The smell of tomato and basil sat in the thick summer air as Mama simmered her home-made spaghetti sauce for hours. It was heaven when we finally got to fill our bellies. At home I was beat by him with pieces of a tire cut into strips and extension cords. My stepdad, a dark-skinned, slight man, was a monster, like Goliath I learned about from reading the Bible stories Mama made me read. He talked to himself out loud a lot and was always talking about God and how miserable he was. “I wish I could leave, but God won’t let me leave!” he kept saying. “Why not?” I wondered. He was mean and he liked to touch me and my three sisters in places he shouldn’t. Mama said, “If y’all tell anybody, they’ll take you away and you’ll get separated”. We never told. We had to stay together, no matter the price we had to pay. My sisters and I worked from sun up to late into the night, shucking corn, snapping beans, peeling apples or moving long planks of wood from one end of the yard to the other. No summer fun for us.
In my dreams, I ran away from home, loosing myself in the wonder of the woods. The brook sparkled as the rays of sunlight glistened upon it. I sat down on the lush, green grass and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cool wind swept across my body. The trees were bright green and swayed as if swaying to a dance. The sun shone on my face as I basked in sweet, sweet freedom. But it was only a dream.
In the sixth grade I was a quiet, awkward kid who was fifteen pounds overweight and still wearing my hair in plaits when all the other girls got to wear their hair in ponytails. I was the tallest kid in the class and did not have one friend in my class. I hated when we had P. E. because I knew I would be the last kid that was picked for a team. After each team was chosen and I was left standing alone, I always got that sour feeling in my heart that made me feel sick. I didn’t know the word r-e-j-e-c-t-e-d yet. I just knew that my heart hurt.
Ms. Suzanne Knight, my teacher, was tall, pale and slim with blunt-cut black hair. She didn’t smile much. She replaced my old teacher who cried when she left the class for good. Chalk dust floated in the air as Ms. Knight sat double cross-legged in a chair, reading us a story. My open desk, vulnerable, waited to be victimized. The smell of the pages of the book caressed the side of my face as I drank in each work Ms. Knight uttered.
He was a black kid like me, with nappy hair, dry lips and smelled of pee every single day. He wore raggedy, wrinkled clothes and nobody messed with him. When I went to my desk after story-time, Rodney stood by, smirking, eating my orange Tang out of the sandwich bag I had so carefully packed it in. I sat down and said nothing. Every day, like a bad movie, this same nightmare unfolded. Sometimes, for laughs, he threatened to beat me up. He balled his fists up and lunged at me. Then he walked away laughing. My stomach hurt from the knots that were constantly balled up inside each day of my sixth grade school year.
Finally, I worked up the courage to tell Ms. Knight when we were outside playing. “Just ignore him, Emily”, Ms. Knight said with an irritated look sprawled across her pasty, tired face. Every single day that he was there, the horror continued. Relief only came when, mercifully, the universe caused him to be absent from school. For that one day at least, I could unclench my intestines.
For the life of me, I can’t remember how or why it started. She was one of the smartest white girls in my class. She was pretty with straight, blond hair and wore name-brand clothes. She had friends she always played with. She was everything I was powerless to be. One day, I told her I was going to beat her up. I don’t know why I did that. She was such a nice girl. She didn’t do anything to provoke me. She became scared of me. Her fear gave me strength as it seeped into my feeble, weak spirit. “Are you still gonna beat me up?” she gingerly asked after months of my threats. Like air that slowly escaped from a tight balloon, the word “No”, slowly slid from my lips. Relief swaddled her, but when she walked away a hint of uneasiness still shone in her hazel eyes. From then on she steered clear of me, as if I was going to ask her to co-sign a loan.
I was never so glad when my sixth grade school year ended. I don’t know what happened to him, but I would like to. As bad as my home life was, his must’ve been worse, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I hope he found love to erase his pain. I hope he found acceptance. I hope he found peace. I hope he became successful. I hope he became secure in who he is so he will no longer try to make others feel small. I hope he is happy. As the saying goes, hurting people hurt other people.
Emily Currie is a 44 year old senior at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She is an English major on the writing track. Currently, she writes for Guilford’s newspaper, the Guilfordian. In addition to writing, she is Executive Director of Pearls & Heels for Careers, a nonprofit she founded that gives interview outfits to homeless and disadvantaged women.