Sample stories, Charlene (excerpts)
(Editor's note: The author is an oral journalist/oral historian. This accounts for the style of Charlene's interview, which makes up the first 100 pages of the book. Charlene was originally from Trinidad/Tobago. Interviews with about 12-15 other folks get progressively shorter, & their stories illustrate the other material you've read on this website, & comprise the rest of the book, along with resources and bibliography.)
Calypso Kings & Carnival Queens
Chapter 1: Charlene
Comin' down Juvey mornin’, find yourself in a band,
Watch the way now they makin’ move and how she tight with her man;
Sing along with the tune they playin’ and I want to hear ya shoutin’,
Play my bacchanal, Miss Tourez, this is Carnival.
At tourist day, I met her that night,
She came, curiously, askin’ about my country.
She say, ‘Charlene, I heard about Carnival, it’s a Trinidad bacchanal,
I want to join in the fun, Charlene,
Can you show me how it is done?’
So I tell she, ‘Comin’ down Juvey mornin’, find yourself in a band,
Watch the way how they makin’ move, and how she tight with her man;
Sing along with the tune they playin’ and I want to hear you shoutin’,
Play my bacchanal, Miss Tourez, this is Carnival.
I went to an Iranian New Year’s Eve party, (I was married then to an Iranian). And I saw the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen in all my life ... including my own children. She was beautiful. She was about six years old. I walked up to her.
“My God, you're so beautiful!” I said.
“No, I'm not. I’m not beautiful. It’s because you see from your eyes beautiful,” she replied.
I remember one time, my stepfather used to beat my mother so bad. And so one day, my brother’s father came over ... several of us kids have different fathers ... my brother’s father came over to get my brother’s birth certificate. My stepfather got jealous. After my brother’s father left, he started beating my mother. She was eight months pregnant. She ran in the bedroom and shut the door. He started kickin’ in the door.
I was standing under the window crying. I was seven years old. My mother climbed on the window sill and she jumped out. She jumped right in front of me. As she hit the floor, on her feet, the baby fell out and broke his neck and died. My grandmother came over. We took the baby and we buried it under a banana tree. That tree used to bear fruits. After they buried the baby underneath it, it never bore fruits again.
When I was going through my two years of molestation, and suffering the evils of it, I stopped talking to everybody. I wouldn’t talk. So I started going to the psychiatrist. My mother put me in King’s County ‘G’ Building ... cause my stepfather said I was crazy. I wasn’t talkin’ to anybody, so they put me there for observation. I started talkin’ to the psychiatrist and tellin’ him things. The psychiatrist told my mother ... mother wanted to leave me there for longer, after my two weeks were up ... and they told her, if she didn’t take me out of there, they were going to petition the court and have me taken away from her. So she had to take me out. The same night I went home, he did it again. I can’t believe it. It was like he was destined to make me crazy. He’s a wicked man. I have no respect for him, no warmth. If he would die today, I wouldn’t shed a tear.
The first time I ran away from home I was eleven years old. I was being sexually molested by my stepfather. I just couldn’t take it any more. I couldn’t stay in the same house with him touching me every night. I didn’t know how to tell my mother. I didn’t want to hurt her. I felt like it was my fault, that I did something to make him do these things to me. I felt I wasn’t worthy, of being around my brothers and sisters, cause I was dirty, I was ‘nasty’. So I ran away from home. It was cold. I went down the fire escape, in my nightgown. No shoes. No coat. It was November. The police brought me home. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. My mother didn’t want to understand. She didn’t want to believe, like she didn’t want to know. Deep in my heart, all the nights he left her bed and come to my room to molest me, she knew. I believe in my heart, she knew. Maybe she was too afraid to say anything; she was too afraid to feel. A man can’t leave your bed all the time, every night, same ritual; you molest me, then you go in the bathroom and flush the toilet. Another reason why I believe she knew is cause she changed our bedrooms, and put the boys up by her, and put the girls down the hall. That’s when I concluded my mother knew what was going on in my life. She just didn’t want to see. My stepfather molested me from the time I was eleven, till I was thirteen, right when I was going through puberty. I didn’t even have no titties, I had two little lumps.
And you know, I loved my brothers and sisters so much, that every day, at three o’clock, after I ran away, I used to come home and wait on the roof. We lived in a seven-story building. And I used to climb up on the roof and look down, to make sure they made it home every day from school, and they got in the house, and the door was locked, and I would leave. I did this every day. I did this every day, until the police caught me, and brought me home. Another time, I ran away, another night. It was so cold, it was snowing. I had slippers on my feet. I wanted to go home, because I had nowhere to go. I just couldn’t pick up the phone and call my mother to tell her to come get me. So I took a rock and threw it through a Macy’s window. The alarm went off. The police came. They took me to the police station. They called my mother to come and get me. Y’know what she said?
“I just washed my hair. I got rollers in it. I can’t come outside,” my mother said.
That’s what the sergeant said, his name was Sergeant Sorizironi, at the 67th Precinct in New York City, that’s what he told me she said.
“I can’t believe that bitch! That’s a heartless woman!” Sergeant Sorizironi said.
She never came to get me. When I ran away, my parents never went looking for me. Not one time. My Uncle Steve did. I used to see that lime-green Fury up and down Ocean Avenue, back and forth, all hours of the night and morning. He used to look for me all the time. He was my Aunt Ferlan’s husband. Aunt Ferlan was my maternal aunt. I didn’t know what to do. Uncle Steve came and picked me up. Brought me home. Back to the horror I ran away from so many times before.
Once I ran away from home, I lived on 700 Ocean Avenue. I ran away to 555 Ocean Avenue. First I was livin’ with a lady, she was a hooker. I didn’t know, though. I used to babysit her baby. I just thought she had a job at night. I used to stay in the house with her baby while she went to work. I was twelve, thirteen years old. One day, she smoked that stuff, they said it was called ‘sherm’, I think that was PCP, and she came home. It was like three o’clock in the afternoon, and she lived on the fifth floor. She started beating the baby. The baby was three years old. I kept tellin’ her.
“Stop, Ida. Stop,” I said.
This was back in New York City. She threw the baby out the window. They say the baby died before the baby hit the ground, because his skull was still so soft, it busted under pressure. She lived on the fifth floor. She threw the baby out the window, and the baby died. I got scared. I started sleepin’ in the basement. I was sleepin’ down there, it had rats, roaches. I wouldn’t go home. I was cold. In the morning when my friend’s mother left for work, I used to go up there and shower and eat. I used to wear my friend’s clothes. Her name was Nicey. I was afraid to go home, my stepfather was tryin’ to get some koochie. That was her name, Ida, 555 Ocean Avenue. Nicey and her friends were some bad kids. They beat me up. They beat me up bad. Cause I told her I didn’t like Black boys. She went back and told everybody. It was a gang of kids that hung out together. They beat me up in the schoolyard. They beat me up bad, real bad. Little Black boys liked me, I didn’t like them. Maybe because my stepfather was Black. I liked Walter. He was a nerd. He had black, framed glasses, blond hair, braces and freckles. I can picture him. It was really hard for me, then, and I went through a lot. Startin’ smokin’ cigarettes, marijuana, drinkin’. I used to drink a lot so I wouldn’t feel cold. Morning, noon, night. There were many times I ran away in my nightgown, out into the cold night.
I remember one time, my mother was beatin’ me. I got molested that night. She was talkin’ to me, and I wouldn’t talk. She was beatin’ me. We lived on the fourth floor, apartment 4A, 700 Ocean Avenue. That’s the only time I ever remember I passed out. She tried to push me out the window. She told me.
“I made you, and I’ll take you,” she said.
“Yo bitch, if I go out, you’re goin’ with me,” I said.
I held on to her. That was the only time I said a bad word to her.
What tore me apart emotionally was no one ever believed my stepfather molested me. I know in my heart that my mother knew. She even knew when it was happening. I know that. My psychiatrist believed me. I didn’t tell friends. When I ran away, they know I ran away, but nobody believed why I was runnin’. My Aunt Ferlan, and my Uncle Steve knew. My stepfather looks at you with the kind of look, like, ‘Yeah, I had the bitch first.’ It’s the worst feelin’ in the world. You try to kill yourself to take away the shame, and the pain, to take away that dirty feelin’. But the hard thing is, my trouble, was my brothers and sisters, what’s my brothers and sisters gonna do without me? Who’s going to protect my sister, Jennifer?
Now everybody knows, my family, my brothers, my sisters. My brothers never wanted to go hurt him, everybody looked over it. You know what my mother said once to me, “I was molested as a child. Didn’t kill me. My uncle did some things to me.” Like because it was okay for her, and it was forgotten, and she let it go, and she never processed what has happened to her, that I should do the same. Like she’s thinkin’, ‘She lived through it, why couldn’t I?’
The molestation affected me my whole life. I just wanted to say, it’s kinda dirty. I’ve never heard any woman who’s been molested admit to stuff like this. I’ve never heard it, maybe other people have. When my stepfather used to molest me, and my molestation started at eleven, even though I attempted suicide, and tried to kill myself, and slit my wrists, and took pills, cause I thought I was bad, and you know, I deserved what happened to me, my body, I used to have orgasms. Not all the time. There were times I had orgasms when I was being sexually molested. In the molestation, my stepfather never penetrated me with his penis, but he did with his finger. He did everything else to me.
Because you see, at that time, I didn’t know he wasn’t my father. You know, it was like, ‘Why would my dad do somethin’ like that to me?’ The molestation affected me tremendously throughout my life. Yes, it affected me. I suffered with severe depression. I became a person with borderline personality. I became a drug addict. I became the town drunk. I became an abuser of self. It has caused me to have abusive relationships, because I didn’t feel like I was worth lovin’. I didn’t feel like anyone would ever love me, the way I wanted to be loved.
“Charls, it’s over with. Let sleeping dogs lie,” my grandmother said.
That’s the way they were raised. You just forget about these things, and move on. It happens in the best of families in Trinidad. I would like to open a family counseling center in Trinidad for abused children. I would like to be a therapist. That would be wonderful. Ouuuu, that’d be great. My mother gave up. A lot of women are beaten up in Trinidad, by their men. It happens to a lot of women. Most likely than not. It’s more than in the United States, because in Trinidad, nothing happens to the men. There’s no domestic violence counseling, if somethin’ happens, let’s say you and your wife are havin’ a fight, and you stab your wife. Or you shoot her in the foot or something, you go to the hospital, there’s no police to call to say there’s a gunshot wound reported, or nothing like that. They got police in Trinidad, but police don’t get involved between wife and husband business ... unless you go to the police station and say, ‘Look, c’mon, put this man in jail, he beats me.’ But they don’t come out to your house. People don’t call to report, ‘This man beatin’ this woman,’ or stuff like that. That’s one of the reasons I want to go back to Trinidad, first get a counseling degree, and then go back to Trinidad and open up a counseling center. Yes, I would love to do that. It would be a wonderful thing for the people in my country. You know, I look at my two cousins committed suicide, two weeks of each other, a brother and a sister. You know, for a mother to lose two children by suicide, one after another. And why my cousin, she killed herself? ...cause she was too ashamed to let her father know she was pregnant! We’re talkin’ the child was twenty-somethin’ years old, you know? I visualize my clients to be a lot of molested children. There’s a lot of molestation that goes on in Trinidad, and nobody shelters the battered child. Nobody shelter’s that child that’s broken, and hurt. When a child loses her virginity at five or six years old and goes through life being molested by the same person over and over, then you bring it to your family’s attention, and no one does anything about it. It’s like you must let the man know, ‘I know what you’re doin’, you know! You need to stop that shit.’ But no one, nowhere, there’s no refuge for the child. The abuse is gone unspoken, forgotten. It’s common. I can’t explain how men see it. In Trinidad there is nothing like ‘women’s liberation’. Women have no rights in Trinidad. We have strong women that stand up for themselves, as far as their mates, or as far as anybody else is concerned. There are a lot of strong women in Trinidad. You got women in Trinidad that beat their men.
I was cookin’ for thirteen people since I’m eleven years old. And I was raisin’ five kids, every day. Every morning I took care of those children. I was cookin’ one day in the kitchen and my Uncle Lawdrick little son, named Martin, he was in the kitchen. When I went to throw the meat in the pot, the meat is prepared a certain way. You burn the oil and sometime the oil jumps up. Martin was standing close. I yelled.
“Martin move!” I yelled.
Uncle Lawdrick got mad.
“Don’t yell at my child!” Uncle Lawdrick said.
Him and I got in an argument, and he beat me. I took all his clothes and threw it out the window. My stepfather was really upset, because he didn’t like anyone hitting us. Even though it’s our culture, and we’re raised like that, it wasn’t the way of life that he intended for the children. He didn’t want no one hitting us. Discipline was for him, and my mother. He’s only hit me once, and that was all. He’s only hit me one time in my whole life, my stepfather. That was the day I found out he wasn’t my father. He beat me. My fat aunt used to live with us. Every Friday night she used to do the same shit. My mother, my dad and family had one bathroom to use, and company staying with us had one bathroom that was only for them to use. And we had a bathroom down the hall that was for us, the children. Every god damn Friday night, my fat aunt gonna put all her underwear and girdle and stockin’s to soak, inside the bathtub ... knowing damn well she not goin’ to wash ’em. Then, after she put this stuff to soak, Saturday morning when time come to clean the bathroom she used to play sick. Every weekend she did the same shit. Then she needed somebody to wash her goddamn clothes. That somebody ninety percent of the time, used to turn out to be me. So anyway, we used to have our own pillow cases on our bed. She put our pillowcase on her bed, and our sheet, and she rub herself with that damn BenGay. I got mad at her. I told her.
“Every damn Friday night you soak your clothes and you know you’re not going to wash them! And furthermore, don’t use m’ pillowcase and sheet on your bed no more, you stink ’em up with BenGay!” I said.
She stared at me.
“You know what?! If Fitzroy was your real father he’d have thrown me out this house long time ago!” she said.
That’s how I got to find out he wasn’t my dad. In a way, when I found out, I was like the happiest child for a moment, cause then, I felt like, ‘God I know my dad would have never molested me!’ I was glad that he wasn’t my father, because of the molestation. When he came home from work, my fat Aunt told him I was disrespectful to her, and told the things I said to her. He got to talking to me. I felt some power from knowing the truth.
“I don’t have to listen, you’re not even my Father,” I said.
He beat me. He beat me with a belt. I was black and blue all over, all over, he beat me so bad. It was the worst beating I ever got in my life. He beat me unmercifully. He beat me for about ten minutes. I cried, I balled, I hollered. I tried to kill myself. Took a bunch of pills. That night.
Amanda is my eleven-year-old daughter. She’s living with foster parents right now. Amanda doesn’t know why I drank and did drugs. My older children know about what happened with my stepfather…that’s why they’re not allowed to go to my mother’s house without me, when they were children. They never spent the night at her house and they never will. Amanda doesn’t know, but Jennifer, Ladan and Chad know. My stepfather is not allowed to pick up my children. He’s not allowed to hug them. He’s not allowed to show my children any affection, physically. It would be helpful for Amanda to know at some time. She could know now. But this is not the time to tell her. We have this distance because she’s in foster care. I’m not there to explain when she has a question, or she wonders. I’m not there to consol her if it inflicts any kind of emotional duress on her. Phoning is too impersonal. It’ll come, this year. Amanda has too much on her plate right now, dealin’ with the separation of her and Nick, my son Nick, her six-year-old brother, by the social workers. He’s in foster care, too.
When my mom got hit by the gasoline truck, it was at Christmastime, when I was thirteen or fourteen years old when this happened, I took on the whole responsibility of running the household. Years later now, the psychiatrist, when I talk to the psychiatrist about how I felt, and what my stepfather did to me, and the circumstances when he used to molest me more, my psychiatrist explained to me that I had taken the role of mother, and my stepfather didn’t see me as a child, he saw me as a woman.
My mother and stepfather had put me in a crazy house, with real, crazy people. They put me in King’s County ‘G’ Building. There, this girl got a plastic fork and she was tryin’ to break out, tryin’ to dig a hole in the bars where the bars go in the concrete, she was tryin’ to dig a hole in the concrete. She looked at me.
“Don’t worry, Charlene, we’re gonna get out of here today. Don’t worry. I’m getting’ close!” she said.
She was crazy. She really thought she was doin’ it. In the hospital where I was, there was this little girl, and she came in, she had 132 needles in her leg. Needles! They were embedded in her skin. Stuff like that. Then after they released me from King’s County ‘G’ Building and they took me home, cause my stepfather said I was “a notorious liar”, those were his exact words, and we went home, and he molested me the same night I got out of the crazy house. That tore me up. I ran again. That night. He was drivin’ me crazy, literally drivin’ me crazy. They caught me, again. Then, they put me in this place called Hillside Medical Center. It’s a residential home for disturbed children. That’s when they put me on Thorazine. That was awful. I got hepatitis, from the medication. They said it was too strong for my liver. The hepatitis went away, it’s not the one that stays in you. I was yellow. My eyes were yellow. My sweat was yellow. I smelled like a medicine cabinet. Thorazine made me into a zombie. I used to do the ‘Thorazine shuffle’. That’s when you think you’re walkin’ 899 miles per hour…no, when you think you’re goin’ somewhere, but you’re not goin’ anywhere, you never get there. Cause you’re walkin’ so slow. And your tongue hangs out. My tongue, I couldn’t eat. I lost thirty-five pounds. Cause I couldn’t eat, cause of the medication, it cut the whole inside of my mouth up. I was on Thorazine for four months.
In 1998 I was going to divorce my parents. I saw it on the Oprah Winfrey Show. That after thirty some-odd years, these two sisters divorced their parents. I wanted to go do that. They divorced their parents, their parents were no longer their parents. At Christmas Eve I’m going home. I’m not going there to see him. That’s not his house. It’s my mother’s. Before that, a gasoline truck hit my mother, that Christmas Day, and she got a lot of money for it. That’s when she bought that house. It’s no big mansion or nothin’. It’s a nice, little, three-bedroom house. But that’s not his house. I don’t regard it as his house. If that was his house, and I knew his money paid for that house, I would never go there. But I do have a purpose when I go there. See, I’ve never been there when things have been bad in my life. I always go there when times are good. Cause I always want him to see, after everything he’s done to me, I haven’t fallen apart. I’m still survivin’. And I’m healthy, and I’m happy. But I know he’s never happy. He couldn’t be happy after the damage he’s done to me.
When I was six I had a wonderful life. I lived with my grandmother. She was a very kind and loving woman. She used to beat the shit out of me. Every day I was good for four beatin’s. She’d beat me with anything she could find ... belts, sticks, shoes. One time she sent me to wash my school shirt. I played marbles and caught fish the whole time. I forgot the shirt in the river. Later, I remembered it. I went back to get it. Instead of washing it, I brought it home. On all the dirty spots, I put white shoe polish on them. I hung the shirt up to dry like I had washed it. Grandma went and checked the shirt, and she saw what I did. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to get my ass kicked.’ Grandma didn’t say anything. I knew she was plannin’ for me. I got a box, and I cut it apart with a kitchen knife. Then I put pieces of the box all inside my pants and my shirt, so when she hit me, I wouldn’t feel it. Grandma was a sharp cookie, though. She saw what I did. I was square! You could see the box under my pants and sweater! I was a child, I didn’t know no better. I thought I was getting over. I was square from the box pieces of cardboard I had inside my clothes so I wouldn’t get hurt when she hit me. She waited. As soon as I laid down in my bed to go to sleep, the belt took over. She started wupping my ass! I could never forget that night. It was the worst ass-wupping I ever got. But I love her still.
You should’a seen the shirt. It was stiff. It could’a stood up by itself. It was funny, though. Those were the days, the good days. Grandma loved me so much. I was living with my grandmother because my mother was in the United States. I was six, and my mother was in the United States. I kinda missed my Mom. But I was always more partial to my grandmother. Even when I was livin’ with my mother, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. My grandmother had a hundred dollar bill. You know how when you get old, your titties sag? She put the hundred dollar bill in her bra, and it went and it slid up in her titties. Anyway she took the bra off lookin’ for the money, and she couldn’t find it. It didn’t dawn on her to look under them titties. She accused me of stealin’ the money.
“I know it’s you, Charlene, you were the only one in the house. Nobody else could have taken the money,” grandma said.
I was so hurt because she thought I took the money. She went to take a bath and she ran the bath water, and when she bend over to feel to see how warm the water was, the money fell out from under her tittie.
“Hey, hey, how’d dat get there?” grandma said.
Miss Vero Dog
When I was seven years old a dog bit me up on my inner thigh. I had a bathing suit on, and we were going to the beach, and I passed this lady’s house named Miss Vero, and her dog Brownie rushed me, and bit me on my leg. I snatched him by the head. I bit him on the ears. He ran off going, ‘Eeeirrr! Eeeirrr! Eeeirrr’.
“Come back! Come back for more!” I said.
This was in Trinidad, at Carrinage, Point Cummana.
Fat Aunt Silvany
I was seven. My fat Aunt Silvany had a boyfriend, and his name was Hazel. Hazel was real ugly. One day I looked at him. I was about six years old, seven years old. I told him.
“Boy, you know when it rains, you don’t need an umbrella,” I said.
“Why, what are you talkin’ about?!” he said.
“You know, because your eyes stick out so far,” I said.
The top of his eyebrows, his forehead, stuck out, the bone on his eyebrows stuck out. I told him.
“You’re probably the only man in Trinidad, when it rains, the whole front of your self don’t get wet,” I said.
He got mad at me. He threw a mango and hit me in the head.
My Aunt Silvany, she used to wear a wig all the time and press her hair. She told this guy she was Indian. They was going somewhere to fuck, so she decided, to make herself look Indian, she gonna press the hair on her pussy. So she pressed it, and she burnt her pim.
When I was a little girl, about seven, I used to play house with these other girls. We used to go up to their house. It was Karmala’s, he was about sixteen, there was Butuman, he was about fifteen, Jacqueline, she was about fourteen, my cousin Cheryl, she was about ten, and I was about seven years old, something like that. And one day it was raining, and their mother wasn’t home, and they wanted to do the nasty. For all of us to get in the bed and suck on one another and have sex. The girls, they wanted to suck on one another too. They did. My cousin Cheryl lost her virginity that day. And she liked it, cause she kept goin’ up there. I wouldn’t’ do it, cause I thought it was bad, but I didn’t tell anybody. I saw the blood, and I got scared.
‘Oh my God,’ I thought.
It was weird. Since then, my friendship for them changed. I used to love ’em like sisters. I didn’t feel the same. I felt like they were bad people. The sixteen-year-old girl, Pamela, was tellin’ my little cousin, who was ten, how it was.
“It hurts at the beginning,” Pamela said.
Apparently the two, Jacqueline and Pamela, had done it before with the guy, Butuman. And you know, when you’re a kid like that, and you see stuff like that happenin’, it brings out a sexual desire in you, even though you’re a child. It does. It does. Don’t ever let nobody fool you.
Eight years old ... My Uncle Raynal used to live with this Indian woman named Rosy. And so Rosy got some popcorn. I don’t know where she bought it, but she bought in Trinidad, or somebody bring it from America. She used to raise chickens. So she had this popcorn. She decided to make popcorn. But she didn’t cover the pot. The popcorn popped and the chicken ate ’em all. Up to this day she swear to God I ate her popcorn.
“You’re greedy! And you’re selfish! You eat all the popcorn! And you didn’t leave none for nobody!” Rosy said.
I was cryin’. I was a little girl, only five years old, six years old.
“But I didn’t eat no popcorn!” I said.
“Then where it gone?” she said.
All them chickens was lookin’ guilty. They stood up there in a bunch. They were like a whole clutter of them. She had about eighty chickens. And they standin’ there. I can never forget it. Like they had this look, ‘Where’s the rest of the shit? Make some more.’ She didn’t see the chickens eat the popcorn. She had left the kitchen. She didn’t know how to make no popcorn.
Nine years old ~ My cousin Carol was leavin’ for the United States. She’s my Aunt Rose first-born girl child. And she was leavin’ to come to the United States, and so my Uncle Dennis was drunk. That’s Carol’s father. And he was drunk. So anyway, my Aunt Rose’s crying, she says, “Ohhh, Carol, I don’t know what life is going to be like without you. Things are going to be so hard. Y’know you was my right-hand child, oh God, Carol, I’m going to miss you, Oh God, my right-hand child goin’.”
My Uncle Dennis, he’s all drunk, he’s never a sensitive, emotional man. He had something to say.
“Oh God, oh God, my left foot gone! My left foot gone!” Uncle Dennis said.
He wasn’t making fun, he was serious. He was cryin’. He was drunk.
“Oh Ge, oh Ged, oh God! My left foot gone, my left foot gone,” Uncle Dennis said.
That’s a true story. I’ve got witnesses.
I had an uncle was named Lawrence. My Uncle Lawrence, was my favorite uncle, growin’ up. He used to do every and anything for me. Somethin’ happened to him, and he couldn’t get an erection anymore. He didn’t have no surgery or anything. We didn’t have that kind of technology in Trinidad. Well anyway, something happened to him, between him and two girls. And, they say they put a curse on him. Cause you know, we believe in Voodoo in Trinidad. It was Voodoo, they finally said. They took him to all kind of people, and that’s what they finally said. He used to pee green. I mean green. I saw it with my own eyes. Green like green jello. And he used to have blood in it. In Trinidad when I was growin’ up, we had an outhouse. So in the night, when you needed to use the bathroom we had a little utensil that went under the bed, and you used it. And I was responsible for emptying it every morning, cause I was the girl. Even if it had shit in it, I had to empty it. I was seven, and left Trinidad when I was eleven. And I did that for years. There were four pots. I had to empty them, and wash them, and put ’em back. It was my duty. Anyway, I would see this green pee, and it would have blood in it, and stuff like that. I used to feel so sorry for him.
Uncle Lawrence had a good job, he lost his job. He started gamblin’ away all his savin’s. He was just gamblin’, and gamblin’, and drinkin’. And then, as I grew up, I saw him deteriorate in front my eyes. Then I came out to the United States, and they told me he tried to kill himself. But my cousin Roystin, found him hangin’ from the rafters, and cut him down. And saved his life. Then he was okay for a few years, and he was allright. Then he did it again. And Roysin came in again, and saved him again. Cause they used to go check on him, you know, and see how he was doing. That’s my fat aunt that live up on the hill, her son, Roysin, her one son. And then one time when he tried to kill himself, they wrote my grandmother and told her. My grandmother was here in the United States. And they told her why. My friend Jacqueline, who he watched grow up from two years old, you know, was three years old. She came down to bring him some food ... cause they used to cook for him and pay the bills for him; my grandmother would send money for the light, the gas, and stuff like that. And then, when she was goin’ back up the hill, he was in the back of the house. And she looked down, and she seen him, and he was in the back of the house trying to jack off. And he tried to kill himself, cause he was embarrassed. He couldn’t face her. And he tried to kill himself the same night.
Put it like this, depression runs in my mother’s side of the family. I have five, one, two, three, four, five, relatives killed themselves within five years of each other. My mother has been institutionalized. She’s too stupid to want to die.
My Aunt Rose
Ten years old ~ My Aunt Rose, God rest her soul, she’s dead now. She died of a heart attack. My mother was bringin’ some friends to her house, and they were American people, so my mother had a pep talk with her. Cause my Auntie Rose’s husband was an alcoholic. My mother spoke to Auntie Rose.
“I want you to be on your best behavior. Tell he sure and behave theyself,” my mom said.
So she took the people there, and one of the kids was actin’ up. My Aunt Rose was nervous.
“Oh, I don’t know what’s wrong with these children, they getting’ worserer and worserer every day! Sometimes they betterer and betterer, but most of the time they’re worserer,” Aunt Rose said.
I stayed with my grandmother till I was eleven. Then I came to the United States. I didn’t like the United States as much as when I lived in Trinidad ... because I missed my grandmother. I was sad for a long time. The life in Trinidad was beautiful. It was free. And the people were kind. And life was just so relaxin’. I love Trinidad. There’s no locks on your doors. There’s no bars on your windows. It’s just a different kind of life, from livin’ here. I can’t describe it.
Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, in Brooklyn
Twelve years old ~ I remember one time, I was molested that night, and the next day I had to go to the dentist. My dentist was Jewish. His name was Dr. Levin. And he at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, in Brooklyn. He liked me a lot. He used to call me, ‘Cap’. Cause I had a cap, just the one tooth, and he tried so hard to save it, so I wouldn’t have to wear dentures. I had a temporary cap in, cause he wanted it to set. Because instead of having two teeth, and an eyetooth on one side, I had three teeth and and an eyetooth. They wasn’t on top one another, they were even. And he didn’t want to pull it. So anyway, I was going to see him, cause I swallowed my cap, (I used to swallow it all the time when I’m eating, and in my sleep) ... and I passed out in his office. Cause I had taken a whole bunch of pills. I almost died. They rushed me to the hospital, and pumped my stomach. I spent a while in the hospital. I had taken the pills after my stepfather molested me. I took the pills to kill myself. I didn’t take them right after. I layed there for hours, cryin’, thinkin’. I got up and I just took them. But you know, I’m going to tell you somethin’. All the times I attempted suicide, why didn’t my mother ever hide them pills? Why were those pills always left out? I don’t understand it to this day.
Want to hear a funny story? While I was in the hospital, there’s this little Black boy, his name was Juan. It was Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. I was maybe eleven. I was there for an overdose of pills. My Uncle Steve used to come visit me. And then there’s this little Black kid, who’s about five-feet-four. But he was in a wheel chair. And he had hurt himself. And he was paralyzed in one leg. And his mother gave him permission ... his mother told me this story ... she gave permission for him to have surgery, and then he was paralyzed on both legs and his whole side. And he only had one hand left. And so anyway, he’s been there for years. That’s the ward they put me on. And then there’s this other little Jewish kid, named Jerry. Jerry Goldstein. He was paralyzed from the neck down. And he had a big, ol’ waterhead. And when he was bad, the nurses used to take his head and rest it on his tray, cause he couldn’t pick it up, and he’d go crazy. But anyway, him and Juan build this friendship, and Juan would be Jerry’s power. Juan had like all the strength of his whole body, was in this one hand, and he would hold on to you, and it took five, six people to get him offa you.
“Squeeze! Juan, squeeze!” Jerry used to go.
Uncle Steve came to visit me.
“Can you shake Juan’s hand?” Jerry told him.
Juan held onto Uncle Steve’s hand, and start squeezin’ the shit out of it. Uncle Steve was screamin’.
“Squeeze! Juan squeeze! Squeeze! Juan squeeze!” Jerry was yellin’.
The nurses had to come and take Jerry’s head, and put it down on the tray, on the front of his wheelchair. They had to put his head down.
“Okay, okay! Let go Juan! Let go now!” Jerry said.
Jerry’s body was like a foot big, he had the body of a baby. A ten-month-old baby. He was about twelve. And his head was like twice the size of normal. Then there was the little kid. It was hard for me, when I was first put in there, to see them. But I had some kind of great love for them. After I left the hospital, I used to go there all the time. I didn’t volunteer or nothin’, I didn’t sign no papers. I just used to and spend time with ’em. I loved those kids. They were so happy when they saw me.
Even when I ran away from home, I used to go visit them in the hospital all the time. They would save me food. Juan and his one hand. He’d reach towards me and mumble,
“Here, I have this for you,” Juan mumbled.
He’d reach down in his jacket pocket, on the side of his chair. They liked me a lot. Then they had this amazin’ kid. His name was Andrew Jaffe. That was some kid. He was so smart. Those were kids whose mothers and fathers didn’t want them anymore. Couldn’t take care of them. Invalids. Family don’t want ’em. But this kid Andrew Jaffe had the intelligence of a fifty-year-old man, an educated man at that. They were all eleven, twelve, all those kids.
If my stepfather ever did anything to my sister Jennifer, what I would do to him. It’s like, some of the times, I stayed around, so was he wouldn’t go after her. I had books and stuff from the library, about ... well, my guidance counselor at my elementary school, her name was Molly Polinski. She was the first person I told about my molestation. She wanted to take me home with her.
Cause I went from a straight A student, to a straight Z student.
One time my mother gave me to buy some chicken, on the way to school, cause I wanted to have some of the change, and I walked around all day with that chicken. Then, afternoon came. I went to see Miss Polinski. She never had children.
We used to talk. Her and her husband were so in love.
“Maybe you’re the child I was waiting for,” she told me once.
I started cryin’.
“All you have to do is say the word, and they’ll take you away,” she told me.
I was always really smart when I was young. When my molestation started happenin’, I lost all interest in school, and studyin’ became really hard for me. Molly Polinsky cared. She looked at me.
“No, no, I can’t take it no more. I got to do somethin’ about it. It’s not about protecting your family. It’s about protecting you,” Molly Polinsky said.
If it wasn’t for Molly Polinsky, I wouldn’t have made it. That afternoon, I couldn’t go home. I put the chicken behind a radiator in the school. The school was stinkin’. It was a Friday. And it stayed behind the radiator in the school all weekend. And I went back to school that Monday, the school was stinkin’. I was gone all weekend. And do you know somethin’ ... even though I ran away from home, I still used to go to school. No one thought of lookin’ at school for me, you know? What fuckin’ child runs away from home and goes to school. They never thought of lookin’ for me in the school. That was so weird.