When I was growing up, I remember people using the phrase "the straw that broke the camel's back". It was usually reserved to signal the end of something and that end was usually explosive or violent. Fights were a fact of life in my childhood. I'd see people show up at our house with cuts or stab wounds that saw no doctor and the sight of their bloody clothes was as common as having sweet tea with the evening meal. However, Mr. Nap and Big Momma would brook no fights in our house. They were always quick to settle any arguments that would arise with a big ole 38 or 45 caliber hand gun. You were expected to buy your liquor, play cards or checkers under tree and take your fights outside. You would gather your straw.......
I remember a woman called Ms. Two Shoe who lived in a room down the hill from us with her common-law husband Junior Man. Now Ms. Two Shoe was as nice as she could be to anyone but Junior Man. She took pleasure in savagely cussing him out in front of the biggest crowd she could find. She would berate and demean him so bad that other men would want to jump on her and beat her tail. They'd say things like "I'd go back in time and kill that heifer in her mama's stomach fo I let her talk to me like dat". Junior Man had grown up with a stutter and very seldom talked, but he would try to calm her when she would be in the midst of one of her tirades. He would also cut any man that tried lay a violent hand on her. Everyone laughed at him and talked about what a fool he was because he went to work everyday and came home every night and would clean up their little room and cook their meals. They called him her butler and her flunky. And every payday Ms. Two Shoe would go to Junior Man's job so she could get his pay envelope. And he would give it to her. Everyone laughed. But straw was being gathered.
Every weekend Ms. Two Shoe would get drunk and disappear with other men. You would see Junior Man going up and down the hill , to all the juke joints and liquor houses looking for Ms. Two Shoe. When he would finally find her, she was usually so drunk she'd be falling out and his money would be gone. He would have to borrow money to get them through the next week until payday. Looking back in my minds eye, I see she was not a pretty woman, she was very tall and very black. She a thick black hair that she kept braided, her lips were thick and she was missing some teeth. Now, Junior Man was short, he came up to about the upper part of her breasts. He was a caramel color, with what people back then called good hair and I remember he had the longest eyelashes. The reason I remember this is because I had a baby doll and she had eyes with long lashes that opened and closed. So beauty was not what kept Junior Man with Ms. Two Shoe. No matter how drunk, no matter how mean she was to him, we would see him struggling to support her weight as he took her back home, cleaned her up, got some food into her and nursed her back to health. Back then people drank moonshine. It was hard on the body and hangovers were vicious. Some people even went blind from drinking shine. But that's another story. Junior man loved Ms. Two Shoe and whatever she dealt out he took. But straw was being gathered. The camel was beginning to limp.
Well one Saturday morning after breakfast, we heard these bloodcurdling screams , it sounded like someone was tearing those sounds from somewhere deep in their soul. As we ran out in the yard, I remember seeing Ms. Two Shoe running butt-naked across the field being chased by Junior Man with a stick so big it could have been a small tree. He was whaling on her ass. He was beating the holy hell out of her. And he was not making a sound... he was not cursing or screaming. All you heard were the sounds of that stick hitting her flesh and her horrible screams. I remember thinking she looked like she had red Kool-Aid all over her body. But it wasn't Kool-Aid. It was red. It was blood. And with each blow, it seemed to just fly from her body. I believe I left my body while I watched this. It seemed as if I were hovering over the scene looking at everything from far away. I vaguely remember Mr. Nap and some other men running down the hill trying to get to them. The screams ...they seemed to increase in volume until I thought my head would explode. And still the sounds of flesh being struck and red blood spattering out like liquid in a balloon that had been thrown against a wall.
The camel was buckling ... the weight of the straw was too much.
And then she fell. He hit her again and again and again.....There was no sound. The world seemed strangely silent. She had stopped screaming. And then everything went black.
I had fainted. I think I was about 5 or 6 years old. When I woke up ...it was the next day. The grown folks were still talking about it. Junior Man had not come home that Friday night , he had to drive the white man he worked for out of town so he did not get home until that Saturday morning. When he let himself into their room he caught Ms. Two Shoe in bed with another man. He had stabbed the man to death. He had known that she was not faithful to him. But something snapped the morning he found the woman he loved in their room with another man. It was the straw that broke the camels back. I never saw Junior Man again. And Ms.Two Shoe .......I never saw her again. No one did.
A lot of my childhood is a buried memory. The memory Ms. Two Shoe and Junior Man came back to me about two weeks ago. I had my own experience with the camel.
The earlier part of this month...May 2012, I was hospitalized with what appeared to be some sort of stroke . I live in Atlanta and luckily I was at my daughters house when I collapsed. I remember the concern in her voice... the touch of her hands as she tried to comfort me. The ride the Emory Midtown....the pain as they pounded on my chest, the feel of the needles piercing my skin as they searched for a vein to deliver medications. Waking up disoriented in the ICU with my daughter by side. Two days of uncertainty. All of the tests coming back normal. So touched by the love... and then everything went so wrong........ I collapsed on a Tuesday and on Thursday my daughter came into my room to tell me she had wrecked my car...no she showed me pictures of my wrecked car that she had driven without my permission. I was stunned, she has two cars...why was she driving mine? The rush of anger. Oh Lord, what am I going to do? I am on a fixed income. Yes I was angry. No I didn't ask : "are you okay". Her intense reaction and anger. Her giving me my wallet....money missing. My calling her, asking why have you taken my money, what are you going to do about my car? The anger, disappointment ......both of us. The next day I tried calling her....she would not answer her phone.
My relationship with my daughter has never been easy. She says I loved her too much and smothered her. I wanted to protect her from the things I went through as a child. My camel has labored long and hard to preserve and protect our relationship. Each story has two sides. This is mine. I will not speak of the things that have happened in the past, for she did nothing to me that I did not allow. I love my daughter but I do not like her. The next day as I was being moved from ICU to a room on the floor, my son called to tell me that my daughter said she was putting all of "my shit" in my car and driving it to the front of the hospital where she would park it with the keys in the ignition, motor running and my purse with all of my identification on the passenger seat. And that is exactly what she did
It was two days before Mother's Day. I will not speak of my pain that day, I signed myself out of the hospital and had the nurse to take me to the front of the hospital where I sat in a gown and slippers, praying that my child would not commit this heinous act. Praying that no one would steal my car. Wondering what I did the previous night that was so bad she felt justified in doing this. As I look back I see that she felt I put a material possession above her safety. That is not so. I know my child. I know that she has always had a darkness in her, a spirit that manipulates and uses. I have lived with darkness for the better part of my life so I know it when I see it. I have felt it in myself. I have fought it in myself. The difference between us is that I have learned be truthful with myself and change the things I can and forgive myself for the things I can't.
I saw her car past with her in the passenger seat and my seventeen year-old grandson driving. As I struggled to stand, I looked down the driveway and there was my car and as I walked to it I saw the massive damage to it and was chilled to think that she could have been hurt or killed.
As I neared the car, I saw all of my belongings carelessly tossed inside. My mind went back to earlier in the year and my daughter attempts at having me give up home and come live with her. She said it would be a way for both of us to survive in this economy. And then I heard the motor running and saw the keys in the ignition. Something in me broke. The last straw.
This is not the story of my daughter and I and our past trials. And I will not speak of our past. But I do say nothing justifies this action. My relationship with my mother was not always a calm voyage but I would never disrespect her like this. Whatever I have done or didn't do in my relationship with my daughter, if she feels she has been wronged ....I am truly sorry. This is an accumulation of straws that has not only broken my back....it has broken my heart.
Tomorrow will be the first of June and I am blessed and at peace. There is no hate or anger in my heart. My tears have dried. I woke up this morning in my home ....in my bed and I smiled. I am Catherinesdaughter and I am healing.