My mama died today.
It was such a monstrous lie that silence seemed the only prudent choice. Everyone knew her mother and she wasn’t dead. Her name was Jazzy and at this moment, she was most likely balanced on a barstool down at the Come Back Inn & Tavern. She only came home periodically to pick up her welfare check, change her halter top, and fluff up her hair. I rolled my eyes and braced myself to run. Lisa’s freckles stood at attention, dirty pinpricks on pale white skin, but she didn’t move.
We had a history. When I was five, she’d leaned over the chain link fence and lobbed huge wads of spit into our sandbox. A few years later, she beat me so ruthlessly that it was hard to tell where the blood was coming from. My mother wasn’t home and couldn’t be readily found so the next-door neighbor dropped me off at the emergency entrance of City Hospital on his way to the evening shift at the foundry. It turned out that the majority of the blood was from my nose, which was broken. She was four years older than me and much stronger. I had scratches crosshatching my legs, arms, and face from the thorn bushes which grew along the sidewalk. She’d repeatedly thrown me into the thicket, yanked me out, and then pushed me back in, only to do it again. Over and over again, punctuated by vicious kicks to the crotch.
The years of our youth went along in much the same vein. She chased me, and then hit me as hard as she could when she caught me, which was often. I ran, panted, tripped, fell, cried, and cajoled, not necessarily in that order. I devised elaborate paths through the neighborhood, over walls and through backyards, which resulted in me being late for wherever I was going, snapped at by dogs, or berated by housewives who didn’t appreciate me trampling their gardens. Our town was small, and these efforts only slightly decreased the chances of being caught, but I pursued them resolutely for years.
On that day, it turned out that her mother was, in fact, dead. Lisa had found her that morning, brutally beaten in her bed. She was wearing only a bra, blue with white polka dots, but even that was hard to see because of the pooling blood. There was so much of it. She’d called the police and then walked one block south to sit on the rock wall next to my house and wait for me to come outside. I can still see her face, composed and unflappable.
My mama died today.
At that moment, she was simultaneously the most beautiful and the ugliest person that I had ever seen and I wanted to crush her skull with a rock. I spent the next fifteen years trying to become her.
History is not erasable.
It won’t disappear in a cloud of dust like all those
algebra equations scrawled across the eighth grade blackboard.
History is written in permanent Sharpie,
etched into the bones of slaves,
locked tight around the wrists of a thirteen year old girl
who cannot find her way out of this family she was born into.
It is suspended in a glass of cold water
offered in the blazing sun less than one mile from the border.
It isn’t shifting sand or moldable clay amd
cannot be hidden behind walls or swept under rugs.
History is now. We are history.
It lives in our bodies, is carried forward in the curve of our arms
as we hold someone close. History is built one person at a time.