When I was growing up I remember people saying, "the leaf don't fall to far from the tree". They usually said this to explain familial traits or generational fuck-ups. "You jest like yo momma or you jest like yo daddy or those Joneses have always been crazy". It was easier to lump everyone together than to try to understand the individual behavior. The people in my family were hard drinkers and vicious fighters. If you said the wrong thing your ass could get cut with a knife or stabbed with an ice pick. If you really truly crossed someone...they would pop a cap in yo ass. I can't remember a time growing up when violence was not a part of my everyday life. You had to be just like your peoples.
For a long time I did not fit in. I was too soft ....too afraid. I had no voice ...therefore I had no power. I didn't find my power until my teens....when I was out on my own. My cousin Rita had no problem with the familial tree and people alway heard her voice. She would fight at the drop of hat. Cuss you out if you looked cross eyed at her. And because of this, she was my protector. When I was in school or on the playground or just breathing....to get to me ...you had to go through Rita. She was my shield against my being "beat-up" by girls who didn't like me. And my very existence was enough it seems for these girls to dislike me. That and the fact that I never fought back. I was terrorized so much at Big Mommas that I was afraid of my own shadow. I had not found my voice. I visited Rita recently and I asked her why I was the target for these mean girls. She said : "they thought you thought you were pretty". What?! And then she went on to tell me how the boys thought I was pretty and that I had the best shape in the neighborhood. Her words not mine.
Give me a break.
They were jealous of something I was totally unaware of (being Pretty) and I something I loathed - the shapely body. That was so fucked up. Growing up no one ever told me that I was pretty or even cute....they would tell me I had a wide nose or a big head. But never pretty. Pretty to me was all of the long haired light-skinned girls...like Shasta Miller or Pamela Hicks. I can use their real names because to them I was invisible. Or so I thought. For a long time as an adult I could never accept a compliment on my looks. Someone would call me beautiful and I would immediately be on my guard. What did they want? Were they making fun of me? Now I could take a sexy but not a pretty. I knew I was sexy but that was nothing in my mind to be proud of. I was in my mid forties before I could see my beauty. And I am not trying to be vain. I was like the 70 pound anorexic who looks in the mirror and sees a fat person.. I never saw pretty in the mirror until started to forgive myself. See I thought that my body was all there was to me ...I was ugly ...this shapley body was something to be ashamed of . It attracted unwanted attention when I was growing up. Later it seemed to define who I was. I was that fine assed ....fill in the blanks. And I hated it.
Do you know what its' like to be six years old and have grown men touch you because your of your ass or your hips or your legs? They would whisper these obscene compliments to me when they caught me alone and pinched or rubbed themselves against my body. I can still hear their harsh low breathing ....still feel the wetness of their hands or mouths as they stole my childhood. I have hated my body for a large part of my life because it drew too much attention to me in a house where predators lurked and I was the prey. And now Rita tells me I was pretty and had a banging body. This world is so fucked up.
But I will always love Rita because she stood up and tried to do what the grown-up wouldn't do and that was to protect me. During our talk I brought her up to date with my life after I left the "Alley". I told her of anger and how I learned to defend myself. She was so shocked. Surely this was not Catherine's daughter. I told her of the rages and the steps I took to insure that I would never be that defenseless 6....7...8.. 9...10...11...12 year old that girl she protected. I told her of my times in the mental hospitals and the meds and therapy that became a vital part of my sanity.
She listened and as I talked tears ran down her cheeks. I told her how bad it was for me in that house. I told her how lonely I was and how her friendship saved me. I told her that without her intervention I would have never been able to deal with pressure's that came with school and the added stress of adolesence. I told her of the voices that filled my head as I tried to find my way as a young mother after the rape and being (blessedly) kicked out of Big Mommas. I told her about "birds of a feather" and how that empowered me to take control of my life.
When I finished, she looked at me and said that she wished she could have protected me from everyone and everything when we were young. And then I cried. I cried because I still fight those demons from my childhood. I cried because I never felt beautiful . I cried because it was not my fault that my body matured before I did. I cried because I was a mother before I quit being a child. I cried because in finding my voice my anger caused my children so much pain. I cried because I learned to use my words as weapons.
When I left Rita that day, I thought of my tree and the leaves around it. Growing up I never wanted to be compared to my mother ...but I was a leaf from her tree. My children....while they berate me for my crazyness when they were young...they revel in their own anger. When I look into their eyes my reflection stares back at me. Both of my children need therapy, but they will never admit it or seek it. My daughter finds escape in weed and sex. She ridicules the psychotropic drugs my doctor has me on but she would not last a week without a joint. My son's addiction is things. He has to have the most and the best. He is his own advertisement. Within 5 minutes of meeting him you will know of his ten cars, his sucessful business, his phones, his money, his women, his newest expensive toy. He and I have had a twisted road and because of that our relationship if volatile. When we fight it starts out as a firecracker which turns into an atomic bomb. So I keep my distance. He loves me....he hates me. He will tell you that he is not like his momma but he embraces drama. His temper is fierce. He rages. He is a leaf from the tree. My daughter learned from her mother to use words as weapons.... she will always have the last word in any argument.
They both carry guns. They both blame me for something that I did or did not do when they were growing up. They both are repeating my mistakes in their own way. And what of their children? Will this be generational? For my children had a great example growing up....they had CATherine's daughter