Most early Augusts in my life have been uneventful. Hot, hazy, humid and sticky, but otherwise boring with nothing dramatic happening. Except for my years of suffering at 616 and in Mount Vernon, New York. The month of August in the years between ’82 and ’89 were full of drama, bizarre and oh so typical at the same time.
No month of August demonstrated that better than in ’83. It was the summer that followed our first months on welfare. Man, it was a period of great disillusionment. I didn’t want to be seen with what my wife calls FS. Of course, now, the government gives folks an EBT card to reduce the stigma. But back then, I’d pick and choose when to use them, just so that classmates like Crush #1 wouldn’t see me with Food Stamps in hand.
It was also a month in which I began to help with taking care of my sister Sarai. She was a sickly newborn thanks mostly to my mother and stepfather not doing their jobs as parents. Apparently they both had the sickle cell trait and had given Sarai sickle cell anemia. By the middle of the summer, Sarai was obviously in trouble. She hardly gained any weight, all of her food had to be fortified with iron, and she only had “three strands of hair,”as my mother put it. It was more like a few dozen in three spots on Sarai’s scalp. She always needed help. My mother would say to me, “See, that why you shouldn’t wish for an abortion,” as if I was supposed to feel guilty because Sarai was sick. As if I had anything to do with her being here. If anything, she should’ve felt guilty about bringing a child with Sarai’s condition into our idiotic family. I just gave my mother a weak smile whenever she’d say something stupid like that.
My mother decided at the beginning of August that it would be a good idea to celebrate Maurice’s thirty-third birthday (August 3) and Sarai making it to six months old. It was a great feast of grilled chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, macaroni and potato salad, fruit salad and lemon and chocolate cake, potato chips and Kool-Aid and lemonade. I would’ve been in a good mood to eat too, except for the fact that we were celebrating the fat slob’s thirty-third birthday. It pissed me off to no end that me and Darren had to shop and help with the task of grilling food for the asshole to eat a rare feast.
What should have been a fun gathering was one of more surreal experiences I would ever have. My mother had invited my Uncle Sam to the picnic at Wilson’s Woods, along with Dennis, one of Maurice’s friends, the best man at the wedding five years before. Neither of them wanted to be there, but my uncle was beside himself with anger. He hardly ate, which should’ve been a red flag to my mother. She didn’t seem to understand why her brother would be upset that she was spending a week’s worth of food stamps to throw a party for her abusive husband and a daughter with sickle cell anemia. To his credit, he stayed to help us clean up. He didn’t come around for another family event until I graduated from high school four years later.
It was strange to know that after all that had happened, my mother still threw a birthday party for a person that she despised. I hated the man as well, so much so that I’d developed a minor stomach ulcer soon after the picnic celebration. But I thought more about what motivated my mother to do something so bizarre as to throw a picnic party for a man who had abused her, had cheated on her, and had committed forgery and fraud by signing her blank checks to cover his adultery expenses. Was it fear or some sort of Stockholm Syndrome? Was it love, unconditional, accepting-and-enduring-everything-love? Or was it a form of subterfuge? Did my mother throw a party because she wanted to be outside and have a picnic, for herself and for Sarai, and used Maurice’s birthday as an excuse?
Today, my stupid ex-stepfather turns fifty-nine. His fate continues to reflect badly on him as he approaches his sixties. One of his legs was amputated earlier this year, a side-effect of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, a horrible diet, lack of exercise, and kidney failure. I don’t think I ever had enough hate to wish the kind of decline that Maurice has experienced over the past sixteen years. But then again, none of this is really about him. I’ve worked hard to forgive the man. Still, that doesn’t mean Maurice isn’t an idiot. And watching how he’s lived his life over the years is a lesson in how foolishness, when mixed with poverty and domestic violence, can tear people apart, including the perpetrators of such. That’s why it’s important to forgive.