The Strength of a Woman
The Strength Of A Woman
By Karen Ellison
In the beginning, there was Carley; that’s me and I am the apple of her daddy’s eye and the only girl in the family of my generation. At the young age of 4 1/2, the love showered upon me from every member of the family was powerful and strong and that’s something I use to my advantage every chance I get. It is a love that gives me strength and a sense of devotion that follows me throughout all of my life. I am from a middle class family that in the late 60’s was held together by two strong parents. My father; Patrick is a short man in his early 20’s that has never been hindered by his less than average height or the fact that the color of his skin was in the minority. For many years my daddy would be the rock of our family and his mere presence would command attention and respect. My mother’s name is Ann. She is a thin educated woman and often considered the glue that held pieces together during hard times. She certainly held us together after the many pangs that soon came after the birth of a second child; Patrick Jr. The birth of this child would mark the end of a short era in my life of being the only child. Not only would his birth affect me, it would also mark a period of pain and sorrow that only the strongest of women could handle. The years that would follow would uncover infidelity, lies and a host of misfortunes. Skeletons were not the only thing however that would fall. The once strong would be placed on their death bead and given a battle of life to fight. The educated and frail matriarch would have to choose between love and sorrow and I would watch, listen and unwillingly participate in the dissipation of my once admired family and face a life of being a diamond in the rough. What of Patrick Jr? Well, he never stood a chance with all the turmoil that the year of his birth would bring.
Chapter One----- Just a Girl by Carley
After being the only child in a family of 3 for almost five years, my mother off and decides to have another baby. I loved being the only child. I got all the attention, all the love from my daddy and I liked it that way. I did not want this new child. …..
Its late and daddy’s not home again. Mom is in the other room sleeping on her side because that’s the most comfortable position she can find since she’s due to have my stupid brother any minute now. I crept in to look at her because I wanted another piece of chicken that daddy hadn’t bothered to show up to eat. “Ma” I whimpered, “can I have a piece of chicken”? I can hear her breathing but she’s not answering. “Ma” I called again, “I want another piece…” “Owee, bring me the phone Carley”, my mother screamed out without acknowledging my plea for more dinner. I scrambled to get the green phone with the extra long cord to my mother’s side. In the early 70’s, it seems like the every day household color was golden harvest and green. It didn’t matter what house you entered, the colors were always the same. The carpet was shag and it was all accented with hues of yellow, green and the ever present gold. Our home was no exception. We had two gold velvet arm chairs and a long gold and green sofa that sat stately in our shag carpeted living room. The brown wicker and glass coffee table was where my picture graced the room along with the very big family Bible. On either side of the couch, there was a small side table that also served as storage for all the family albums and loose photos and any other old thing that didn’t have a place. My mother kept a tidy home. Each year so far, there were pictures of me and my daddy, me mamma and daddy, me and my grandma Mattie or just pictures of various family members. The one thing that wasn’t there were any other little children (girls or boys). Now this was about to change. “Carley, sweetie; go get your coat” my mother said after she had called some relative to come and drive us to the hospital because for some reason, daddy could not be found. “Mamma you gonna have a baby now?” “Yes Carley now go get your pink coat. Its cold outside and you don’t want to get sick”. I ran to my toy shed of a room and among all of the dolls, blocks and coloring books and crayons scatted about, I found my pink coat that my daddy had brought for me just last week. This was an unusually cold winter this year and daddy had been sick more than a little. He often complained of headaches. Sometimes while sitting with him in his green Cadillac out in the backyard, I saw him take a drink from a crumpled brown bag. “This should cure the pain” he would say. He would then wink at me and say “our little secret, ok Sunshine”. Since I was the apple of my daddy’s eye and he mine, I would grin and wild horses couldn’t make me tell why. Mamma often accused me of smiling like a chasseur cat after one of my rendezvous with daddy. Sometimes, we would go to my other grandma’s house or sometimes, we would go to Smithville to see one of Daddy’s business associates who usually showed up at grandmas anyway. Every where daddy and I went, I could count on feasting on candy or chips or soda, something my mamma would barely allow me to have. There were times when my pockets would jingle from all of the change some of daddy’s friends would give me. I felt adored and loved more than any other little girl I knew. At my age, that was very few. I lived a very sheltered life with my parents on the west side of Raleigh. Aside from us, there were no other black families much less little children to play with so my mamma was my playmate and daddy when he was home would always pick up where mamma left off.
My aunt Peggy finally arrived at the front door with rollers in her hair to drive me and mamma to the hospital. When we arrived, there was a host of relatives there awaiting our arrival. I was handed off to another aunt (Sandra). In all, I had 6 aunts all but one on my daddy’s side. They were a loud country bunch. They all stuck together like a gang. My mother was the saditty one. She had met my daddy on the other side of the tracks whatever that means. On more than one occasion I heard my mother’s sister Deborah say so. With all of the confusion and excitement, my head began to swim and I began to whimper for the arms of my mamma. Aunt Peggy tried to console me but it was no use, I wanted the familiar arms of one of my parents. Out of nowhere, daddy appeared! Coming through the ER doors, he yelled out “Ann, I heard its time”! He had the biggest grin on his face as he reached for me; his sunshine. “Hey Sunshine”, he exclaimed, what’s all this fuss about”? As I laid my head upon his shoulder, I felt at ease and secure again. But why was he smiling so at the prospect of this new little one that was soon to come. Didn’t he realize as I did that this baby was going to try and come between us, couldn’t he see that I didn’t want this baby to come and live with us. What was he thinking being so happy. Couldn’t my daddy see that I was anything but happy! Maybe I should cry for my mamma, she would surely see that this new baby thing was a bad mistake. Perhaps we could send it back or give it away. Just as I prepared to let out a loud wail for her attention, a skinny pale nurse came with a wheelchair to take her away. I guess there was no stopping this baby now.
My daddy sat in one of the metal chairs outside the ER with me on his lap and faced my uncles. He began to thank my uncle Lucky and uncle Kent for calling him. They gave him incredulous looks and grins and with that, the conversation focused on the night club that daddy owned down in Smithville. It was the largest black owned club in the entire county. The Cadillac, the house with the pool, my toys, coloring books and most of the fun stuff that cluttered my small room was in part largely due to the success my daddy enjoyed as an entrepreneur. Daddy was very well known in most of Johnston County. His success had brought out the green eyed racist in more than a few of the Klansmen that ran that county. Daddy being a Mason at the time however hardly ever worried himself with such issues. It also helped that he was known to carry a gun and without hesitation or fear, he would use it. Having five brothers with that same attitude also came in useful. “The place was packed!” daddy remarked to draw the attention away from the questions coming from my aunts about his whereabouts. They were persistent but my uncles all joined up together against them and the topic remained focused on the club scene. “You know the law was over there last night” uncle Boogie commented. “Yea, I know. They just won’t leave me alone. Every time I turn around, I’m getting raided. I’m sick of their shit”! Daddy glanced down at me to see if I was asleep yet. Granted my eyes had gotten heavy from the protesting cry I had induced on the family crowd but I was still trying to hold on listening to my daddy’s voice. As everyone scrambled for a seat to rest themselves, a nurse came out and asked for Patrick Williams. “Which one of you is Patrick Williams?” she asked with a concerned look showing through a light blue mask. Daddy handed me off to my aunt Peggy and rose answering “that’s me”. “Is there anything wrong?” aunt Peggy asked. “Well, we are going to have to perform a c-section and she’s asking for her husband. “Sir, we will have to get you suited up and then we will take you to her if you’re ready”. As I drifted off to sleep, I saw my daddy walk off with the lady nurse. That would be the last time he would be all mine…..
Chapter Two----- Heartache in the Form of a Child
Just look at him, this new little brother of mine. He smells funny and he’s always spitting and crying! Mamma is very close to him. All she does is hold him, and feed him and make “goo goo” noises at him. Daddy has returned to hardly being available for us. The club takes up a lot of his time. Dinner has gotten later and later and though mamma seems happy, she also seems sad. She cries a lot at night. I can hear her when I’m in my bed and Patrick Jr. has finished his crying. One stops, and the other one starts. Why has our home become so cold, lonely and sad? Well, tomorrow I will try and help mamma be happy again. I will help her with Patrick even if I don’t really want to.
The morning started off as usual with mamma in the kitchen preparing a feast of bacon, pancakes, eggs and grits. The aromas filled the air and included a scent of freshly brewed Maxwell House coffee. Daddy was in the bathroom shaving and paying extra close attention to his mustache. As I walked to stand at the door to watch him as he went along with his daily routine, I stumbled across a stuffed bear I had left behind a couple of days ago when daddy and I went out on one of our outings. Mamma had not picked it up and neatly returned it to my toy chest as she always did. I stopped, picked it up and held onto it as I watched daddy with anticipation that he would soon notice me standing there waiting for my good morning pick up and kiss. Finally as he finished his face, he turned to say “Good morning Sunshine” and picked me up covering my face with shaving crème kisses. I hugged his neck so tightly I could feel his Adam’s apple pressed against my forehead. He smelled good. Like Old Spice and Safeguard. As he walked down the hall to the kitchen with me in his arms, I heard my mother call out over Patrick Jr.’s whining “Come to breakfast”! Entering our plainly decorated dinning area, I could see the little whiner in his baby car seat all bundled up in a baby blue and pastel green nighty. I have to admit that he was a pretty baby, he had my mother’s fair skin and her beautiful Indian hair. His soft large locks were very different than my own tightly coiled tuffs. Patrick had eyes that could melt the hardest of hearts. I could see right away that he would present quite a challenge when competing for attention. As daddy placed me in my high chair, he turned to kiss mamma good morning and for the first time ever, she turned away and continued to fix a plate of the piping hot breakfast. Daddy reaching for a coffee cup stopped in his tracks when he noticed Jr. had lost his pacifier. He gently picked him up and began to caress his cheeks and he smothered him with kisses. I watched hoping Daddy would grow tired of this new bundle and focus once again on me as I threw a spoon down to the floor. My mamma scolded me and picked the spoon up replacing it on my plate with a fresh one. As we all sat down and began to eat, the phone rang. Daddy sprang up to answer it as mamma rolled her eyes and continued to sip her hot java. I grabbed a slice of bacon and stuffed my mouth so full I had to drink orange juice to wash it down. Mamma had fixed eggs with cheese this morning and as I picked through to get to my sharp cheddar, I noticed Daddy had taken the phone into the other room to talk to whoever was on the other end. My mamma and I sat quietly at the table and finished our breakfast without the company of daddy. By the time he returned from his private phone call, mamma was washing up the dishes and she stopped long enough to ask, “Are you going to church this morning or not”? “No, I have to get to the club and do inventory before tomorrow”. “I don’t know why you can’t let someone else do that, you are the owner ya know” mamma replied. “Look, that club is what keeps you in this house and buys you all this nice stuff we got in here” my daddy snapped. “I can’t afford to let some junky or somebody just go ordering stuff without my approval. I need to do it t myself!” With that daddy stormed to the bedroom and finished getting dressed. Within minutes, he was gone.
The rest of that Sunday was quiet. I stayed in my room that was now shared with Patrick Jr. I played with my Baby Alive doll and mimicked my mother feeding my little brother. I was almost out of baby food and made a mental note to ask for more when mamma and I went out to her favorite stores. Most of the time on Saturdays, my mamma and I went out shopping at JC Pennys, Dillards and Thalheimers. Even when she didn’t buy anything for herself, I always got a special treat of some kind. We always stopped at the candy counter for chocolate covered raisins and without fail we stopped at Hectors for a Shish kabob. Mamma was born in Greensboro, NC and was from a pretty educated group of women. My daddy was the only man she had ever known physically. It was her life to love him and take care of our home and little family. This Saturday, our trip was invaded by my baby brother and cut short. This time, I didn’t get my chocolate covered raisins and no pretty new outfit. Our trip which was made by the transit system because my mother had never learned to drive was to the grocery store to grab a couple of cans of baby milk and some pampers. I did however manage to grab a piece of bubble gum from the candy machine as we were leaving Winn Dixie.
It was mid December and Patrick Jr. was now over 6 months old. Up until lately, he didn’t do much of anything except eat, sleep and whine. At 6 months old, Jr. was already crawling and was doing it with ease. My crayons and all other small hand held items were in danger of being stuffed into his mouth, and therefore were all taken away. There were a couple of times when a rainbow poopy diaper was removed from his bottom. Because of this, these items were all put up high out of my reach and each time I wanted one, mamma had to stop what she was doing to retrieve it for me. As the months turned into a full year, Patrick Jr. became more and more busy. My dolls had daily baths within the mouth of this pesky toddler. Oh sure, there were times when Jr. didn’t seem so bad. Some times I rocked him to sleep and even fed him helpings of my Baby Alive baby food. I taunted him with songs of ghosts and boogie men until he cried and fell off to sleep. These times became more and more frequent as mamma became less available for coddling and quality time.
Mamma cried more and more and at the time, I didn’t know why I was beginning to see less and less of the man in my life. Daddy just seemed distant and though he tried to give me attention and love, he seemed preoccupied. It was like he was living a double life; a life that didn’t include me, mamma, or Patrick Jr.
Chapter 3----- The secret
The annual Williams family reunion was a full day of family, fun, dancing, eating and attention. This year we arrived right after the huge argument that uncle Kent and aunt Peggy never failed to perform. Who knows what it was about this year. Perhaps Aunt Peggy was wearing too much makeup or she was not bringing the beers fast enough for my uncle to sustain his already drunken state. As we all unloaded the Cadillac, mamma proceeded to the kitchen with the rest of the Williams in law women with Jr. in tow. Daddy placed me high up on his shoulders and waltzed down to where we were greeted by uncle Boogie, Uncle Kent, Uncle Lucky and one of my first cousins. Uncle Boogie had already had too much to drink. That didn’t stop him however from smoking one of the best pigs on the farm. “The secret is in the temperature of the heat” he slurred. “Then you have to chop this meat up and season it just right”. Uncle Boogie was a former soldier of the US Army and thought he was the best griller in the county. “Bought time you showed up” uncle Lucky complained. “You think you gotta right to hold everything and everybody up. Kicking all that dust up with yo fancy Cadillac”. Daddy ignored Lucky since he was always complaining about what we had that he didn’t have. Uncle Kent pulled his brother Lucky off to the side and they began to slam down beers as if they were water. “Hey little Carley” my uncle acknowledged my presence and reached up for me. Daddy however did not relinquish me to his intoxicated brother but he did place me down on the ground so I could run off to play with my older cousins. “Stop running Sunshine” daddy yelled after me. He and Uncle Boogie then began to engage in adult conversations about business, women and cars that would last until the family reunion feast was ready.
The table that had been prepared by all the women folk was garnished with everything from deviled eggs, greens, potato salad, field peas, yams, and of course barbecue. As the last of the deserts were placed on the table along with the cold lemonade, and sweetened ice tea, each child heard the familiar voice of their mother call out “come and eat”! We all ran to where we could hear music, watch as several drunken adults tried to do a few dance steps, some slurred their speech and others stuffed their faces with the country cuisine. As I searched for mamma, I saw her coming from the main house with my aunt Sandra Uncle Boogies wife. There was a look of horror on her face as she approached daddy and his half eaten plate. Her hand went back so far I thought she was spinning around and out of no where; she landed it right across daddy’s face. “How dare you disrespect me, you bastard!”? Daddy jumped up just as fast and grabbed her wrist and shaking her he screamed “woman what’s wrong with you?” As everyone watched on in anticipation for what would happen next, my mother let go a flow of obscenities that I never knew existed. My daddy had more new names than the law should allow. Aunt Peggy ran to try and get a hold to my mother and take her back into the main house. Mamma would not hear of it. The reason for all of mammas lonely nights of crying were all about to be discovered right here in front of everyone. “I can not believe you’ve been unfaithful to me and I can not believe everyone here knew but me. I suspected it but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe it! And you have brought me down here in front of all of your family for me to find out about it like this! Patrick Why!” “Why Patrick!”? As my mother cried and screamed uncontrollably, all was quiet except for the music on the record player playing “Second Time Around”. No one was eating anymore. Daddy was speechless. The more accusations that flew from my mamma’s mouth, the quieter he got. Uncle Kent could be heard mumbling under his breath; “hell boy are you going to stand there and take this shit”. Uncle Lucky took great pride in speaking up against my daddy that day. With a smirk on his face he commented; “I always knew your shit would catch up to you one day.” My uncle Oogie who was the youngest of the five got up from the table motioned for all of the kids to follow him and go to the kitchen. As I stood up to follow, my feet found their way to my mother’s side and that is where I stayed planted until everything ugly had been spewed from her mouth. “Take me home now” were my mamma’s last words to my daddy that day. We grabbed Patrick Jr. from the bed in the house where he was asleep and the four of us piled back into the car just as we had arrived only 2 short hours ago.
The car ride home was long and very silent. It was as though even Patrick Jr. knew this was not a good time for attention seeking. When we got home, daddy came into our room and tucked me and PJ into our beds as snug as bugs, kissed us goodnight and disappeared for a whole 7 days. During those 7 days without daddy, mamma seemed to have lots of people to talk to. She always cried whenever she spoke of daddy. I heard her talk about pain and not wanting to go on….I also heard her say that PJ and I were the two things that made her get up in the mornings. Mamma talked about some bitch that had the nerve to sleep with her husband and about family that allowed that same bitch into their homes. She spoke of people smiling in her face knowing about the affair. My mamma also said something about staying for the sake of her kids. I knew that meant me and PJ. And I guess staying meant that we all would be staying in our house. Mamma took several days off of work but quickly returned when the 1st of the month came rolling around. She said something about a funeral and not having time to grieve properly as she got dressed for work. As my brother and I finished our breakfast, I could hear my mamma talking to who I assumed was my daddy. I heard her ask him to come over and drop us off at daycare. Shortly after that, daddy showed up at the door and silently he came in and picked me up for a kiss. Then he picked up PJ and held him in his left arm and kissed him. He kissed us like he hadn’t seen us in a month of Sundays and wouldn’t for another month. My mother stomped through the room to grab coats, mittens and hats. They didn’t even look at one another. The silence between them was chilling. My parents had always had a few troubles but this I could tell was something totally different.
To break the tension, daddy offered to take my mamma to work instead of letting her ride the bus as she usually did. The winter day was cold and bitter. Catching a bus to go somewhere you didn’t really want to go would make it even more bitter. Mamma accepted daddy’s offer and I grabbed his hand and we headed for the car. Mamma carefully strapped PJ into his car seat and we started the long silent ride to the daycare. As soon as mamma realized daddy was headed away from her job and to the center, she demanded that he turn around and drop her off first. Daddy did as she requested. “Ann” he said, “we can’t keep on like this. We need to talk”. “Patrick I just can’t bear to even look at you right now much less talk to you or listen to anything you have to say”. It was a good thing we were pulling up in front of my mother’s job because tears began to swell up in her eyes. Mamma worked in a maximum security prison as a medical transcriptionist. She had been there for about 8 or 9 years. “I will be here to pick you up Ann” my daddy declared. “Ok, I guess we can talk then” my mamma said as she barely crawled out the car. The ride to the center was a little livelier. Daddy turned on some music and he talked to me about how sorry he was for hurting mamma. Though I didn’t know what he was talking about exactly, I could tell it made him feel better. I hoped the talk they would share this afternoon would get things in our home back to normal.
That afternoon Patrick Jr. decided to pull all of my Barbie doll heads off of their slobber soaked bodies. Somehow, that didn’t really bother me because most of the greasy matted hair had been pulled out months ago. I often practiced my hand at platting and braiding until of course my live model (PJ.) had come along. I wasn’t that good at braiding but I had pretty much mastered the art of platting on PJ’s head full of soft Indian hair. Not knowing any better he would lie there and allow me to play all I wanted. Once all the doll heads had been pulled off, he went for my coloring books. Page after page he pulled and shredded. I ran to find mama in the living room wringing her hands as she anxiously awaited a response to a question posed at my daddy. I must have startled them because they both looked up and began to speak at once. “Go back to your room Carley” my mom requested. “Sunshine, go play with your brother” daddy said with a strong air of leadership and control in his voice. I hadn’t seen daddy in 7days so I was resistant to leave his side. I grabbed hold of his powerful arm and clung to him like a permanent appendage. My mother with a sense of despair glanced over at me and then down to my shadow of a brother. “Carley please take Jr. and go play in your room”. “I will call you when your daddy and I finish talking”. Reluctantly I let go of daddy’s arm and took Patrick Jr. to our room where we indulged in another session of my torturing him with sad songs done on purpose to make him cry. I usually got a kick out of singing morbid songs to him just to see him tear up. Sometimes I sang him to sleep with lyrics like….”…little Paat, he’s dead now, little Pat his gone now….” and Jr. would cry himself off to sleep. I wasn’t always that menacing to him, sometimes I sang songs of walking in the sunshine and sugar canes and lollipops. Patrick especially liked to hear me sing London Bridge. Besides my parents, Jr. had become my biggest fan. This afternoon’s song of the evening was followed with a big spoonful of “Baby Alive” baby food, peach flavored.
Mamma and daddy could still be heard talking in the living room. I could hear mamma still asking “why” as if the conversation had just been picked up from the family reunion. I had hoped daddy would somehow find some answers for her this time. I hoped they would talk and we could all go back to being happy with no crying, no loneliness and my daddy would be back home for good. Was this too much for a 4 ½ year old girl to ask for?
From what I could hear after Jr. went to sleep, my daddy had gone to sleep with some other woman besides my mamma. Mamma was very mad at daddy and he didn’t have a whole lot to say. I heard him say he was sorry. Wasn’t that enough to fix everything? My mamma must not have thought so at first because she kept saying they would never be the same. What on earth did she mean by that? We had to be the same….he said he was sorry. Mamma always said if you do something bad you should always ask for forgiveness. So why wasn’t she forgiving my daddy for sleeping with this heifer (that’s what I heard mamma call her along with some other words I wasn’t suppose to say). Mamma must have been hurting because she kept saying so. Her heart was aching. She must have been having dreams to because she said this had to all be a nightmare. Every time daddy went to say anything, mamma would always cut him off and say her heat hurt. All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash. It sounded like glass. I started to cry but just then, I heard my daddy say “I love you Ann, please forgive me. It will never happen again”. Then it got really quiet. I could still hear mamma crying but it was kind of different. I ran into the living room and stopped just short of the door. I could see my parents embracing one another. This was good, real good. Mamma had forgiven my daddy and my daddy loved my mamma and wasn’t ever going to make her cry again. My heart felt light and I couldn’t help bursting into the room to join them in the embrace of love and forgiveness.
Chapter 4 -- Pain In My Head
Over the next few months, things seemed to go back to normal. Daddy came back home to live and mamma stopped crying soo much. Patrick Jr. was getting bigger and getting into more and more of my space. The one constant was that daddy eventually started staying out late again. And again it was more of just my mamma, me and Patrick Jr. Lots of times I could sleep with my mamma because daddy wasn’t there. I figured she didn’t have to sleep alone as long as I was there. When Jr. fell off to sleep, I crept into my mammas room and crawled under the covers with her. I must have been a welcomed bedmate because she would often wrap her arms around me and rock me to sleep. Sometimes late at night daddy would come home and place me in my bed where I would awake wondering if the night before had been a dream. There were other times when I woke up in my mother’s bed beside her just where I fell off to sleep listening to the sounds of her quietly sniffing. Sometimes I would ask my mamma why she was crying and she would say “honey one day you will experience the pain that comes along with loving a man”. I didn’t quite understand the answer that she gave me but one thing I did know was that I did not want any man to hurt me and make me cry every night the way my mamma did.
On this particular morning, daddy pulled up just as I was getting ready for my bath. He looked tiered, like he had been up all night. “My head is killing me” he said as he poured a glass of orange juice. “I guess it does” my mamma said with a disgusted look on her face. Actually, she didn’t look too much better. Her eyes were red and puffy and her nose was red and runny. She had another night of crying and sleeping with me, her 4 year old daughter. “Daddy, where have you been”? I asked with child like curiosity. “Mamma was crying last night….and she….” “Hush Carley and go take your shower” my mother said with scolding in her voice. I knew enough to let it go and obey my mamma. I scurried off with my night gown dragging the floor to take my bath. Patrick Jr. who was now trying to form words and small sentences was sitting in his high chair eating a bowl of oatmeal. I grabbed my yellow ducky toy and immersed myself in the warm water my mamma had fixed for me. Shortly after I began to wash myself, I was joined by my brother. “Hurry up Carley, we have to go soon or we will miss our bus to the center” my mother warned. I fought with Patrick Jr. and washed his tiny body and then my own. When we were finished, I called for my daddy. This was another way for me to spend more time with him before we left. He would come in place of mamma and dry us both off and get us dressed. When he came into the bathroom, I had just blown soap bubbles into Patrick Jr.’s eyes and he was squealing to the top of his lungs. “Carley, what did you do?” daddy asked. “Nothing” I replied with a smirk. “He just started crying”. “Sunshine, somehow I just don’t believe that one”. He gave me an incredulous look as he took Jr. out of the water and wrapped him in a fluffy blue towel. He took a wet wash cloth and wiped Patrick’s face making sure to get around his eyes. “Let’s go Sunshine” he said as he held out his arms for me. I stepped out of the tub and into the cotton candy pink towel my daddy was holding up as if I was royalty. “You had better start being nicer to your brother young lady. One day he will be as big as you are”, my daddy warned. “You will want him on your side, not against you”. Jr. ran into my mother’s room as daddy picked me up and carried me into my room. Mamma had my clothes already laid out on the bed. “I don’t want to wear that daddy”, I whined. “Well little miss, what do you want to wear today?” “I want to wear my blue pants suite with the yellow flowers.” “Carley, what’s wrong with what your mamma picked out for you?” he asked. “I just don’t want to wear a jumper daddy, they are for babies. Patrick Jr. wears jumpers” I explained. “Well, I guess your mamma won’t mind if we change your attire for today”. I knew all I had to do was whine a little and flash my eyes at daddy and he would melt and do anything that I asked. “We won’t make this a habit Sunshine. I mean it” daddy proclaimed as he looked down at my fresh clean face and big brown eyes. Daddy couldn’t resist my charm. He smiled as he took out my favorite pants suite from the cramped closet. “I love you Carley, and I always will. “I love you too daddy, you’re my hero” I proclaimed. “What do you know about heroes” daddy asked as he slipped on my undergarments. “My teacher says that Martin Luther King Jr. is her hero because he is doing a lot of things for the black people in the world. Well, Daddy you do a lot for me so you are my hero….and I love you to”. As I looked up at the man I admired so, his eyes were closed and he was clutching his head. “What’s wrong daddy” I asked. “Oh, baby its nothing; I just have a terrible headache”. “You need to go to sleep daddy?”, I asked as I reached for his hand. “I will be ok…I just need to take something for it”. “Daddy, will you be home tonight when I get home from daycare”? “Yes Sunshine, I will be here tonight after I close the club”. In the other room we could hear my mamma struggling with Patrick Jr. I ran in to where she was fighting with him to get his snow suite on and I grabbed the fye swat (fly swatter). “Mamma, here’s the fye swat, here’s the fye swat mamma”, I said eager to see Patrick Jr. get a spanking. “Carley ask your daddy to help you get your coat on please ma’am”. Daddy already had my coat in his hands when I returned to my room. “Ann “he called out, “do we have any Tylenol”? “Yes, it’s in the medicine cabinet” my mother yelled. “Patrick, how long have you had this one?” mamma asked with concern in her voice. “A couple of days” daddy replied with his eyes closed. “Maybe you need to go see the doctors again”. “No, it will pass” daddy insisted as he swallowed the 2 tablets mamma gave him with a sip of Orange juice. “Besides, there’s nothing they can do. They say there is nothing medically wrong”. “Well, can you take us or do we need to catch the bus? Because if not, we need to go now”. “No, I will take yall. That will cut out at least one bus trip.” “Patrick are you sure, you need to be going to the hospital if your head is hurting you that bad”. “Ann, I will be fine”. “Ok, Carley, Patrick Jr. lets go”. As we got into the Cadillac, mamma looked over at daddy and with a look of sympathy she made daddy promise to go get checked out at the local hospital. Reluctantly he agreed and we started our journey to the center where Patrick Jr. and I attended. We were there most of the time. That is when daddy didn’t take us out for a day at the movie theater or down to Smithville to see relatives or business associates. “Dada sick” Patrick Jr. told Mrs. Watkins his teacher as she greeted us in the parking lot. She peered in through the dark tinted Cadillac windows and with a wave of her hand remarked how daddy was not getting any younger and needed to take care of himself. As a man of only 26, I thought my daddy was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was a very trendy dresser and he always wore the latest colognes. Daddy had piercing dark brown eyes and an edged hairline that could slice a piece of paper. Since he swam laps in our pool almost every day, his physique was one you would see on an older teenager. I watched as my parents drove off and I wondered what the conversation would be about; the headache my daddy was experiencing or the love they shared for one another.
In class we were making things that represented “Civil Rights”. I was in the middle of cutting out a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. when my teacher came and pulled me out for check out. As I got my coat from my cubby, I could see my mother in the hall way looking quite upset. There were teachers surrounding her as she stood there with my little brother. They were all hugging her and some where crying and others where actually holding their hands in prayer motion. When I reached the circle, with curiosity I asked “mamma is it time to go already, where is daddy?” The ladies looked at me and gave me hugs and kisses as they walked away and mamma grabbed my hand and led me outside the building to the car that was waiting for us outside. It was my aunt Peggy. “Hey auntie!” I screamed as I climbed into the backseat of the brown Pinto. “Hello, sweetie” she responded with a voice that nearly choked up. When mamma had finished buckling us in, we drove off in a hurry. “Where is daddy?” I asked mamma again because she didn’t hear me the first time or just chose to ignore my inquiry. “Honey daddy is in the hospital”. As the words came from my mother’s mouth, she began to cry and my aunt Peggy joined her as we drove down the road away from the center for what would be the last time.
As we neared the ER entrance, I asked mamma why daddy was here. All she would say was that he had a headache. This couldn’t be so serious that my mother and Aunt Peggy both would be in tears. Daddy had headaches all the time. So I asked “Mamma are they giving daddy some more Tylenol in here” This question made her cry even harder and as my aunt Peggy parked the car, she held my mamma and they cried together before my auntie finally straightened herself up and said, “Ann, he will be alright. You have to be strong now. We are here. C’mon girl, don’t break down on us, your kids are going to need you.” These words seemed to give mamma the strength she needed to wipe her face and turn to me and my brother. “You guys stay close to your aunt Peggy for me. I have to go in here and go to the room where your daddy is.” When we arrived inside the emergency room, a nice man came to my mama and as he placed his arms around her shoulders, I heard him say my daddy looked very different. He said “time” was of the essence and that she should go to him right away. “He just came in because of a headache. Just a headache” mamma kept repeating this over and over as they walked down the long hall that would lead her to a room of horror.
Chapter 5---- Death Will Wait
It’s been a long month of constant traffic at our house, non stop telephone ringing, and a frequent down pouring of tears. Daddy’s name had been lifted up in prayer more times than I at 5 could count. The doctors are saying he will not live and if he does, he will be totally incapacitated. My mother has learned how to drive but we had to sell the Cadillac for something smaller. Grand daddy came over and took 1 week teaching mamma how to drive a stick shift. After she successfully passed the driver’s test, she went out and bought her first car, a 1973 Chevy Chevelle. It was lime green with a blue racing stripe going straight down the middle. Mamma was a fast learner and therefore had no trouble passing the test on the very first try. Today my brother and I would accompany mamma to the hospital to see my daddy who had turned into a vegetable with a water head according to some of the conversations I managed to overhear. Mamma, though she was tired most of the time, always made certain that Patrick Jr. and I looked our very best. Today was no different. My hair was freshly pressed and neatly pulled into two pony tails with red ribbons adorning the pair. After my bath, I dressed myself in the outfit my mother had laid out for me; a red jumper with a white turtleneck shirt. Mamma had placed my black paten leather Sunday shoes next to the bed along with a pair of white socks that displayed red bows on either side. My brother was dressed in a blue jumper with a red turtleneck underneath. He was in the other room with aunt Peggy getting his white baby shoes on when the telephone rang another chorus of searing rings. As I buckled my shoes, I could hear my mamma as she discussed daddy’s current condition with I assumed was my aunt Deborah in Greensboro. Mamma’s side of the family had been down several times to give comfort and support during this month but this weekend, there was snow on the ground and with no positive changes to daddy’s condition, mamma told grandma and auntie Deborah not to make the drive in the weather. Mamma was telling auntie about the nightmares that she had been having about a funeral that always ended with daddy in a casket. I overheard her say that she had also been hearing the door bell ring and when she would go to answer it, no one would be there. “Not enough sleep I guess”, she said. “Death bells? Mamma what in the world are you talking about” mamma replied to I guess now was my grandma on the other end. “I have heard of people hearing them but I don’t think that’s what I am hearing. Patrick is going to pull through this somehow” she exclaimed. I could hear the terror and some doubt in her voice. It was as if she was trying to convince herself not grandma that daddy would be alright. I could hear Patrick Jr. in the other room squealing with the innocence of not knowing what was going on. He continued to play as if daddy was just on a long vacation. Mamma walked into my bedroom and began to get the coats out of the closets. “Now Carley, when you see your daddy today he will look a little different”. “I know mamma” I said with sad undertones in my voice. “He is a vegetable with a water head”. Mamma looked at me and couldn’t help but laugh at my perception of what I had overheard. “Sweetie, vegetable just means that your daddy can’t move or talk right now. His eyes are probably going to be closed because he is on a lot of medicines”. “Will he still have a water head?”, I asked puzzled. “That is a condition that means his head is very big right now because he has a lot of fluid or liquid around his brain sweetie” mamma explained. “That’s why they call it water head syndrome”. “Oh” I said still not quite sure of what to expect. I put on my black Sunday coat and we held hands and walked to the living room where auntie Peggy and Jr. were patiently waiting. “Well, are we all ready” auntie asked. “Yep, lets go see daddy”, I cheerfully exclaimed! Patrick Jr. grabbed his bottle and mimicked “dada dada dada”. We all walked out and got into mamma’s new car.
When we arrived at the hospital, mamma went ahead of us to the nurses station and signed us all into the ICU. She found out that only 2 people were allowed in at one time. She took my hand and we slowly walked towards my daddy’s room. When we got there, I saw cards and flowers everywhere. There were so many surrounding my daddy’s bed that I could barely see him. When I did see my daddy for the first time in a month, I nearly choked at what I saw. Laying there was someone I didn’t recognize. He had the same complexion as my daddy, he even had the same haircut and shave as my daddy but this man couldn’t be my handsome daddy. He was too frail looking and his lips were twisted and his head was so big it barely fit on the mountain of pillows underneath. There were tubes and lines running all around this man and this man did not wake up when I spoke. No. this could not be my daddy. “Mamma, this is daddy ?” I asked uncertain but hoping she would say no. A yes would mean the sad feelings I had swelling up inside of me were for the right person. It would mean that my daddy was in front of me but he didn’t look the same. “Yes Carley, that’s your daddy. Remember what I told you before we left the house. I told you he might look a little different”. I could hold back the tears no more. A stream went running down my face as I looked upon this man’s twisted and mangled figure and realized that it was my Daddy. I crept closer to get a better look. He didn’t look as if he was in pain but there was a tear in his eye. I wondered if he knew I was crying. I looked back at my mother and she was fighting back tears. Just then, a man came in in a long white coat. He picked up a chart that was at the foot of the bed and as he began to speak, he glanced down at me. With a s look of sympathy and concern upon his face he turned to my mother and told her they had done all they could do. “Its all up to him now, but let me tell you that he is very weak. I don’t think he has much longer ma’am. I am very sorry”. My mother turned away from me and I knew she could no longer hold back the tears she had been fighting back. My eyes burned with the salty tears that ran down my face and into my mouth along with the snot that I struggled to wipe away with the sleeve of my white turtleneck shirt. I touched my daddy’s arm and it was cold and hard feeling. I couldn’t quite touch his face so I slid the green chair next to the bed a little closer and I climbed up to kiss my daddy’s cheek. “Be careful Carley” mamma turned in time to see me perching up on the side of the bed carefully maneuvering around the cords and tubes that flowed with clear liquids and blood. “Daddy” I whispered, “wake up daddy, its me Carley. Daddy can you hear me?” I got no response and I could feel my eyes swelling full of water again. “Mamma, come wake daddy up. He can’t hear me”. As the doctor walked out of the room, mamma came over to join me by daddy’s side. “Carley he can hear you, just keep talking to him. Maybe he will wake up soon.” My mamma took a clean tissue from her purse and wiped my wet face. She then turned it over and wiped her own. “Mamma what did the doctor mean when he said that they had done all they could do?” “It means that we all need to pray Carley. We need to pray that your daddy wakes up soon and gets to come home”. “What happens if he don’t wake up?” “Doesn’t “ mamma corrected, Honey we just have to believe and pray really hard that he will.” “But mamma if he doesn’t will he go to heaven to live with auntie Boot?” “Yes Carley but like I said, we are going to ask God to spare him this time and let him come home to us…Ok”. I closed my eyes and I began to pray…..” dear Jesus, please let my daddy wake up. God please let him be able to hear me and come home. Jesus he doesn’t want to come to heaven yet. He has to come home and love us and play with us and see mamma drive the new car. And Jesus please don’t let daddy be mad that mamma sold his Cadillac….Amen”.