( c.1975 ) 'Daddy, there's a woman here to see you,' I shout. The woman at the door tells me that she's a neighbor who has business with my father concerning my little brother, which can't be good. When my father comes to greet our neighbor, upon entering immediately she begins.
'Mr. Campbell, I'm here to talk to you about your son,' she laments. 'He's been playin' with my kids, callin' me out my name.' As she speaks she soon begins to sob. Her eyes are black and heavy with makeup. Her lips are the reddest lips I've ever seen: thickly rolled and curvaceous—not unlike her.
'Your son been out here callin' me a whore to my kids,' she continues between sobs. Her eyes begin to grow black rings around them from spoiled eye makeup, giving expression to womanly sorrow. Her red lips quiver uncontrollably. 'Mister, I work hard every day and I don't need to come home and hear from my children that your child been callin' me a whore. I ain't a whore!'
Suddenly I can see the rage rise up in my father's face. That this unknown woman, probably a single mother who works hard for her children, would come all the way down the street to our house, explaining her life to him, the one responsible for her 9-year-old assessor. It made him furious. He was mad as hell at my brother for forgetting himself, for putting him in this embarrassing situation, embarrassing because I could tell that he felt bad for her, for the thing at the root of her misery. She was so worn, not unattractive, mind you, but worn—the way you look when you work hard every day only to be rewarded with a hard life.
When I am sent to retrieve my brother to face his accuser, he walks into the room rather sheepishly. Daddy then asks, 'Did you call this woman a whore to her kids?' Pausing to contemplate the consequence ( for we both knew what awaited him ) , my brother then confesses. In the flash of an instant Daddy, ever the old school disciplinarian, backhands my brother with a force that sends him careening to the floor. Taken by complete surprise, the woman is startled but somewhat appeased—at least appeased enough to stop her uncontrollable sobbing. My brother, collecting himself from the floor, is then sent to bed. As a result, the woman thanks my father, I imagine, for protecting her honor. And when the strange, mysterious woman takes her leave, I wonder if the violent little drama has been worthwhile—if she indeed received what she sought.
When Daddy goes into the kitchen to finish reading the daily paper, immediately I follow quickly behind, because I have to know. 'Daddy, why was that woman crying like that?' I ask. The entire incident was so confounding. How could some utterance by a little kid completely unhinge a grown woman and reduce her to tears, especially a secondhand comment. I couldn't understand it. It just didn't make any sense to me at all.
Without even looking up from the evening news, Daddy replied, 'Because she's a whore, son.'
Of course, I knew that word had immense power, but I never knew how much until that moment.