Whipped and Beaten

July 6, 2012

Whipped and beaten buttercream, October 10, 2010. (http://farm5.static.flickr.com/). In public domain.

Another day, another “thirty years ago on this date” post. But this one was my full confirmation that my childhood was over, that humans — especially Blacks males — couldn’t be trusted, and that I had a long way to go to make my life worth living (see my post “Another Day of Days” from July ’07 for more). It took years for me to undo the conclusions I drew from what occurred on this date.

My stepfather cut my Pookie hunt three days short on the sixth of July (see my “Lightning On A Cloudless Day” from last week) of ’82. Because I wasn’t man enough to actually find and confront Pookie to get the money back, it was now time for my whuppin’.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

“Are you gonna do what I say nigga!,” Maurice kept saying as he kept whipping me with his belt.

Kunta Kinte being whipped, Roots (1977) screenshot, July 6, 2012. (http://irvine.wikis.gdc.georgetown.edu). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of low resolution.

I stood there with my arms and legs stretched out — and with my pants and underwear pulled down to my ankles — in front of a grimy white wall in my room being whipped by him with his leather belt. I could hear the belt cut through the air before it landed on my nearly naked body. I assumed that he pulled this straight from the ABC miniseries Roots.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

“I’m yo’ father and yo’ gonna listen to me!” he barked.

As the inquisition continued, my room started to spin in my head, and the white walls turned yellow and red.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

“Are you gonna listen to me? Are you gonna listen to me?” he kept saying as each hit became harder and harder on my back, butt, and legs. I started seeing pools of blood forming on the ceiling and nothing but hatred was forming in my mind.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

“Are you gonna listen to me?,” he screamed.

“I hate you! I hate you! You’re not my father, you’re just a bully!” I yelled.

My stepfather then paused from whipping me. Punches and kicks followed about a second later. First came three punches to my head and jaw, after he spun me around from the wall.

“You hate me, huh nigga?!?”

Then he kicked me in the stomach and the mouth as I lay on the floor, at least until I started to spit blood. After I threatened to go to the police, Maurice picked me up and threw me by my arms four feet into a corner wall, almost knocking me unconscious.

“Go to the police, muthafucka! I dare you! If you talk to the police, I’ll kill you!,” he said.

When I came out of my daze, my stepfather told me to move out and go live with Jimme. He told me, “This is MY house. If you hate me get out!” A suitcase then greeted my head as my stepfather said, “Start packin’!”

Mom arrived from a long day at work, around 3:15 pm, as Mount Vernon Hospital was about to go on strike, and she wasn’t a part of the union. “My poor mom,” I thought. When she came into my room, she immediately became angry. “What happened?,” she asked. I told her the story, and she told me to unpack.

After five minutes of quiet, I heard her arguing with Maurice in the living room.

“He’s a defiant child. We have to get rid of IT!,” he said.

“Who pays the bills? Who feeds your fat black ass? If this child of mine leaves, we’re gonna turn this mutha out, and you’re gonna be the one goin’ to hell!,” Mom said in response. I guess she really didn’t remember what happened to her on Memorial Day.

My stepfather then walked into my room to say “Unpack, nigga.” I finished unpacking, and then I sat in my walk-in closet and began to cry. I hadn’t cried in the closet since the day I finished third grade, because Mrs. Shannon was no longer my teacher. I had a crush on her all through that year. Now I closed the closet door, wanting no light to shine on me.

I felt trapped, with no place to escape from the wrath of my stepfather. I thought about poisoning his food, the fat slob. Or slitting his throat when he was asleep, because he could sleep through a thermonuclear detonation. Then I thought about killing myself again. I could jump out of the window in the living room and land flat on the blue-gray slate walkway between 616’s front door and the five stairs leading to the sidewalk and street. I thought that one of us would have to die to end this senseless ordeal.

Muhammad Ali at end of last fight, SI cover, October 13, 1980. (http://www.crowntiques.com). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of low resolution.

I discovered that my waking nightmare had just begun. It turned out that my ribs and stomach were bruised, I had another knot on my forehead, my lower lip was busted, and my butt and right leg had bloody scars on them as a result of the belt. And I knew, all too well now, that there was more to come.

If there’s anything to learn from my experience, it’s to not wait for a teacher to notice — in my case, the late Harold Meltzer — or twenty years to feel comfortable enough to talk about your child abuse without being embarrassed.

Lightning On A Cloudless Day

June 25, 2012

When lightning strikes out of a blue sky, July 29, 2011. (http://news.discovery.com via Getty Images).

The worst summer of my entire life began thirty years ago on this date, within hours of having survived the worst school year I ever had. Between unrequited love and low-level ostracism, Crush #1 and Captain Zimbabwe, I made a pact with myself on the twenty-fifth of June, the last day of seventh grade, to keep the humiliation that I endured that year from ever happening again (see my post “The Legend of ‘Captain Zimbabwe’” from May ’09).

After school that balmy Friday afternoon, me, Mom, my baby brothers Maurice (or Menelek, his Hebrew-Israelite name) and Yiscoc, and my older brother Darren’s “counselor” Mrs. Karen Holtslag went to Willson’s Woods Pool. The pool and the park were about two blocks from 616, the largest park in Mount Vernon. It included large picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large municipal pool (one of the few public pools in the city), and a concessions stand.

Mom and Mrs. Holtslag met to discuss Darren’s “progress” and his psychological needs (see my post “Summer Camp” from June ’09). The rest of us were there to have fun. It was one of those rare times where I got a chance to spend time with my younger siblings without thinking about their terrible fate, to have Maurice as their biological father. It would be like having Damien from The Omen movie series as the man of the house. Baby Maurice and Yiscoc needed this time out of the house more than I did, at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Vernon Woods condo community (once public housing or projects) on Pearsall Drive, 2012. (http://trulia.com)

I witnessed their father Maurice abuse baby Maurice and neglect Yiscoc on too many occasions. My stepfather once beat the six-month-old Maurice with a belt to keep him quiet because he was trying to sleep, and would forget to change his diapers while we were in school. Mom eventually found a babysitter to watch baby Maurice, but the damage was already done. Even though nearly three years old, baby Maurice had never said a word. The eleven-month-old Yiscoc had been stunningly quiet since his birth. Maybe Mrs. Holtslag should’ve been counseling Mom about them, not Darren.

Mom gave me a $10 bill to buy some snacks at the concession stand for everyone. As I walked over dreaming of hot dogs and mini-pizzas, careless me had the bill only half in my right hand. A big kid magically materialized, ran by and snatched the money from my hand. It seemed like God suspended the rules of time as soon as it happened. The moment that the thief grabbed the bill it felt as if a lightning bolt had ripped through the clear blue sky on that bright summer day. I knew deep down that my summer would mirror the previous fall, winter, and spring.

Chris Rock as “Pookie” from New Jack City (1991), June 24, 2012. (http://truthaboutit.net)

When my stepfather found out about my tragic error, he demanded that I tell him exactly who stole the money. “I’m not sure. I think it’s some guy named ‘Pookie’,” I said. Maurice walked over to me, poked me in the chest, and told me to get the money back from Pookie in two weeks. I said, “I can get the money from Jimme,” but he didn’t want to hear that, shaking his head in the process. I pointed out that Pookie was much bigger than me, and that I didn’t know where he lived. Maurice told me to “find out where he lives!” Otherwise I would get a “whuppin’.”

I spent nearly two weeks asking questions and running around the Pearsall Drive projects (now the more affluent Vernon Woods condo community, bought from the city and converted in ’84 or ’85) looking for Pookie after that. I learned that he was sixteen years old, about five-foot-ten, and lived with his mother on the fourth floor of one of the six buildings in the project community. I hadn’t seen him once in my eleven days of snooping since the robbery. I was terrified to be at 616, and too scared to be outside. I spent my afternoons when I wasn’t out on one of my Pookie hunts in 616’s stairwells and basements crying and thinking. I thought, “Why me?”

But not-so-deep-down, I knew why. I stopped acting like Maurice was my father and a changed man after what he did to Mom. This was punishment for not fulfilling the Torah’s law regarding fathers and mothers, “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days be long on the land that the Lord hath giveth thee.” “Yeah, right!,” I thought. We had no land, no promised land, and no prayed-for-land either. And Maurice, well, if he was my father, then what did that mean for me, Darren, and Jimme? Torah or no Torah, I swore that I’d never call my bastard stepfather “Dad” again.

Un-Father Figure

July 6, 2010

Random Suge Knight Mugshot (closest I could find to what my stepfather looked like in '82)

Recently, a fellow writer — and poet — Abdul Ali, put together a series of posts with other writers regarding their experiences with their fathers or father figures. I thought about contributing to his efforts, but I couldn’t. I could’ve easily told any number of stories about being the father of Noah Michael Collins, my extraordinarily strong and sweet soon-to-be-seven year old. But I knew that I couldn’t tell that story in under 500 words. When it comes to growing up and helping others grow up, my life has been unduly complicated, bordering on suicidal misery. Especially in discussing fathers.

Today marks twenty-eight years since Maurice Washington whipped me like I was Kunta Kente for allowing myself to be mugged for $10 by Pookie at Wilson Woods Pool. That is, before I told him I hated him and was then nearly knocked unconscious and ended up with bruised ribs and a bloody lip. I’ve written about this before, in posts from July ’07, ’08, and ’09. That today’s date falls exactly on a Tuesday twenty-eight years later makes this a bit more unique.

No, today’s post has more to do with the motivations behind what happened twenty-eight years ago. You see, I learned later on that my stepfather was attempting to teach me a lesson in manhood by making a deal with the young wannabe thug Pookie to rob me. Part of the lesson was that I needed to defend myself against the world. The other part was that I should see Mr. Maurice as my one and only father, disregarding the fact that Jimme was alive, if not well, and still my father.

Even under the best light, the despicable act of putting a twelve-year-old at the early stages of puberty through some idiotic test of manhood was a form of psychological abuse so grave that this alone should’ve earned Maurice Washington a Joel Steinberg Award for the furthest thing away from a father. Otherwise, it was a cruel and calculated thing that my stepfather pulled, perhaps the worst thing he ever did to any of us. I wasn’t asking for a rite of passage, and even if I needed to pull my head out of books, was this the best way to do that?

I could think of a million more mean words to say about the bastard if I so chose. Only a sadistic sociopath could come up with a worse scenario for blaming the victim of a crime that he set up to happen and then punish the victim by perpetrating another crime. Yet, for a host of reasons, I can’t. I can’t allow myself the painful luxury of making this blog my version of revenge. And I can’t afford spend all of my time in righteous indignation mode.

Noah With One Of My Ties

I’ve often wondered whether it’s enough for me to take the 180-degree approach to discipline regarding Noah. That is, to mete out discipline — almost exclusively non-corporal in nature — tinged with grace and mercy, or to just take the path of my screaming with belt-in-hand mother and stepfather. I look at myself when I take Noah’s toys away, or deny him dessert or TV time, or send him to bed early. Those things actually hurt me when I do them, probably more than they do him. I feel for him, right in the pit of my stomach. That’s how I know that I’m nothing like the so-called father I had to live with at 616 for so many years.


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