Fast and Gone
by Rev. Tamara E. Lewis
The cut was deep. Blood, thick, red blood was oozing out of her wrist, dripping along the side of her arm. Like rivers, rushing running from little streams like branches whose source was wounded, the blood flowed like rivers. It (the cut) was round and opulent like Africa's Blue Nile. Mighty sources fueled mighty rivers, and this source, this cut she had made, screamed out torrents and floods. Pieces of skin floated along the river like drifting rafts lost upon a stormy sea. Misty droplets of blood scattered and played, dipped and flew like birds, like sweat. "Jesus sweated great drops of blood," she thought, and smiled. "I am going to see Jesus."
Glancing at her arm, she wondered. Was it deep enough? She wanted to die. Paul had written something like, "I don't know which is better." Which is better? Better to die now and be at peace, or live on in cruel pain? One could not live without strength. There was no strength. Living necessitated the presence of strength, but she had none, she could not 'shoulder up the cross.' Wooden planks of imaginary crosses had left splinters in her back, scratching, cutting, like a crown of thorns pricking like needles. They were dancing across her back, playing and running as she screamed, and that's when she broke. Back was broken. And heart, too, it was broken. Bleeding and torn, it pulsated in agony against her weeping chest, and there had to be some relief. Maybe in death. She had no strength left to fight, to live. Her essence was withered like decaying foliage, green stuff that had no rain. This new rain was red, not clear, not pure. New rain dribbled into droplets on the floor. Blood on the floor. There had been blood on the floor that awful day.
Ronda took a deep swallow of Jack Daniels' whiskey. The taste was bitter and made her cough. It wasn't quite gone yet, and she had to finish it before death. "I have sinned," she thought. "I am a great sinner." But God forgave. "Grace," Ronda murmured. "Oh, such grace." Ronda read her Bible all the time. She even went to the praying circle at church. It was all there in the good book-mercy, forgiveness, love. How come she couldn't feel any of it? Just a little boy. He had been so little, small for his ten years. "Don't think about it anymore," her mother had said. "It was an accident." She had been so sick when she did evil things. Sick. "Nothing, nothing," she whispered. "Nothing can take it back."
The blade of the razor was covered in blood. She dug it deeper into her skin, deeper. More blood. "Good, good," she thought. "I deserve to die." Maybe this would really be it. She'd tried to kill herself before. People couldn't see. Not through the smiles-they didn't see the eyes. The water had been soapy, full of Ivory soap. He had been throwing things at her, trucks or something. There was this burden inside of her, a powerful, uncontrollable burden. Glass in the floor had cut up her feet. The police thought the blood was his. They asked her, but she was screaming.
Blood. Her arm was a maze of thick wetness. If she died tonight, who would find her? Lisa, her roommate, would bang and bang on the door, and finally come in to find the body. Really, she hadn't thought about him in years. It had been thirteen years. Her parents never talked about it. Nobody ever talked about it. But whenever she got sad, it would come back, the haunting memories and irrepressible guilt. But God still loved her, forgave her. She had been screaming at him. They were both screaming, so stupid. His legs were in the water. She saw his little naked body jumping up and down in her mind. He had only been ten. Ronda shook herself. The phone was ringing, she was alone on the floor. "Is it Richard?" she thought. She let the phone ring. It was a high-pitched, ringing sound, loud. Probably not Richard. When was the last time they spoke? Days? Weeks? At the last date they were eating somewhere, some restaurant. Richard's fingers had been covered in barbecue sauce.
"It's true I don't pray every day," he was saying, licking his fingers. "But I do pray when things get hot."
Ronda shifted in her seat, and took a sip of tea. "What do you mean hot?" she asked, trying to be pleasant.
"You know, I can't say that I have a disciplined prayer life. But I do believe in God and everything. You're the church woman, you're the one up on this praying stuff," he added.
"Yes," she said, needing to change the subject. Richard thought she was a religious fanatic. "So, how is your campaign going?" she asked.
Richard straightened up and adjusted his tie. He loved to talk about his campaign. "As well as can be expected," he said. "Of course, running on an independent ticket is challenging. I'm not expecting to win or anything..."
"But it's a way to get your message heard," Ronda interrupted.
"Yes, yes, of course," Richard replied. "No one's really talking about reparations these days, and it's such a big issue, and so many other concerns, like the environment."
Ronda took a bite of her chicken. "Think you can run a campaign when you're out of the state?" she chewed.
Richard smiled. "I'll have to. This fellowship thing is an enormous opportunity. I'll get a lot of important work done at Harvard," he said, straightening his glasses. "Check please," he called out to a passing waiter.
"And, of course, you'll have plenty of time to find white women," Ronda snapped. The words were sudden (where had they come from?), rolling out of her mouth before she had time to think. She paused. "You know what I mean," she said trying to politely lace disgust in her tone. She was angry, and wanted him to know it.
Richard sat back in his seat, his bony shoulders grazing the chair. He gazed at her in sadness, seemingly surprised at her remark. "Yes, maybe," he said quietly. "But really Ronda, that's none of your business."
"No, it's none of my business," she replied, speaking quickly. "But I simply can't understand how a man such as yourself, who is so committed to issues in the black community, could, could . ."
"Say I want a white woman?" Richard asked calmly. His eyes were shrouded with pain. "Well, it's true. I've been hurt too many times by black women. Why should I try anymore?"
Ronda paused, sighing. She was feeling sick now, not angry. What did he think she was doing? Couldn't he see? Couldn't anybody see? "It is time to go, don't you think?" she said finally.
He stood up from table. "Yes," he nodded. "Very much so."
That was the last time they had seen each other. He must be getting ready to leave. Harvard. Some prestigious fellowship. No need to say goodbye. Ronda had tried to believe that having Richard as only a friend wouldn't matter. Of course, that was before she realized she needed to be wanted by him, needed to be wanted by someone like him. He had only kissed her once, standing outside a crowded theater. "That will never happen again," he'd said, with a determined look, but she knew he wanted her, craved her. She felt it.
Ronda winced at the memory, trying to move her head, which felt like brick. But she couldn't stop thinking. Richard. How she had tried to fit herself neatly into his life! As if he could save her, redeem her soul. Richard belonged to this peculiar class of African Americans who vocally strove against all forms of racism. He wrote scathing articles for any newspaper, magazine, or journal that would print them, arguably vehemently against reputed acts of violation perpetrated on precious black sensibilities. And he was brutally honest, even to the point of putting his reputation and career as a physicist on the line. He possessed a seething, paranoid type of anger, one that reacted quickly to any perceived racist comment or action. His sensitivity ran high, because at the crust of his righteous indignation was a vehement self-hatred aimed at the very thing he hoped to liberate.
Funny that Ronda knew, or at least she could tell, that deep down inside, Richard carried a contempt for all things black and African, American or otherwise. Fight as he might, he had not been able to correct the thorough brain washing that diluted his perceptions since birth. Richard, like so many black intellectuals born after the Sixties, was a product of the era of integration that let little black bodies into white schools while stealing their souls. The very belligerence he projected onto racist white society was the same seething rage he unconsciously directed at his own black being, at all black beings. The internal self, the soul inside, struggled against a seed of self-contempt planted by a world consciousness he, among many, sought to change.
"I am being pensive," she thought to herself. Richard was black history (for her). Get over it. "At least Richard fights," Ronda thought, for he did fight. Ronda, one of the openly oppressed, could not fight, could not stand against the world that caused her sadness. Now she had succumbed to that same old self-hatred, (goal of the society) the hating of the thing itself, the blackness which is being, the thing, her blackness, the hated thing. She hated her very self, that blackness (because it was a thing), mistakenly believing that if she could find a man to love her, a man worth loving, then she would be lovable. Only a man, a man like Richard, brilliant and sophisticated, educated and successful, the kind of man you could take somewhere, show off, show the world, only a man like that, only that kind, could make her love herself. If he only loved her, maybe she was worth something. Ronda craved him, craved not the being of him, but what the being of him represented to her being. Richard could give her a reason to live. Richard could save her.
Ronda had called him incessantly, leaving sweet little messages on his machine. Email was was the tool she used to stay in contact when he didn't call back. So she called, she emailed. He called or emailed back hesitantly. If was as if he somehow sensed her neurosis, and felt sorry for her. She didn't care. Ronda was desperate, desperate to live. That man could save her. But he had slammed the door of possibility in her face. He had rejected her-he didn't want her. She was too crazy, too needy, too whatever. It wasn't enough, and she wasn't saved.
Ronda's head was still heavy. She was so dizzy. Blood was drying on the floor. "Just like last time," she thought. Glass had broken. Had she thrown it? It was all over the floor. Her feet were cut and bleeding. When she was a little girl, the neighborhood kids used to taunt her walking home after school. "Tar baby, tar baby," they said. "Ronda is a tar baby."
She shifted her head against the commode. Once, her daddy had been banging her mother's head against the bathtub. Bang. Bang. Bang. Her mother's head had gone up and down. "Just kill me," her mother murmured. Ronda had been so little, she was looking up, so far up at daddy's back. She was powerless to make him stop. Then mama had thrown a bar of soap at daddy, and it popped him in the eye. "Woman, you almost knocked my eye out!!" he screamed. Mommy jumped up and ran to the kitchen. Ronda was following mommy. She watched Mommy grab a knife out of the sink. "Get back child," Mommy yelled. "I'm going to kill your daddy."
Standing up slowly, Ronda leaned against the wall. Catching her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she winced. Her hair was all over her head. She had been standing in the bathroom, a bathroom just like this one, yelling at her little brother, when it happened. "It's not your fault," mommy had moaned above Ronda's shrieks. "It was an accident."
She moved over to the sink and began patting her hair down. Sticky, sticky blood covered her arm. It smelled like metal. There was knocking, knocking, knocking. Oh, God, someone was knocking at the door! Ronda looked at her face in the mirror. It was black and ashy, covered with white streaks of dead tears. Who was knocking at the door? She was washing her face. "Ivory soap, ivory soap," she thought. Mama had thrown a bar of soap at daddy. Jonathan had been washing with soap. "He was almost clean," she whispered. How she had slapped him! If only he had just shut up! Daddy had slapped her face, slapping and slapping her, even as she turned away. He had punched her with his fist, and she never stopped crying. "I'm so sorry Daddy," she had murmured. He had not heard her above the screams.
Someone was knocking at the door. Ronda grabbed her robe and threw it around her body. "I can't stand that knocking," she thought, opening the bathroom door. "I'll make them leave." She floated to the front door, gazing through the peep hole. There was a small body in a black overcoat, scarf around the head.
"Who is it?" she called out weakly.
"Sister Ronda?" the voice was stern and strong. "It's Ms. Lilly, from church. Can I come in and talk a minute?"
Oh God. Ms. Lilly? Ronda stepped back and took a breath. This was not the time. She rubbed her hands up and down her face.
"Ms. Lilly?" she called, trying to sound pleasant.
"Yes, dear," the voice was calling. "So sorry to bother you."
Ronda opened the door. Ms. Lilly was standing there, shivering in the hallway. "Hey baby, I know it's late," she gushed, reaching out to give Ronda a warm hug. "But, you're on my way home, and...I just needed to talk."
She was hugging Ms. Lilly tightly. "Please, sit down," Ronda murmured. "And please excuse the way I'm looking right now," she apologized.
"Oh chile, please," Ms. Lilly laughed. "Girl, you look beautiful," she said, sitting comfortably on the couch Ronda and her roommate Lisa had bought together. "It's late, away," Ms. Lilly added.
Ronda was suddenly curious. "Are you okay?" she asked.
Ms. Lilly's smile faded. "Oh," she sighed, "you know, the Lord never gives us more than we can bear," she said, "but this is such a trying time."
Ronda nodded in agreement.
"You know Earl is not getting any better," she went on, "and I went with him to the doctor yesterday." She paused. "The doctor said it won't be long. Cancer, you know."
Grabbing Ms. Lilly's hand, Ronda asked, "Ms. Lilly, how is he handling this?"
"Well, he's being strong for me. But I'm believing in a miracle. God is a good God," Ms Lilly said.
"Yes, yes," Ronda echoed. "God is in control, and will ease all our burdens," she said, almost singing.
"I'm just feeling so weary," Ms. Lilly was saying. "When my parents died, I made a promise that I would always take care of my brother, and God knows I've tried."
"Yes, you've tried, of course you have," Ronda affirmed.
"But now, I feel like I'm failing him," Ms. Lilly signed. "Ronda," she said suddenly, "my brother is dying!"
Ronda grabbed Ms. Lilly's other hand, "Let's pray," she said. Ms. Lilly nodded, crying softly. Ronda was seeing Jonathan's little brown face. "You big fat bully!" he had cried out. She had slapped him so hard. The water was slippery. There was soap in the water . . . "We must pray," she murmured again, stifling the tears. Ronda had not known how it happened. He was there, jumping up and down, screaming at her. And she was so mad, mad, mad. What was she so mad about? She wasn't mad at Jonathan, silly boy. But he knew about the pain in that house too. It was thick and dark and warm, covering everything. It grew out of the floors and came out the walls. It settled down for comfort, to stay. Pain had a name in that house.
There were trucks in the water. And Ivory soap. The water was tepid, not hot. Later it was very cold. She saw his body flying, and then his feet weren't in the water, but in the air. He was in the air, but his head was back, back-- she saw his head snap back and then the water splashed in her eye. There was soap was in the water but the water splashed against the soap and she couldn't see. But Ronda could see the head, right before she couldn't see; could see the head snap back while the soap was in the water.
"Gracious heavenly Father," Ms. Lilly was moaning. Her voice was rich and deep, as she called on God. Every syllable was accented, and she was raising notes in her voice, going higher. There was a rustling sound in her throat, like a cough that wouldn't come out.
The head had snapped but she didn't see the head hit the wall, but heard the thud. And Ronda was rubbing her eyes and screaming but she couldn't hear the screams, only the water kept splashing. And she couldn't see Jonathan's feet after she rubbed her eyes: she looked in the air, but only drops of water were in the air, and his little brown body was down in the water. Ronda was jumping up and down on the glass in the floor which cut her feet and there was so much blood but she didn't feel the cuts or hear her own screams, only she saw the drops of water after she had wiped her eye. And Mommy and Daddy were bursting in the bathroom and Mommy was cradling Jonathan's body while Daddy was slapping, slapping Ronda but she couldn't feel it. And Daddy was still beating her when the police came and saw the blood and she didn't want him to ever stop beating her, because there was this awful burden insider of her she wanted to get out, but it wouldn't, hadn't ever come out. And she didn't feel or hear anything, only watched the water that was now still (it had stopped splashing and was cold), and the soap floated, the Ivory soap, right in the water.
Ms. Lilly grasped Ronda's hands. Ronda had been holding Ms. Lilly's hands, now Ms. Lilly was holding hers. "Lord Jesus Christ," Ms. Lilly prayed, her voice clear and gushing. "We come to You in the blessed name of Jesus, begging and beseeching You through the power of the Holy Spirit, to have mercy on these here poor, troubled souls."
Ronda was rocking from side to side, and Ms. Lilly was holding her arm, right where it was cut, and she could feel the fingers around her wrist that had been cut, but the blood had stopped. And her head was back, back away from Ms. Lilly and she rocked to the sound of Ms. Lilly's voice. "Oh, Lordy, Lordy," Ms. Lilly cried. "Oh Lord, come by here."
Ronda felt a sense of comfort, relief. But the burden (it felt like pain) was still there. Ms. Lilly had come to pray, looking for solace, but Ms. Lilly was giving solace to Ronda.
"Lord," Ms. Lilly sighed, "You know all about our troubles."
"Um-hmm," Ronda affirmed.
"You know all our goings out, and our comings in."
"You know our faults and our sins."
Ms. Lilly's voice was getting louder. "But, oh, Father, in heaven, if You'd just send Your precious Son Jesus, to wipe away all of our tears, sins, and grieves to bear ..."
"Well, well." Ronda's heart was feeling lighter and heavier at the same time. Like that great weight, that huge, great burden was being pulled up and out. She could feel it moving. She could feel the Spirit. She could feel her spirit. It was alive.
"...in the holy blood-that holy blood Lord Jesus, make us clean Lord!"
"CLEEAANN!!" Ronda screamed.
"And oh Lord Jesus," Ms. Lilly was saying, nodding and holding Ronda tight. "I lift up my sweet brother to You, oh Lord ..."
Tears were flowing down Ronda's cheeks.
" ...God You know how he is suffering, and all his bodily pains ..."
Ronda could not speak, but the tears were continually coursing, coursing like a river, a new river, down the sides of her face onto her chest, onto her arms. The water was splashing and dripping faster and faster.
"Because Lord, oh Lord Jesus," Ms. Lilly prayed, "we know that when the time comes for You to take him up to glory, he will be rocked, rocked, rocked in the cradle of Your arms for all of eternity."
Water from Ronda's tears was dripping onto her arms, onto her wrists, and it dripped onto the wrist that was cut, seeping through the bathrobe onto the cut wrist. And the tears were bathing the wrist, bathing the cut wrist in holy water as she cried and Ms. Lilly prayed.
"Lord, because it is the sweet by-and-by ..."
Ronda found her throat. "Yes," she called. The tears were sweating big drops, big drops of tears, not blood, unto the cut which was baptized in the tears that dripped like sweat.
"...we know we all have a heavenly home with You in heaven, Lord."
"Yes, Jesus, yes." Jesus sweated great drops of tears. The blood came later. Healing came from the water and the blood.
"But please, give us the strength..."
"Strength Lord, oh, the strength," Ronda called back.
"To make it in Your name."
"Yes, yes." Ronda was silently weeping.
"In Jesus holy, holy name," Ms. Lilly affirmed.
"Jesus!" Ronda said defiantly.
"Amen, and Amen."
Ronda and Ms. Lilly opened up their eyes and looked at each other. Ms. Lilly was then hugging Ronda and talking at the same time.
"Bless God, bless God," she murmured. "Thank you so much, baby. You have really blessed my spirit," she said, getting up off the couch.
Ronda couldn't speak.
"I'm so sorry for coming by so late, just needed to be with another fellow believer and lover of the Lord," she continued, gathering her purse and moving towards the door. "Thank you again, baby," she smiled, looking refreshed. "I'm gonna go on home now. See you at church Sunday, baby." And she was gone. Just that fast, she was out the door and gone.
Ronda was standing against the door, then she was resting her head against the door as she closed it. And she stood there. And her wrist no longer hurt. And the dizziness was gone. And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find that big weight, that big burden that had been inside her soul. She just couldn't find it-it was gone. Just that fast, it was gone.