"Never As Good As The First Time", 616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Abuse, Ass-Whuppin', Child Abuse, Corporal Punishment, Drop-Kick, Ex-stepfather, Hebrew-Israelites, Isshin-ryu Karate, Judah ben Israel, Karate, Maurice Eugene Washington, Mount Vernon New York, Religion, Sade, Stepfather
I know. Today marks 150 years since a bunch of rebel rednecks besieged a fort in South Carolina after months of talk of civil war across the South and North, beginning the bloodiest conflict to date in American history. I’ll get to this in the next couple of days. Today, though, marks a more personal and bloody anniversary for me. You see, today’s the twenty-ninth anniversary of experiencing unadulterated child abuse for the first time.
Although much of what I’d gone through prior to April ’82 in terms of my parents’ and stepfather’s use of discipline would be considered abusive now, I wouldn’t have seen it that way when I was twelve. You run away from home, you get an ass-whuppin’. You tell a lie about your brother, you get whupped with a belt. You don’t clean up the kitchen properly, you stand in a corner of your room with the lights off, with one leg up in the air and your two arms balancing books for an hour.
Yeah, that was life at 616 before Maurice, Judah, whatever you want to call the man, became almost psychotic (based on my experience, actually bipolar) after becoming a Hebrew-Israelite in ’81. And, in the process, also making us Black Jews. Poor, misguided, conflicted Hebrew-Israelites we were. But not him.
My idiot stepfather’s ego was stoked in this religion.
And it came out in the worst way on this second weekend in April ’82. It was a week after a freakish late winter/early spring storm had dumped 12-18 inches of snow on the New York City area — Mount Vernon included — and kept the schools closed for a few days. In the previous couple of months, Maurice had become a hanger-on at a newly opened Karate studio down the street from 616, next door to the old dry cleaner business on East Lincoln Avenue. He made me come to the studio because he wanted to show me “how to be a man.”
But when I’d see him on my almost daily runs to the grocery store, he mostly hung out with young Turks and wannabe thugs from the Pearsall Drive projects across the street. Maurice smoked up a storm of Benson & Hedges Menthol while talking about women, being a Hebrew-Israelite, and about me as his “book-smart kid,” at least when I happened to walk by.
I knew what that meant. My stepfather was making it known that he thought of me as soft. This would have disastrous consequences for me later on in ’82, as I’d come to be robbed by a guy called “Pookie.” But as far as this part of Mount Vernon was concerned, it was nothing like the poorer, almost exclusively Black South Side. At least where we lived, people didn’t go into parks with baseball bats attempting to put people’s heads in orbit, like with my father Jimme the year before.
Maurice had tried to teach me and my older brother Darren Isshin-ryu Karate two years earlier. Beyond that, he’d been showing us a variety of basic moves since ’77. Despite myself, I did pick up a few moves. Now he decided that I would learn how to fight no matter the consequences. It was all about breaking bones and inflicting maximum pain. When I told Maurice that I didn’t want to learn, he said “You will
learn because I’m your father” as he started to throw hard punches into my midsection.
After I yelled “You’re not my father!,” he drop-kicked me to the floor. Maurice, all six-foot-one and 270 pounds of him, then pulled me up by my arms, slammed me back-first into a mirrored wall, and punched me several times in the head, chest, and stomach until several of the men in the studio surrounded him. My stepfather, completely exasperated and winded, yelled “Don’t you EVER say that again, muthafucka! I’ll kill you next time!” I ran for home with a knot on my forehead that didn’t go down for almost a week.
By the time that knot on my forehand began to shrink, I’d been feeling lonely and betrayed for nearly a year. It’d been exactly fifty-two weeks, a full year, since the asshole had come back into our lives with this earth-shattering religion. Now we were more broke than ever, I had lost my best friends, and in fact, had no one I could call friend. With this latest karate episode, I knew I was cursed, at least, that’s how I felt back then.
I wasn’t a normal kid before the Hebrew-Israelite period in my life. So I didn’t have a natural progression toward adulthood — I was struggling to remain a kid but succeeded at only having adult issues by the time a drop-kick knocked me to the floor of a karate studio. So, because of my virtually photographic memory and those terrible times, I often flip one of Sade’s refrains from “Never As Good As The First Time.” The thorns I remember, the roses, I forget (except for Crush #1). And Maurice second stint as a husband and father “didn’t live up to the dream,” ‘cuz his second time with us was “not quite what it seemed.”