My mama yo mama hangin’ out some clothes
My mama socked yo mama in the nose
Did it hurt!?!
Did it hurt!?!
(from a girls jump rope song, ‘cause that’s how we had fun)
In 1973 my sunny days began and ended with me sitting impassively on my front steps. My castle. Not like many children today who seem to require expensive electronic gadgets to occupy themselves. I could caper around busying my inquisitive mind for hours on end on my steps counting perfectly the cars that went by. Ford, Ford, Toyota, Pinto. Pretending I was the exquisite Diahann Carroll giving an eloquent speech to my loyal fans, head held high and tilted, looking down beyond my pointed nose, hair curled and poofey and perfect like a high fashioned helmet, or pressed straight and pulled back tight in a bun.
Me, being a queen on my royal grounds where I first loved the smell of water tasting thirsty sidewalk on hot days and California cold nights. Where the smell of grass was my favorite fluffy lounge chair at Starbucks and chamomile tea. Though I did not drink tea in those days. And there was no Starbucks. Where there was my tree, just nine papa steps in front of my porch. Whose leaves and branches reached to God’s house and hung almost to the grass but were not strong enough to hold me. Yet assured me that I was strong enough to brook whatever should come my way. That I was okay. My front steps. I have blocked out, or it has been blocked out for me, some of the details of this story, but that part is clear, those were my steps. There were only three and that was perfect.
My mom, dad and I had recently moved from the green (or was it brown?) apartment building on Walnut in Central Long Beach commonly known as the east side, to the single family dwellings on the west side of town at 1367 Cameron. Right around the corner from both sets of my grandparents who lived on Taper Street across from each other. In the apartment on Walnut, before my sister Roshann was born, we lived on the second floor. The steps were ugly and concrete and cobblestone. There was a peek a boo space between each step and a black iron rod to hold onto as one traversed up and down.
But those steps were not mine. No. They belonged to everyone. And no one claimed them as their own. No one dreamed of having long brown hair and marrying a prince on those steps. Those steps were not my friends. I would not tell my secrets there. One day I was in the living room and the door was left open. I was finally, to the surprise of my parents, tall enough to open the screen door. A screen that barely held out flies. An easy unlock.
My tricycle was parked at the top of the steps and was blue and had white strips of plastic hanging from the handlebars to flitter in the wind as I rocketed by. I opened the door and I was on the top of the steps. I sat there wondering, visualizing myself gliding down on my tricycle. I fancied my plastic strips waving away in the wind. Like fire. A delightful way to spend an uneventful Sunday afternoon. The coast was clear and I went for it.
God is wonderful in what He allows us to forget. I don’t remember tumbling all the way down, but I must have. About five years later I fell and was in the intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital for two weeks with a fractured skull from another fall. Again, I remember falling, but not the hitting the ground part. God is wonderful. From the stairs I do remember landing and crying at the bottom step. I remember being hurt, but safe. Mostly I suppose I was disappointed. That was not what I had envisioned. There were three teenaged boys strolling by who thought without thinking that my tumbling was funny. My father, annoyed by their mocking and buffoonery and suddenly sobered from Schlitz Malt Liquor and Mary Jane, reminded them in his special way, that surely it was not.
My Cameron Street steps were not disappointing like those. They did not call out to me with the intent of temptation when I was momentarily unsupervised. They did not propose excitement on a peaceful Sunday and then produce danger. My new steps did not lie. I was only safe on those steps that were red and three and my own.
Next door on Cameron, west of us, in the green house where I do not recall a mommy or daddy (but there must have been at least a mommy) lived two girls whose names and faces I can never call to mind. I have not outgrown their voices however, raspy and bumptious, heavy for such thin girls as it occurs to me in my hindsight. They had cool sneakers and strong arms, cold fingers and could Double Dutch a full song. Indeed they were real. Though I have had lovers who wished they were not. I remember them to be about fifteen and sixteen. My mother remembers that too.
The oldest lead the ghetto bureaucracy. In short, she was the boss of us. Of her sister, who was taller with shorter hair, quiet with issues of her own brewing with no place to unfold. Of me, lucky and next door. Of what seemed like the neighborhood where each house appeared occupied with private business. After some time it was okay with my parents that I went in their backyard with them that shared the same fence as ours. Whose grass was the same green. That was the same size and also had pomegranate and lemon trees and a garage and no dog. We did not have a dog yet. But theirs was not mine.
They had a white tent behind the garage and a nephew who was a few years older than I and shy. There was also a big boy, a teenager or older in the tent. I do not remember his name. Almost his voice. Barely his hair that was short like big boys wore their hair. Faded blue jeans slightly too big and looked clean but were not. Was callow and slim but had burly black boy sad eyes that had been in trouble before with full lips and a half happy smile poked and held to one side. The oldest was the cagey heavy whisperer of the cabal. Something was up. I saw the fusee signals and heard the cacophony of voices in my head but crossed the line anyway.
I was four and they demanded I stop being a big baby and suck his dick. I remember that it had never been a dick before. Somehow I knew that boys had pee pees, but dicks were new. Perhaps pee pees grew into dicks, I must have thought. But my young Virgo analyzing and attention to the byplay was not going to postpone this. There was a dick in front of me and big girls I thought were my friends begging in their demanding voices to suck. But it was not peppermint or Bit o Honey, more like a Bomb Pop or Big Stick. But not from the ice cream truck with bells and whistles. It was not smooth and orange and sweet and inviting. It was Play-Do left open. Ashy and uncared for.
I wanted my steps. This was my first dick and I wanted my steps that were safe and red and lead to my porch, where there was dust and loose gravel and chipped paint and no dicks. My porch had no dicks. But I was far away from my porch. Far from my lawn never perfectly manicured but mine. Just next door but miles from my father who would beat that dick up if he knew. Far from my mother who would spank their big girl butts if she knew that her daughter, who was sugar and spice and everything nice, was not sucking at all. Was gagging on flesh too big for her mouth, too hard for her jaws, too long for her throat. A dick. Even the name was not nice. If my father knew… If my mother knew… What if I was not everything nice anymore?
I did not like her yelling hand with dark brown rough knuckles on the back of my head touching too firmly my barrettes that were red and friendly like my porch. Did not like the bossy one moaning like it felt good to her. Her eyes half closed and head moving passionately in half circle then back again. The slow inhale hiss and ahh. Like I was doing it right. Then from nowhere there was liquid that was warm and salty and not my spit anymore. I ran out of the tent screaming. “He peed in my mouth! He peed in my mouth!” I ran as fast as I could to get past my porch, that was just a porch and not safe, into my bed, my for real castle.
Before I could get to the gate the shorthaired one caught me. I kicked and screamed but she carried me to the t shaped clothesline post that was strong and sturdy. Like maybe this was for more than sun drying skirts and blouses to be worn on Sundays. Maybe for other girls who had pee in their mouths and ran to get away.
She tied thick brown rope around my neck and tied the other end to the top of the post. She picked me up and held my body as it swung. Surely that was a station for girls who did not swallow pee. For girls who could not run faster than a fifteen year old and threatened to tell. This was a four year olds Calvary. She told me that I would not say anything because if I did she would tell my mother that it was all my idea and I was a nasty girl. Me?
My mother could not believe that I was a nasty bad girl. But what if she did? What if I was? She let me go with a shove that said all I needed to know. I was too scared to tell my mother, too scared to tell my father. That night when it was time for bath my mother noticed the rope burn around my neck. I lied to her about how I got it. Told her that I was playing some game and it didn’t even hurt. My mother, being a mother, wasn’t satisfied with the story. I couldn’t go in their backyard anymore. I couldn’t be with the girls at all. Fine with me.
I don’t remember the speech after the bath. Don’t remember what happened to the dick or the nephew. I vaguely recall the girls after that. I do remember that my steps were too close to theirs. They were not my steps anymore. There was a dick.