The juke joints and liquor houses always had weekend tragedies, it was a way of life, so  I learned how to use my imagination as an  escape.  But there was no escaping the hands of the men who came for their shots of liquor.  They thought that their money included me.  I remember the smell of them, how they looked at me and how it scared me, how they would time their moves for when we were alone and how they would act like nothing was happening if someone else came into the room.  I learned to be quick and to leave the room before I was alone with them.
Sometimes it worked...sometimes.  Then there were times when they needed a refill.  At those times I would try to become invisible and escape into my mind.

I loved to sit under a big tree that was part of our yard.   It had a large bench that was built right into the tree.  It was peaceful and quiet and I could loose myself in my daydreams.  We had three dogs....Roscoe, Spot and Fluffy.  Spot was my favorite.  I would sit under the tree with the dogs and be happy for awhile.   You see they loved me and asked for nothing in return.  They never beat me with a razor strap until there were bloody welts on my back or yelled at me and told me I was lucky to have a roof over my head.  I loved those dogs...especially Spot.  Everyone came to sit under the big tree.  They would play checkers or cards, drink beer, talk trash and laugh.  When I had the tree all to myself  I'd daydream about  a place where I'd be safe and feel loved.  Where everyone played in the sunshine and there were plenty of friends and everyone was happy.  My imagination was the only thing that saved me. It was my refuge.  At six years old I wanted live in my mind.  In the real world  I wanted to die.   Dead people were safe weren't they?    My life at 1721 Moore Street was one of uncertainty and fear after my mother left me, after she lost custody of me.  Big Momma and Mr. Nap were afraid of only one thing and that was the Revenuer's .  They would get a shipment of moonshine twice a month, usually late at night and they would need me to help them.   I remember the night that they forgot me.  I was six years old and it was dark.

The moonshine man had just dropped off the two large plastic containers of liquor;  we were in the dark in the big bushes and we needed to hide it until morning when it could be measured out in pints and quarts.  All of a sudden there was the sound of sirens and gunshots...lights were flashing, it was a raid and the revenuer's were coming.  Mr. Nap and Big Momma started running, they were trying to hide the moonshine and not get caught by the revenuer's.  But I couldn't keep up, I was six years old in the dark and they left me.  I could see the white shadows running through the trees and I thought that they would see me ...that they would get me...I couldn't find Big Momma.  Where was she?  If I was found, what would they do to me?  I remember running and falling and crying without making any sound.  I remember lying there...and mind just went away.  The next thing I knew,  Big Momma was leading me back to the house...she was talking...but I couldn't hear tears filled my head.  Why did she leave me in the dark?  She didn't hug me or try to comfort me.   She told me to go to bed.  That was life at 1721 Moore Street. 

Moore Street doesn't even exist anymore.  It was swallowed up by I-75.  If you go to Macon now, no trace remains....except in my mind.  We still sold liquor when we moved to Grants Chapel Alley.  I was older and starting  junior high.  My only friends were books and my teachers.  Especially Mrs. Espy.

I don't want to remember this.  I want to forget this.   Please God I want to forget this.  If I don't say it, it won't be so.  If I click my heels three times it'll go away.  Make it go away Lord. 

I was so naive so innocent.  I still didn't have many friends.  It wasn't allowed.  But I did have this girl.  She was my friend.   And then it happened and she wasn't my friend anymore.  I was a virgin.  And then I wasn't.  I was twelve, going on thirteen.  He became my friend.  He told me I could ask him anything.  He told me I was pretty.  He was twenty one.  One day, at school I heard a girl talking about kissing.  She said people put their tongues in each other's mouths.  I asked him if it were so.  You see.... I trusted him.
He wouldn't hurt me, he was my friend.  He wasn't like the men who came to Big Mommas. 

Lord I don't want to remember this.

One Saturday ... Big Momma always sent me to town on Saturday.  I would make a list and go to Mulberry Market and bring back the groceries.   I would take the bus downtown and then get a cab back home.  It was the only day that I had to myself...that I was free.   I would take my time and window shop and dream about the pretty clothes.  This day he was waiting at the end of the alley.  He told me he'd take me to town and he would answer my question, but he needed to stop by his cousin's house first.

No noooooooo .   I can't do this.   I don't want to remember this.

When we got to his cousins house, he asked me to come in for just a minute.  When we got inside, he said "let me show you how to kiss".  He touched his lips to mine.

 I don't remember.  No I can't remember this.

Then he touched my hair.  I remember saying I had to go.  He didn't listen.  He raped me.  I was a virgin and he raped me.  It hurt.  It hurt so bad.   He stole what was left of my innocence. When it was over, I felt broken.  I don't remember how I got there, but we were back in his car and heading downtown and he was smiling and talking.   I couldn't hear him.  My head was full of my screams.   He didn't hear.  Nobody heard.

I was twelve going on thirteen and I was pregnant.  The story of my pregnancy and how it reunited me with my mother is not this story.  This is the story of my friend and how she told me after I had my son, that she could no longer be my friend because people would think she was just like me. She said they would think that birds of a feather flock together.  The people in the neighborhood whispered that it was the quiet ones you had to look out for.  Still waters run deep.  She could no longer be my friend.  I remember being so hurt and feeling so dirty, so unworthy.    I can still see myself walking away and wondering if people were looking and whispering.  I felt their eyes on my back as I walked away and I vowed never to have another person look at me the way the girl did.  My friend who was not my friend.   I swore never to let another's words destroy me again.    My words would destroy first.  I would never need another person.  I would leave them before they left me. 

I am older now and I still find it hard to fully trust anyone.  I still believe, deep down, that they will leave.  Even my children.  But this is not their story.   I still imagine the whispers.  I say that I don't care.  I don' need anyone.  But I do and it terrifies me. What will I do when they see beyond the facade?    How can I endure that hurt again?  They call me by another name.  I am Catherines daughter and the birds are still circling.


  1. Wow. You have an incredibly moving gift with words.

    I am in awe, literally, of your strength and courage- both in reliving that, and in overcoming it. You are a beautiful, beautiful person, and that is a fact that pays no attention to your past- it only cares about who you are NOW. And I will ALWAYS count myself as your friend, no matter what. I mean, we were in Core together; that means more than I can say (read the letter I left with Lynn for my feelings about our Core group).

    Birds of a feather is an old saying. I'm not even sure where it originated, which is big, because I love words, sayings, phrases, and their histories. Although, Plato, in 350 BC (or so... I can't remember precisely), said, "Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says." So, apparently, it's very old- to be "old" in Plato's time. But anyway, I'm digressing, I'm sorry. My point is actually that I think that saying isn't as accurate as we think it is. I mean, yes, it has some measure of truth in it, that people are INCLINED to "flock" with those most similar to themselves (since that is easiest for the process of relating/understanding, one of the biggest factors in relationships), but I think Life is bigger than that. Life, I think, is like a painting, or a tapestry- it takes all different kinds and hues to truly depict and appreciate the scope and depth of the vision, of the complicated and complementary beauty. Birds of a feather who flock together never get to learn from or enjoy the company of any of the other kinds of birds.

    I've been praying for you. I know that might not be the most encouraging thing to say/hear, but it's true. And I, just personally, believe prayer isn't as useless as I sometimes feel it is. I pray that you are doing well, that everything is going smoothly with your circumstances, that people are treating you with the respect, love, and admiration you deserve. You'll have to email me sometime and update me!

    Remember what I said, though, at the end of that first, intense process group. "These people will love you, just like they've loved me- unconditionally. I just had to allow them."

    -Casey B.

  2. You always say nothing bothers me and I seem to handle things with stride and with a postive attitude. I really thought about that one day after you said it because I think there are two ways of looking at it. " There is a saying that God will only give you but so much to handle " He knows us better than we know ourselves so maybe I am not as strong as you think I am. But when I think of strentgh I think of you because you have gone through so much but we still make time to laugh. I am happy to call you my friends and You no you are a dear friend to me because I trust you with my precious gifts and you know who they are :) Love u