I Use to Cry at Night
by Tracey Mansfield
"Like a weather beaten stone
All I can say is I’m tired. Too damn tired to keep living. So, I’m not. I quit. Shay scribbled onto the sheet of paper then popped the last of the ten Darvocet tablets into her mouth. She gagged on the huge pill, and even the burning sensation of the Pepsi couldn’t remove the nasty, gritty taste from the back of her throat. She sat down in the dark hallway, stretching her legs out slowly, allowing the coolness from the terrazzo tiled floor to rise gradually from the soles of her feet up the back of her smooth, dark legs.
A feeling of calm settled over her as she flipped through the stack of CD’s that lay on the floor beside her. She wasn’t scared. She was just relieved. For as long as she could remember, her world was one of complete chaos and turmoil. As the effect of the pills intensified, so did her hunger to die. For months she’d been in a deep depression, and every morning, the idea of having to face another day was like a slow death in itself. This had to be done today. The thought of waking up tomorrow was more painful than any suicide she could imagine.
Shay hummed along as she fast-forwarded Erika Badu’s CD to her favorite song, "Next Lifetime". Her mind wandered back to her childhood. "I guess I’ll see you next lifetime," she sang. "First time that I saw you boy,"...and remembered..."it was a warm and sunny day"...
The little nappy-headed, hot chocolate colored girl took the same path home a million times from school. The dry, gray gravel inched into the holes of her clear jelly shoes and stuck to the bottom of her ashy feet like crazy glue. Today was the last day of school. Her head pounded from the heat, and the thought of not being able to escape her house for eight hours a day, five days a week.
When the final dismissal bell of the year rang earlier that day, Shay walked over to her fifth grade teacher and whispered in her ear, "I love you Mrs. Roach." The teacher was stunned. Shay was a very quiet and reserved child who always went out of her way to avoid any confrontations. She never spoke unless called upon, and never gave anybody any problems. Mrs. Roach had worked endlessly all year to get Shay to open up. Until this point, she believed she had failed the girl.
The only things that touched the child enough to actually get her to speak during a class discussion now and then were books. Shay loved to read and write. Mrs. Roach knew her love for literature was what she used to escape her reality, whatever it was. That reality had turned her student away from the outside world and, seemed to make her suspicious of everything. It took a lot for Mrs. Roach to fight back the tears welling in the corner of her eyes as she studied Shay's innocent brown face.
"I love you back Shay. Please call me over the summer to let me know your okay." She grabbed her small black pocketbook from underneath the desk, pulled out a business card, and gave it to Shay. They exchanged a quick hug, and Shay hurried off to catch bus 108. Bus 108 was the only one from Wyndance Elementary School that went to the west side of Indianapolis.
Shay turned the last corner before reaching her apartment at 2212 Rue La Rae Lane. Her stomach turned to butterflies as she pulled the thin, silver chain that held her door key from inside her dingy white t-shirt. Her lunch rushed up her throat before she could even get the chain up over her head. She bent over the brown grass that surrounded their small porch and threw up again. Then she wiped her mouth with the tissue she had already pulled from her small pack of Kleenex. Her mother made her keep them in her pink and white backpack, along with her toothbrush and travel size tube of Crest.
Six months before, doctors told Shay’s momma that her daughter had something called a nervous stomach. Whenever Shay had to deal with anything that frightened her, she’d get sick. They also told her momma it was psychological and recommended counseling. Her momma had a cheaper solution–a toothbrush and some Crest.
This was a ritual. Shay always became nervous right before she went inside. She never knew what to expect. One time, she and her brother had come home from school to find every piece of furniture that decorated the three bedrooms on the second level of their townhouse thrown down the stairwell, completely blocking it. There was no sign of their momma or step dad anywhere. Shay’s heart seemed to stopped beating a dozen times in those five minutes it took to move mattresses, broken lamps, and broken toys out of the way so they could make their way up the stairs.
Amani, Shay’s younger brother, cried the whole time. He kept repeating the same thing over and over in between his sobbing, "Mommy’s dead, Shay. He killed her." In her heart she believed her mother was upstairs dead, probably beaten or strangled to death by Robert, her step dad, during one of his violent rages. But she had to pretend everything was okay for Amani’s sake.
"She’s fine. She’s probably just sleeping. Don’t worry so much." The only thing they found when the two finally reached the second floor was more damage to their rooms and all their stuff. When her older sister, Zoë, came in from junior high school an hour later, they cleaned Amani’s room first, throwing away everything that couldn’t be repaired. Then they straightened up the girls’ room, the hallway, and finally the stairwell. It was close to eight o’clock when they were finished, and still no sign of their momma or step daddy.
They tried to ignore the time by eating pot pies and watching television for another two hours. At ten that evening, Zoë and Shay carried Amani’s scrawny little body upstairs to bed. Amani muttered something as they left the room.
"Go to sleep Mani," Shay whispered. He mumbled again, "Am I?"
"Are you what?" Zoë asked.
"Am I dreaming?"
Before Zoë could answer Shay blurted out a reply,
"Yes, Mani. We all are."
After picking out their school clothes for the next day, Shay and Zoë also went to bed.
The neon orange numbers on Shay’s alarm clock read 2:37 when she awoke to her momma’s whispers.
"I’m sorry I didn’t call Zoë. You know how your daddy gets. I just had to get out of here for a while."
"He’s not my daddy, and what about us?"
"He’s the only man around here helping me take care of you. So technically he is your daddy. I know he would never hurt you all."
"If he hurts you, why wouldn’t he hurt us?"
"Look, you’re the child, I’m the adult damn it! I know what I’m doing, and when he gets back here-" Zoë cut her off before she finished the sentence.
"What do you mean when he gets back here...you’re crazy. Do you wanna die?"
Zoë’s mocha face was covered in tears now. She never understood why having a man around meant so much to her mother. No matter how worthless or useless they turned out to be, her momma just didn’t seem to care. Zoë hated her for that.
"You’re so stupid! I hate you momma. I hate you so much. I wish he would just go ahead and kill you."
The woman looked into her daughter’s face and spoke softly,
"Me too. Sometimes I feel like getting my gun and killing all of us myself. Then we’ll all be out of pain...I’m just so tired of living...Do you think you could forgive me if I did that?"
Zoë was shocked. She laid down and turned her back to her mother. Jennifer walked out of the room silently. She was embarrassed and ashamed of what her oldest child thought of her. Shay buried her face in her pillow and sobbed.
Shay quietly unlocked the door to their apartment. She was very careful to always enter the house without being heard, in case she had to sneak back out before anyone noticed her. Today, Shay’s house was empty, and the little girl let out a very adult sigh of relief.
That night, the stomach in knots ritual would begin again when Robert came in from hanging out. He’d beat up her momma most nights, then they’d make up. At least that’s what her cousin, Mechee, said they were doing when the bed squeaked. An hour or two later Robert would creep into the room Shay and her older sister, Zoë, shared. He’d sit down next to the twin bed and whisper,
"Shay, are you still up? Don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything. I know you can hear me." She’d never answered him, never move an inch, and sometimes she wouldn’t even breathe.
At first, he just talked about his tour in Vietnam. His stories were about the horrible, ugly things he had seen. He told Shay how it felt to kill a person, and to watch a person be killed. Shay used to imagine some of these things happening to him and felt bad. Sometimes she’d even cry for him after he’d left her room at night.
Things started to change about three months into his trips to the little girls’ room. Robert had started smoking "that shit". Shay really didn’t know what it was. It looked liked cigarettes, but according to her momma and aunts, it wasn’t. They called it "that shit"–so, she did too. Eventually, the Vietnam war stories stopped, and Robert admitted he didn’t want to talk about the past anymore. He wanted to focus on the future. His future with Shay.
"Shay, your momma brought me home to you for a reason; so you and I could be together. I love you, and want to be with you," he whispered in her ear late one night.
He could no longer fight his urges for the little girl, and began to touch her during his talks in the dark. About that same time, his drug addiction worsened. He began to skip work and steal money from her momma. Shay knew and he knew–he got high to have an excuse. He had an excuse for everything. Couldn’t get a decent job because Mr. Charlie is always trying to keep the black man down. Couldn’t find a good black woman cause they don’t know when to shut up. He told Shay he had settled for her momma. Couldn’t stop getting high because of those Vietnam War pictures in his head. Couldn’t leave Shay alone cause he loved her.
The first time his large rusty hand crept up her thin ten-year-old leg, Shay froze. She didn’t make a sound–just played sleep as usual. He shoved his dry, hard fingers inside her, and she didn’t flinch. Even when his disgustingly huge body climbed up on top of Shay’s small frame, devouring her and the small secret spot between her thighs; even when that spot began to rip from the inside out, she just laid there motionless. She considered yelling for a second, then thought, what would Zoë think if she saw Robert on top of me? He might even get her next if she caught us.
Robert looked down into Shay’s frightened face and got scared at the thought of someone finding out what he was up to. He covered her mouth tightly with his big ashy right hand.
"If you even think about telling, I swear I’ll kill your mother, Zoë, and Amani. You won’t have anybody but me to take care of you," he whispered in between grunts.
Her head was spinning like crazy, and she felt nauseous. It wasn’t him inside of her; it was his warm, shit-odored breath that was the worst part. It was making her sick; she wanted to die. No, she wanted him to die. She couldn’t fight off his powerful grip on her chin. He just kept pulling her tiny face towards his huge, stubby black head. He kissed the child, and then forced her thin lips open with his slimy fat tongue and touched the pink insides of her mouth. She fainted before he could pull his tongue out.
When she woke up a few minutes later, Robert was gone. She tried to scream for her momma, but nothing came out. Her momma loved this man and Shay loved her momma, so she couldn’t hurt her. Shay decided right then, that she could not tell, ever. The little girl silently cried herself to sleep in the night.
Over the next few months, the rape became a nightly occurrence. It took less than two weeks for Shay’s body to become numb to the pain between her legs. After the first month, she could even tolerate his tongue in her mouth without blacking out. Although, on several occasions, she had to choke down the taste of vomit until her step dad was done. She’d limp into the bathroom, cut the fan on, and bury her head in the toilet until she dry-heaved. Shay spent the rest of her time in her bedroom burying herself in her books, or writing in her journal and crying. No one in her home seemed to notice that the once outgoing child was growing more and more despondent to her surroundings everyday.
Her sister, Zoë, was busy with her increasing popularity, and Amani with sports. Her mother was so preoccupied with her own misery caused by the same man, she didn’t know if she was coming or going. Shay was on her own. When school began that fall, Mrs. Roach sought out her old student. Her concern had grown over the summer since Shay never bothered to call. It took the teacher only one short conversation with the child to see that whatever she was going through before, had become ten times worse. It was too late to save Shay...so she wouldn’t try anymore. Mrs. Roach did exactly what Shay had expected. She left her alone. This didn’t come as a surprise; that’s the way it had always been for her.
When Shay and her family finally ran away from her step daddy, Shay swore to God that no man would ever climb on top of her again, and as long as there was breathe in her body, she’d never kiss another living sole.
"I guess I’ll see you next lifetime," she hummed as her thoughts drifted back and forth between reality and fantasy. She was slowly reflecting on her entire life as she listened to the smooth, soothing music. "I’m gonna look for you." She thought about Eyvind, Jordan, and the births of her two children, "maybe we’ll be butterflies." She remembered her childhood, then the first time she caught Eyvind cheating. "That sounds so divine" and finally, her mind drifted to the day she realized she was going mad. "Damn these pills work fast," she muttered before blacking out.