Going Home Another Way
by Mary Sims
A Brief Synopsis
Every one has been lost at one time or the other. With Mary this is no exception. In her younger days, she unknowingly overcomes many hardships. Now as an adult, faced with the harsh realities of life and all its misgivings, she is left with a feeling of being lost and confused. Much like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz", she frantically searches for a spiritual path that would lead her back home. Just as she was about to give up hope, an inspiration for writing began to heal her broken heart.
Having being raised in a very protective and strict Pentecostal church, she had a limited view of the rest of the world. But the basic teachings of the church became the road markers that eventually lead her out of "The Wilderness" and back home. In the end she realizes she was never lost. She had to not only remember where Heaven was, but also how to go there. Home was simply heaven.
"In my Father's house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. You know the way to the place where I am going." John 14th chapter verses 2 and 4. (New International Version)
Damn, I thought I'd be better by now! I still hear the loud sizzle in my ear that drives me crazy. I can't be still!
"Ouch, Vetta that hurts!"
I 'm pleading with her while holding my ear.
"You've got to stop shaking so much! I'm not trying to burn you! Your scalp is tender. We had to let the relaxer stay on longer to get the kinks out! Your hair is hard to straighten since you've been wearing it nappy, oh I mean natural so long. I'm almost finished!"
If only Vetta knew why I'm shaking so much. If only she knew why I haven't straightened my hair in such a long time. Only a few knew about my illness. But I'm better now. It's just the hair thing. I can't get past that part! I wish the curling iron didn't make that noise! The sizzling sound of hair wrapping around the hot curling iron and the white foam it makes while molding the hair into a perfect spiral coil still haunts me!
It's amazing how things can sound alike, even if they are not the same. There is a big difference between a hot curling iron and a hot crack pipe. But to me they have a lot in common. The sizzling noise the hot curling iron makes when it's curling hair that's just been sprayed with spritz is identical to the sound of cocaine burning in a crack pipe.
I feel weak as I stand up from the chair and ramble through my purse looking for two twenty-dollar bills to pay Vetta. It's not much different from paying my dealer after getting high on crack either. But it doesn't take as long. Damn, I've been in this beauty shop for almost three hours! It will be dark soon. I don't like being out at night!
"You look good with that short cut Mary. I wish you'd let your hair stay straight. You'll never get a man with that nappy hair! Let me put you down for next month. That new growth will look bad if you don't keep it straightened!"
Vetta said this as she placed her hands on her large and round hips with a proud look on her face.
"No Vetta, I'll call you when I'm ready to come back. My scalp is so sore. I don't know if I'm ready for this! It looks nice though. Maybe I'll get a boyfriend and that will inspire me to keep coming back!"
I smiled while saying this, knowing full well I wasn't coming back, nor did I want a boyfriend. Hell, if I needed to look good to get a man, then I'd have to look that way all the time to keep him! I was more concerned about getting out of there and getting some fresh air. I felt like vomiting.
It had been six years since I used crack and over three years since I straightened my hair. Now I'm reliving the scene again. I wanted a new look and mostly wanted to see if the noise of the curling iron would still bother me. And it did bother me. Nothing had changed! The curling iron still reminded me of the pipe when it's good and hot, ready to be smoked. A good hit from the pipe makes a loud sizzle! Vetta had made some noise with the curling iron this evening! My poor scalp is sore from the tight tiny curls she meticulously placed in neat rows all over my head. Now I'll have to cut my hair off and start wearing it natural again! Oh well, its just hair!
The drive home was going to be long. I didn't even know if home is where I wanted to go. Maybe I'll go to an AA meeting instead. The meeting only last an hour, I could make it home before dark if I hurried. I didn't feel like I wanted to use crack again, but I became nervous from the long wait at the beauty shop and my stomach was upset.
While driving, I couldn't decide whether to go home first and then to the AA meeting. I've always had a problem with directions. It seems like I can only go to an unknown destination from a familiar starting point! It's absurd, but I'm a "One Way Joe". I chose to drive straight to the meeting instead. With only a mental map in my head, I ended up lost! Now I don't even know how to get home without going back to the beauty shop and starting all over! It's getting late. Damn!
Have you ever been lost? Think about how for a moment it’s really scary when you realize you’re lost. Now try and picture being lost and not having any maps or road markers to tell where you are. Picture meeting strangers on the way, you ask them for directions, but they have never heard of the place where you’re trying to go. Later on, you may decide to follow these strangers, just for the sake of having some company. But rest assured you’re going their way, they are not following you. These peop le may eventually become your close friends. As time passes, you may even forget about your journey altogether, and begin to look for some other place, a place that is easier to find. This is what happened to me. After being here and doing mostly what ever I wanted to do for forty-four years, I can truly say, " I am lost." The when, where or how, is what I don’t know. But I do know where I made some wrong turns and ended up in some hard dead-end situations.
The impression most people have of me is that I am a leader, strong and self-confident; always knowing what I want, and determined to get it. I’ve worked hard all of my adult life, and was always there for my family and friends. But now, a single parent, with two almost-adult sons, I'm at a point in my life where it seems there is nothing else to do, nor anyone else to follow.
It feels as if I've locked myself in a small jail cell that has no bars except the mental barriers that make me feel safe from the night. I let myself out to work during the day, and in the evening as the sun began to set, I willfully find my place, only to shut the world out. The carpet is worn evenly from the steps that take me down the hall of this small old house that's on a "dead-end street, in a drug-infested neighborhood" located only 5 miles from where I grew up. Even though I'm not lost in a physical sense, the compass of my mind has no sense of forward direction. I'm in a well that is so deep until my echoes are the only voices that are familiar. But I can't move from the place where I am until I know where to go.
I spend most of my nights writing the confessions of this lost soul I have become as I listen to Etta James while drinking White Zinfandel, really relaxing and healing myself. They tell me not to drink at the AA meetings. It will trigger the old urges and bring on depression. I know I'm going through a depression, but I have to "go through it" for it to pass. The past six years have taught me it's ok to be depressed. So I politely accept their ideals and do what I know is right for me. They would think I was crazy if I told them what really triggers my urges. The music and wine sets the mood for me to write. Word by word and line by line, this is how I will heal myself. My own thoughts that became words and then actions condemned me, and now I will make them all become the judge and jury that will set me free.
I'm trying to remember a time when I didn't feel this way, a time when I didn't talk this way. I didn't always curse or drink. Once upon a time I went to church and that was the only thing I looked forward to. Sometimes I go to church now, but there's nothing new to see or hear. Maybe I went too much when I was younger. To me it's like going to the supermarket when you've just finished a big meal. You just don't feel the need to shop. I really want to remember what inspired me. What gave me a desire to wake up in the morning and look forward to the end of the day?
Like most people, I often wish I could live my life over again. There are so many things I would do differently. But, my life won’t let me turn back the clock in reality, it can only be turned back in my mind. There was something else I was supposed to do, but I can’t remember what it was. It’s like walking into a room with a reason for going in there and suddenly you realize you’ve forgotten why you came in that room. You know you came in there for a special purpose, but you just don’t remember what it was. You may have gotten distracted by something and start to do something totally different from the original plan. You may even leave this room and never remember you were supposed to do something important. An object may even be in your hand. Upon examining the object, you may remember the reason why you entered this room. Other wise you’ll have to think back on the events that happened before you entered this room. This may help you in the memory process.
Sometimes a person can go miles on the wrong path before realizing he’s lost. This makes it harder to backtrack and pinpoint where he made the wrong turn. I believe that by looking at things in a retrospective way, and by being truthful with myself, I'll be able to find my way back home, even if I have to go another way!
They said I came here in March 1954. I was the fourth of five children. My older brother, named Charles, was seven years older than I was. Then came the youngest brother, Ronald, my older sister, Cathy and then myself. The three of us were born eighteen months apart. The youngest girl, Sheri, came ten years after me.
Ronald, Cathy and I were very close. We spent most of our time playing with dolls and building homemade tents out of sheets and bedspreads. Sometimes we'd light candles under the tents. We didn’t realize they left a distinct smell when we blew them out. My mother always knew what we were doing, even if we hid the candles. Kids can be so silly. Cathy and Ronald were quiet and never got into trouble. I was the one who was outspoken and always into something. A kid acting like that now would be labeled as hyperactive. A belt was used then, instead of medication. This worked very well for me; no side affects or anything.
When Cathy and I were small, we slept in a rollaway bed. Every night I would kick her. I wasn’t trying to kick her; I wanted to make the bed roll. The only way to do this was to heist my feet up high and bring them down on the bed real hard. I could make the bed roll a couple of feet and then it would hit the wall. Then it was Cathy’s turn to make the bed roll. When she refused to participate, I would keep heisting my legs up, eventually hitting her and making a lot of noise. Cathy would cry and say,
" Momma, make Mary stop!"
She didn’t say it loud enough for my mother to hear, so I kept on doing it. Finally, Mother would come in. I'd get a whipping and go to sleep. The strange thing is, I did this every night for a long time. The ending was always the same. I got a whipping and then I'd go to sleep.
My mother, named Mable, was a domestic worker and a devout Christian. Sometimes she would take me to work with her. The bus ride was long. When we got downtown, we’d have to walk over to another street and catch a different bus. I’d sleep most of the way. She was a tall and slender woman, who walked real fast. She’d hold my hand and I'd run along side her trying to keep up. Maybe I slept on the bus because I was tired from running.
Mother was also a great seamstress and made all of our dresses. She did most of her sewing at night. Sewing was probably a way for her to escape from the problems that arose during the day. She could look at a picture of a dress and copy it. Sometimes the people she did cleaning for gave her old sofas and chairs. Somehow she'd fine the time to reupholster the pieces and sell them. A dim lamp in the corner of a room still reminds me of the nights I sat in a chair nodding while she stayed up late sewing dresses for some of her lady friends who had dances or other special occasions to attend. One of the dresses she made won first place in a fashion show. I spent many hours watching her work. To this very day I love sewing and upholstering furniture. Sometimes when I am tired from working late at night now, I can sense her calm spirit moving among the shadows, mingled within the light. Then I feel a cool breeze full of her strength, flowing through the room, allowing me to stay up and finish the project I am working on.
Mother took us to a Pentecostal church two nights during the week, Saturday mornings and Sunday nights. Sometimes she would take us to tent revivals. There were people who were sick and in wheel chairs at the revivals. I don’t know if they were healed. I was too young to understand. There were times when a person at the tent revival would stand up say things that was strange. They would speak English in a very loud voice using words in biblical form like "Thee and Thou." The whole congregation was quiet while this person spoke. I didn’t think they were talking to me, so I paid them no mind. I paid more attention to the structure of the tent (maybe I was trying to get ideas on how we could improve our tents at home) and I played with the sawdust on the ground. One time I managed to bring some sawdust home. When Mother wasn't watching, I put two handfuls of it in my pockets. There was hardly any left when I got home. I don’t even know why I brought it home. I did liked the way it smelled and the way it felt when I crumbled it in my hands.
I don’t remember my mother saying much, but it always made me sad when she cried at church. Mother never screamed or danced like most people in the holiness church. She only cried, the tears just rolled down her face. Her faith in God was relayed in a letter she wrote on her deathbed. In the letter she said how she believed God would heal her, and even if He didn’t, she would still be faithful. Sometimes I read the letter now and hope some day I can have that kind of faith. I have that faith, but it’s stored up until the needed event arrives. But now that I really think about it, the need as come and gone many times. Faith seems to come automatically!
My father, named Charlie, was a barber. His nickname was Chat. I never knew why they called him that. Maybe because he talked so much when he was drunk. He went to the barbershop every day except Sunday. Most of his day was spent drinking and playing dominoes instead of cutting hair. I always believed he could do something different to make a better living for us, but added to the fact he was lazy, he was also a gambler, an alcoholic and good looking. This made life difficult for the whole family.
My father’s mother, whom I am named after, came to visit at least twice a year. She moved to Chicago with a sister and three brothers. They all left Texas and were a part of the Mid-Western migration in the thirty’s. Once my father told us she had lost one eye and her sense of smell during an operation for a brain tumor when she was younger. I challenged this theory about her sense of smell once while she was visiting. I told Cathy I was not going to take a bath the whole time she was visiting. I sat in her lap and flaunted myself all over the place. By the end of the week even she could smell again. She told me to take my dirty smelly self to the bathroom right then and take a bath. I was so embarrassed!
During her visits, my father was always on his best behavior. He came home early and was sober. We always had plenty of food when she came to visit. I found out later that my grandmother was actually buying the food while she was visiting. To this day she is still the best cook I’ve ever known. The house had to be clean before she came in town. We'd mop and wax all the hardwood floors and spray for roaches. The smell of the Johnson's wax mixed with the heat from the furnace was usually strong enough to kill the roaches with out ever using the Black Flag spray! But no matter how much cleaning and spraying we did, the roaches always came back. My grandmother always brought us a lot of clothes and shoes that some of the rich people she worked for had given her. Some of the things didn't fit, but we'd wear them anyway. They were really nice clothes! Whenever we got in a real tight, she always sent money to help out. Maybe that’s why Mother never said anything about how she took over the house when she came to visit. My father had only one brother. When my grandmother did come to town, she never spent a lot a time with my uncle’s family. His wife was a very difficult woman. My grandmother could not run her house.
Sometimes my father would bring slabs of bacon and whole cow’s liver home. We ate liver every way you could think of. It would look and smell so good you’d think it was steak. I overheard him telling Mother that he got the meat by gambling. Sunday was the only day I can remember him not being drunk. I was too young to know why he behaved that way all week, and acted so nice and quiet on Sundays. He never brought liquor home, but he’d be drunk when he came home. Mother would tell us to be quiet because Daddy had been drinking again. God, I wondered what was he drinking to make him act like that? Water? Kool-Aid? Pepsi? What was it? Sometimes we would drink Kool-Aid and pretend we were drunk. Mother would tell us to stop mocking Daddy. Seeing Daddy drunk like that became a constant stumbling block in my life.
Home was a small Government Project called Brackens Village. These Projects were exceptionally clean and quiet in comparison to Government Projects now. Each unit housed six families. The apartments shared a front porch and had a private back porch. A tool shed was in the middle of the units. Lawn mowers and yard tools were kept there. The grounds were well maintained and green. In the summer there were a lot of water sprinklers on the grounds. They rotated and had a high-pressure spray that would bruise your skin if you tried to play in it. These sprinklers made a loud and distinct noise. Water sprinklers don’t sound that way anymore. Large flowers grew everywhere.
We played in the back yard a lot. It wasn’t really a yard; it was an area where the clotheslines were. Sometimes we’d race to see who could climb the pole the fastest. The older kids would always win. The larger apartment had three and four bedrooms upstairs. We lived in a three-bedroom apartment. The stairs were at the front door. Instead of rails, there was a banister. My sister and I had lots of fun sliding down the banister. There were not many single parent families that lived in the Projects then. Parents tried to stayed together no matter what. My father and mother did.
The summers in the Projects were long and hot. Most of the apartments had big water fans in the kitchen window. About every two hours we had to wet the straw in the fan with water from the water hose. The water from the hose tasted so good. The nights were very hot also. Most of the people in the units would sit on their front porches from sunset until late night. Sometimes the mothers sat on the front porch and combed their daughter’s hair in the late evenings. The little girls would look so clean and pretty when their sober fathers came home from work. The sun set in our back yard, so the front porch was cooler in the afternoon.
There was a lady named Mrs. Garrett who lived in our unit. She was a strange woman who would tell scary stories at night while we sat on her porch. Sometimes she and Mother would light a fire in a bucket with rags in it to keep the mosquitoes away. Mrs. Garrett often told a continuing story about the time when she was a child living in the country. There were no lights on the road at night. It was so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. One particular night when she and her younger sister were walking home from church, the devil and some little demons started chasing them. They were able to outrun the devil, and by the time they got home the devil had turned into a big snake and was walking upright on its tale. Her mother came out and chopped off the snake’s head with a sickle! This was one of her scariest stories! I can still see her eyes glaring through the flames as she laughed heartily while telling those morbid tales. When we weren’t listening to her stories we would play hide and seek or pop-the whip.
One summer an ice cream truck came through the Projects late at night. The driver was White and rumors were that the ice cream was left over after he finished his route in the White neighborhood. The kids didn’t care where it came from. Many of the adults bought and ate the ice cream too. The truck was big and it had yellow lights on the inside. The ice cream was the kind that was soft and swirled on a cone. We never had any ice cream like this before. We called the ice cream man Mr. Softie. He came every night except Sunday around ten o’clock. The ice cream cone was only a quarter. All the kids in the Projects would be so happy when he came. One night we waited for Mr. Softie to come. It got very late. We were determined to wait for him. One by one the kids had to go in the house. Cathy and I watched for him upstairs through our bedroom window. When we weren’t watching, we were listening for the music his truck made upon arriving in the Projects. Mr. Softie was never seen again! I guess this disappointment wouldn’t have been so bad if my mother would have told us not to expect Mr. Softie every night. Maybe the adults expected him to keep coming too. They stayed on the porches long after we were sent to bed. But ice cream couldn’t have fixed everything for them like it did for us! Now Cathy and I have a cliché about waiting for something. If we think something won’t ever happen, we always say it’s like "Waiting on Mr. Softie!"
During the summer, Charles was supposed to watch us. This turned out to be a disaster. He would torment us all day. One time he took two kitchen chairs, the sofa cushions and the ironing board upstairs. Then he put the ironing board and the sofa cushions on top of the chairs. He made Cathy and I put on his football helmet and pads. We had to get on top of the cushions. He’d raise the ironing board up, and we’d go flying down the stairs. Then he would laugh and say,
"I’m doing this for your own good, this will make you tough when you grow up!" We didn’t get a scratch or a bruise and we did this several times too! When Charles saw we weren’t afraid to do this anymore, he stopped making us do it. We tried doing this with Ronald’s supervision, but it just wasn’t the same.
Whenever we found stray cats, we would try to feed them. We'd mix up some powdered milk in a bowl. This was the Government kind of powdered milk. No mater how much you stirred it, it was still lumpy. After a while the cats would warm up to us and start to drink the milk. But when Charles found out, he would boil water on the stove and scald the cats. His excuse was that he hated cats and they could make a baby stop breathing just by being around the house. We wanted to believe him. What other reason would he have for doing something so mean? Kids can be so silly!
Going to church was fun when I was younger, but as I got older it became a chore. There weren’t very many members in the church and sometimes it would be after midnight when we got home. The pastor, whom I will call The Good Bishop, preached about death and hell more than anything. He was a short, dark-skinned man with snow-white hair who always wore black. Most of the church members were afraid of him. I remember him whipping one of the member’s son just because he couldn’t recite a bible verse. The Good Bishop was a very mean and outspoken person. But once I saw him without his dentures in, he looked like a sweet little baby that wouldn’t harm a fly!
My father didn’t like the church members or The Good Bishop. He always said they were all hypocrites and thieves! The Good Bishop saw him at the bus stop one day. It was raining and instead of The Good Bishop giving him a ride, he deliberately ran into a big puddle, splashing water all over him!
I remember the time my father came to church drunk. He sat in the back and when the deacons were getting ready to take up the offering, he volunteered to help. He made a speech about how people shouldn’t try to rob God of His money and how people should love one another. He really talked a lot when he was drunk! The things that he was saying were right, but he was drunk! We were so embarrassed!
Cathy and I were always afraid of the end of the world. I remember the time we stayed up most of the night looking out the window. We wanted to be awake when the world came to an end. Reading some parts of the book of Revelation somehow made us feel an earthquake was going to swallow us up. We watched the moon to see if it was going to drip blood. When The Good Bishop’s daughter ran a revival, we decided we wanted to be saved. We were going to stop doing wrong and be good and obedient (not that we were so bad). I was baptized at the age of nine. After the ceremony I didn’t feel any different, but I did as I was told. The church members fasted and prayed a lot during these revivals and the children were encouraged to fast and pray also. Fasting was not hard for us since we had little to eat anyway. I would spend a lot of time saying my prayers and learned them at a very early age. Sometimes I would fall asleep on my knees.
The elementary school was very close to the Projects. It was about a ten-minute walk. There was a graveyard next to the school. Sometimes we would look out of the windows at school and watch the graves being dug. Rumors were that only White people were buried there. I used to wonder where they buried the Black people. I found out later. There were two dwarfs and one albino set of twins that went to school with me. These kids were fascinating to me. I never questioned why they were like that. To me, it was like the sun or the moon. God made it, and that’s the way it was, but it still fascinated me! The dwarfs were friendly and very talkative. But if you got too friendly with them you could somehow end up being a slave for them, like carrying their books and their lunch trays. The dwarfs were treated the same by most of the teachers. In gym class they even had to run laps and exercise like the other kids. On the other hand the albinos were just the opposite. They looked very mysterious with their dark shades on, and they hardly ever said anything. In May we celebrated Cinco de Mayo. The first grade girls would wrap the Maypole. The gym teacher was in charge of the Maypole event. She was real fat and dark skinned. The ironic thing was she didn’t like dark skinned girls or girls with short nappy hair. Every girl she picked to wrap the Maypole was light-skinned with long hair. I didn’t get to wrap the Maypole. By the time I was in the third grade, my " not so pretty friends" and I could pick out what first graders were going to wrap the Maypole. The pretty girls with long hair always got picked.
In the mornings and some afternoons we would stop at a little store call the Hilltop Grocery. We could always buy a nickel's worth of notebook paper or some penny candy. Sometimes we’d be able to buy a quarter’s worth of paper, or we’d borrow some sheets from a classmate. Maybe if my mother bought a lot of paper we’d waste it by drawing on it or giving it away to other kids who begged like us. Anyway every time we did have a lot of paper, we owed half of it to classmates we had borrowed from.
At the back of the store was a lot of stairs that led to a street. A lot of kids who didn’t live in the Projects walked down those stairs. I always wanted to walk down those stairs, but since that was not on the way home, I didn’t bother to go that way. That area was called The Bottoms. For some reason the kids that lived in the Bottoms thought they were better than the Project kids. Whenever somebody asked me where I lived, I’d always say with pride,
"107 Monaghan Court."
Just the name "Monaghan Court" made me feel important. It reminded me of a grand place somewhere in London!
Growing up in the sixties was simple for us. We took the same paths everywhere we went. From home to school and to church, we could take that path blindfolded. Sometimes when Mother would pick Daddy up from work, he’d tell her to go home a different way. She would have a fit! It was late, and if it was cold, we had to wipe the windows so she could see how to drive. He was drunk anyway. Why should we go the way he wanted to go? We would be glad to get home and put Daddy to bed, but if Charles was outside with his friends, my father would pick a fight with him. These fights finally resulted in Charles having to leave home. There were times when home felt safe and then there were times when I’d wish to be someone else’s child and lived somewhere else. But being alone with Mother was always safe.
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