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A STORY OF FAMILY, SEX & DECEIT
By SAMI MARTIN
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Sami Martin
All rights reserved.
My bed was wet again. No matter how hard I tried not to wet the bed, it always happened. I looked over at my brother Byron, who shared a room with my aunt Nikki and me. "Yeah, I did too," he said.
Granny walked into the room holding an extension cord. I wasn't at all surprised, and at four years old I wasn't too scared either. I was nervous to receive my punishment, but ready to get it over with. When she finished whooping me and got her butt up off my head, I reached for my bed sheet, found where the wet part was, and put it in my mouth while Granny watched. I guess she watched to make sure we actually did it.
"That's right, Sami, suck all that piss out! That's yo piss!" she yelled. (My real name is Samantha.) Then she yelled to Byron, "Y'all gone sit here and suck these sheets dry!"
Nikki is my granny's youngest child and eight years older than me. She understood not to say anything to make her mother angry, because she would probably get something a lot worse, but I saw the sympathy for us on her face. No one else came into the room.
My uncle Joe Jr. was hardly ever around. He spent most of his days in the streets or in jail. When he was home, it wouldn't take long before he was arguing with Granny or his father, who we called Pops, for something Granny said. Uncle Bo was a target too, because as brothers they just didn't get along anyway.
Joe gave the impression that he just wanted to be left alone and not constantly reminded that he needed a job and to stay sober. Compared to the crackheads that hung out on just about every corner in the hood, Joe didn't look like he was on drugs. His clothes were never dirty; his light skin was clear; and he had a lot of weight and muscles on him.
Pops had a calm and laid-back personality for the most part, which was the total opposite of Granny's. He had the skin color and features of an Indian and was kind of fit for an older man. Drama wasn't his strong suit, except when he was drunk. The only time he got upset with Joe or Nikki was when Granny complained to him about something they did.
We never saw Pops until the evening. He worked during the day as a maintenance man at an apartment complex, which gave him easy access to aluminum cans and copper. He devoted his evenings to crushing the cans with his feet and removing the rubber from the copper to roll it up to look and feel like weights. We had bags of cans and rolls of copper in the backyard that increased more each day until he went to cash them in.
Every now and then Pops went on one of his drinking binges, where we wouldn't see him for a few days. If we did see him during one of his binges, he was sloppy drunk and we were calling 911 to keep him from killing Granny.
Uncle Bo worked as a welder during the day. It kept his dark hands looking rough and his arms muscled. Granny waited on him hand and foot like he was still a toddler, and he behaved like he expected everybody else to do that for him too. On the weekends, Uncle Bo got dressed in his basketball shorts and sneakers and went to the park to play a few games. When night came, he got dressed in his jeans and snakeskin boots to go out and chase every pretty woman he saw.
He was the biggest shit starter sometimes. He was the type to wait until the whole family was around and then pointed somebody out to embarrass them, but he could do no wrong in my granny's eyes, even when he was wrong. Uncle Bo's real name is Lenard Martin Jr. His two daughters, Piper and Penny, lived with their mother, Nadine, in east Texas. He and Aunt Nadine were married, but they separated every time she got fed up with him and his other women.
Granny was tall and big boned, and she would curse in every sentence she said, including in church. She birthed four kids, including my mother, who was the oldest. In the house she could be so mean, but out in public she was the total opposite. Her friends called her Lou Anne. I have to acknowledge that she was very hard working too, and our family was usually in church on Sunday.
Summer was here. My cousins Piper and Penny were coming to visit for a couple of weeks. Piper and I were the same age. Penny was three years younger. So I had girls closer to my own age to play with. At the same time I had to be careful not to make one of them mad, so Granny wouldn't yell at me. They could do no wrong in my granny's eyes, just like their father, Uncle Bo.
Their first week there was boring and drawn out. We used up a lot of time playing outside. Their last weekend visiting, we all loaded up into two vehicles and set out to the drive-in movies, where everyone got their party on in the parking lot, including us kids.
My granny drove a yellow Datsun. It was the only car that color in the parking lot. My uncle Bo drove a pretty, maroon Chevy. My family got a kick out of watching the kids dance, and I chose to dance in the back of my uncle's truck.
I heard my mother's voice in the living room. The weather always felt perfect when she was around, and my bed wasn't wet. Byron and I walked into the living room, and there she stood with the most beautiful smile. Gloria Martin. My mama was definitely a show stopper. Besides her smile, she had smooth, dark skin and a shape that women envied.
Byron and I ran to give her a big hug and kiss. My little brother Quincy, who we called Q, was on her hip. He was slipping off because of the fur coat she was wearing, while my granny looked on with hatred.
My mama looked down at us. "Y'all are coming with me," she said. I was ready. Even though we were leaving Dallas, headed to the boring town of Longview, we were going with my mother. Plus, I figure we would probably see Piper and Penny there.
I adored my mother, even when she was miles away.
Byron was ready too. He was really depressed when we weren't with my mother, and Granny didn't make it any better by talking shit about her all the time.
Mama lived in east Texas with my little brother and his daddy, Rayford. Q didn't look anything like Rayford. Byron and I were aware Rayford wasn't our father, and when we asked people in the family who our daddy was, they told us he got shot in the water. I think Uncle Bo started that rumor. Everyone would start laughing out loud like it was a huge joke. My mama just said he left.
Granny didn't look pleased about us going with Mama, but she must have known Mama was coming to get us, since she already had our bags packed and sitting by the front door.
When we got to Longview, we found out Mama was no longer living with Rayford. She had gotten her own apartment, but she did have a boyfriend there named Darnell. He was a true eighties-looking man. He had a big jerry-curl afro with a gold tooth, and he always wore a tank top like he thought he was sexy in it. When he opened up his mouth to speak to me, it sounded more like a whisper. Sometimes it was easy to forget he was there. Byron didn't like him—or any of the men Mama dated, for that matter.
He and Q shared a room, and I had my own. Mama showed Byron and me to our rooms. They both had beds in them, and she bought us all sorts of toys, including a pink doll house for me that was as tall as I was.
Byron and I were starting at Longview Elementary. Mama told me Piper would be there too.
After Mama fed us dinner, Byron and Q took a bath. Mama gave me a bath and then put my hair in two ponytails with colorful ribbons and gave me bangs for school the next morning. I went and looked at my hair in the bathroom mirror. I look so pretty, I thought.
"Do you like it?" Mama asked.
"Yes," I told her. She smiled and told me to pick up my hair ribbons and rubber bands that were left on the floor.
She took us to school the next morning. Piper and I were assigned to the same kindergarten class. Mama and Aunt Nadine said it might be trouble to have us in the same class, but Piper and I begged for them to keep it that way.
We had been anticipating the day our kindergarten teacher would assign milk duty to both of us at the same time—not to do anything wrong, but just to get out of the classroom together. We stayed on our best behavior, and it soon paid off.
"It's time for lunch!" our teacher called out. "Piper and Samantha, will you go get the milk?"
Piper and I looked at each other with a smile and said yes. We grabbed the crates to put the milk in and walked out of the classroom door. On our way to pick up the milk, we saw a girl about our age walking into the bathroom. We looked at one another and smiled and followed her into the bathroom. For no reason at all, we started beating her up. Piper was feeding off me, and I was feeding off her. We stopped when the girl got loud enough to get us caught. Leaving her bent over crying, we grabbed our crates and ran out of the bathroom.
We walked back in our classroom with the milk. I thought we were in the clear. It didn't even cross my mind that the girl would go and tell her teacher on us. Piper and I both denied touching the girl, but that was the last day we were in kindergarten together.
We still saw each other during recess and we rode the same bus home. Piper came and sat beside me in the same seat we always sat in. A little white boy name Anthony came and sat in the seat right behind us. Piper and I looked at each other.
"Ask him," she said.
"Naw, you ask him," I said.
Piper turned around and said, "Anthony, can you show us yo weenie?" We started laughing. Anthony stood up and started unbuttoning his pants as we watched and giggled. He actually pulled it out and showed it to us. We began laughing more.
Uncle Bo and Aunt Nadine lived just a couple of blocks away from us. Yes, they were back together and living in a house in Longview. My mama hung out with them on the weekends, playing spades and dominoes, so we kids spent a lot of time together. Either we were at their place or they were at ours.
The adults didn't tolerate us spending too much time in the living room with them, and they didn't want us coming to ask them for anything either. If we did want something, we just sent Q or Penny to ask, given that they were the youngest and wouldn't get in trouble for going into the living room.
One night all of us kids were in Byron's room. Byron peeked out of his room into the living room and started laughing. He said he heard a woman making noise like she was hurting.
"Let's go see what they watching. I bet it's nasty stuff," he said.
We all crawled out into the hallway to try to get a look at the TV in the living room. When we got a good view of it, there were naked people on it. Piper started laughing and gave us away. Uncle Bo yelled, "Get y'all hardheaded ass back in that room and close the door!" We ran back into the room and fell on the floor laughing. Picking at the adults was more entertaining to us than our toys or each other.
Our family gatherings stopped when Uncle Bo moved in with us after Aunt Nadine put him out. He moved into Byron and Q's room, and they moved into my room. Mama still hung out with Aunt Nadine, just not at our apartment. She didn't want her to run into one of the women Uncle Bo had over.
Someone knocked on the door. Mama was in her room and Uncle Bo was in the room with a woman, so I opened the door. "Is Lenard here?" she asked.
"He already got a woman in there," I told her and slammed the door in her face.
Mama came out of her room and asked, "Was that somebody at the door?"
"Yes," I said.
She walked fast to the door and opened it. The woman was still standing there. She asked my mama, "Is Bo in there?"
"Yeah," Mama said, "Let me go get him." She shut the door and told me to go in my room. I did. I heard her knock on Uncle Bo's door. I sat on my bed biting my nails, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Mama opened my bedroom door. "I oughta beat yo ass! You know not to open that door!"
The woman who was at the door was named Vicky. She argued with Uncle Bo before she stormed off. The other woman left too.
* I told my mama I was going to take my nighttime bath by myself for the first time. For a long time I had a fear of taking a bath without my mama being in the bathroom. I think it was because the tiles on the wall were brown, and I hadn't ever seen that before. She ran my bath water and put some toys in there for me. I sat for a little while, splashing my toys around in the water. I didn't have a care in the world.
I knew I had to soap my body before getting out, so I stood up in the bathtub to reach for the soap, but I slipped and fell, hitting my eye on the soap dish on the wall. Blood went everywhere. I got out of the bathtub, holding my eye, and ran into the living room in a panic to show my mama. Blood was pouring out so fast.
My mama was crying and shaking while getting us all ready to take me to the emergency room. I didn't start crying until I saw her crying. She thought my eyeball had fallen out.
"Can she see?" she kept asking her boyfriend, Darnell. She wrapped me up in a big towel, scooped me up, and laid me down in the back seat of her baby-blue Cutlass. Darnell drove us to the hospital.
When I realized I was going to live and I could still see, I stopped crying. I heard the doctor that was working on me say, "The child seems fine. It's the mother I'm beginning to worry about." My mama didn't stop crying until I was all stitched and patched up and being sent home.
Mama moved Q and me back to Dallas to live with my great-grandma Bunny in East Park. Mama got along with her grandma better than she did her own mama. Byron had been sent back to Dallas on the bus six months earlier to live with Granny again. He was so brave to ride all that way by himself. He was only eight.
Grandma Bunny married several times, so I had heard, but the only one I knew was Grandpa William. He just disappeared into thin air when we moved back to Dallas. He and Grandma Bunny came to visit us a total of three times while we were in Longview, and they never failed to bring bags of food and toys with them. I asked Grandma Bunny where he was. She said she woke up one morning, and he was gone.
At first I was a little uneasy about moving in with Grandma Bunny, but she was so sweet and welcoming to Quincy and me that I got over it quick. Grandma Bunny lived in a red-brick house on the corner. She had the best-looking lawn on the street and was known in the neighborhood as the lady that would shoot you for stepping on her grass.
I believed it when I walked out on the porch, where she would sit every night, to say good night. I looked in her lap, and there lay this brown-and-silver shiny object in her hand. It didn't take me long to realize it was a gun. She said, "Baby, I take 'em out if they step on my grass." I laughed only because I felt like I was supposed to.
Three days out of the week Grandma Bunny worked for an old, rich white lady named Mrs. Carrington. Q and I were going with her, since Mama was at work at a nearby nursing home she had just gotten hired at.
Grandma Bunny's relationship with her boss was more like sisters than employee and boss. Mrs. Carrington was short and so bowlegged that she had to walk with a cane. Grandma Bunny told me she didn't have any kids and hadn't ever been married. She drove a gray Lincoln Town Car, and to see over the wheel, she had two big pillows on the driver's seat. Grandma Bunny had a nice-looking brown Cadillac in her driveway collecting dust because she couldn't drive, so Mrs. Carrington came and picked us up. We didn't mind it, because we were certain Mrs. Carrington was going to give us money or candy, or both.
Mrs. Carrington went in her room as soon as we got to her house. She came back out and gave Q and me some candy and five dollars apiece. Grandma Bunny told Mrs. Carrington that she didn't have to give us money and candy every time she saw us. I looked at Grandma Bunny like she was crazy, because every time we were getting ready to go to Mrs. Carrington's house, she would remind us that she might give us some money and candy. Mrs. Carrington gave me my first cup of coffee too.
"Be careful, baby, it's hot," she said, just as I scalded my lips and tongue. But sitting having coffee with an old white lady made me feel on top of the world for a moment.
Q and I went to Park Elementary when school started, which was in our neighborhood. The morning of the first day of school, Mama kept reminding me to meet Q at his class when school was out so we could walk home together. In the mornings, Mama walked us to school.
As soon as the bell rang for school to be out, I grabbed my book bag out of my locker and headed out the front door with the friends I'd met. I felt like I was forgetting something, but for the life of me I couldn't think of what it was.
I stepped onto the street off school property and saw Mama standing up ahead. She yelled, "Sami, where is Q?!" The sound in her voice let me know she was nervous, and by then I was too. That's when I knew what I was forgetting: my four-year-old little brother. I turned around and ran back to school and went to Q's classroom. No one was there.
A man walking past me in the hall stopped and asked me if I needed something. "I can't find my little brother, and my mama is waiting on us to get home," I told him.
Excerpted from KEPT QUIET by SAMI MARTIN. Copyright © 2013 Sami Martin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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