Blacklines Aug. 2001
Monthly Expressions from black Gay, lesbian, Bisexual & Transgendered Life
Copyright © 2001 Lambda Publications Inc. All rights reserved.
I'm five years old. My father has brought me to the house of a stranger...a female stranger. I'm watching her wash the dishes as Daddy, standing directly behind her, wraps his arms tightly around her waist. I'm wondering why he would behave this way with a woman who is not my mother. I'm wondering if this woman wants to take my mother's place and be his wife. In the playful spirit of the moment, the two of them laugh; I do not. When Daddy releases her, he walks over to me and whispers, "You can call her mommy, too." I think to myself, This ugly old lady is not my mommy! I'm angry that my father has brought me here. I hate him for what he has allowed me to know, because I'm now an accomplice. I will never speak of this visit ( nor those that follow ) to my mother. Though she and I have a special bond that disallows secrets, this secret I will keep forever. As I watch my father and "the other woman," something deep inside me instructs, Whatever you become in life, don't you be like him.
"You're just like your father," she assessed, with the kind of joyous smile that comes with the recognition of the familiar. "You are truly his son," she added, forcing me to smile in a way that acknowledges lineage and kinship deeper than bloodlines. I wondered how my aunt could see what nobody else in the family could see. How did she navigate past the adult personas others saw...the designer-label queen, the "bourgie" intellectual, the political homosexual...to get to the common core? How did she get past all those identity barriers that I've constructed to purposely obstruct the view? It was an assessment she would often share after conversation. So perhaps it was in the way that I use language or the way that everything I say becomes a story in and of itself. I know I got that from him...from the absurdly funny tales he'd concoct from outrageous lies or forbidden history. Or maybe it was the way I talk incessantly and provoke rigorous debate about everything. You see, Daddy and I argue all the time, because we love a good verbal brawl. I will never know on what she based her assessment, but she knows of what she speaks.
I'm perhaps 10-years-old. My father and mother are in the midst of a terrible fight in the kitchen. I can see them through the mailbox slot in our front door ( I am on the porch ) . My mother is crouching down on the floor next to a chair. Her hands are covering her face. My father is standing above her, shouting and kicking her legs. I too am shouting, "Stop that, Daddy, stop it!" Staring toward the front door at me through the mail slot, my father shouts back, "If you don't get away from that gotdamn door, you next!" Frightened out of my wits, I snap the mail slot shut. While I hate myself at this moment for my tear-filled cowardice, I hate my father more for what he's doing. Something deep inside me shouts, Whatever you become in life, don't you be like him!
Recently at my sister's, my nephew, a 10-year-old, comes up to me to confide his dilemma. He is being bullied at his school, which is located in a rough area where the children are fierce little warriors. I know he hasn't been very brave in these encounters, which upsets me more than it should. I explain to him that losing a fight isn't anything to be ashamed of. I tell him that everybody gets afraid sometimes so that's not a big deal either. However, I emphasize that he must fight back always. I'm trying to bring "the warrior" out of him, but he isn't being receptive. So I decide to be blunt. But, almost instinctively, I wind up using words that aren't really mine...words that were given to me a long time ago by a hard-nose steelworker who loved me like I was his only child. "Look, the next time one of those bad-ass li'l boys come up to you, I want you to pick up something and knock his ass out, and I guarantee you he won't bother you again!" At this bit of advice, my nephew seems more perplexed than ever. "But, uncle, what if I hurt him?" Suddenly I realize that I've become more like that hard-nose steelworker than I care to admit.
I'm having a hearty breakfast with my father. The bacon, eggs, grits, and biscuits are hot and greasy. The restaurant has the flavor of a truck stop...a bare interior, a loud crowd, quick service, large helpings. As usual my father is busy yapping away about working-class issues ( the exodus of American jobs to less developed countries, the erosion of unions, etc. ) . In between he imparts parental advice. "Look, I'm all for you writin', but you need to get yo' ass a real job too." He is eyeing every female in the vicinity with a big booty and titties. My father, who is now retired, mind you, is the biggest whore I know. Thank God, Mama's dead. On a subconscious level, I know he is searching for my mother ( Grandma says, "Never miss water til the well run dry" ) . As we eat, "brawl," and bond, I begin to notice how my attention has been captured by big booties and titties entering the establishment too. Flabbergasted, I suddenly think of my aunt assessing me, "You're just like your father." And then I laugh.
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