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VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDEDARK DREAMS II
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Brandon Massey
All right reserved.
Eric Jerome Dickey
People called me Harlem.
I dubbed myself after that dangerous neighborhood that I'd never seen.
A place not everybody knew about.
A place most people didn't want to know about.
I read life is rough in Harlem and a black man isn't expected to live to see twenty-five. Before twenty-five, a brother is almost guaranteed death, by either drugs or violence. Usually at the hand of another black man. Statistics of Harlem.
So that name fit me perfectly, described me to the hilt.
I was twenty-three.
The clock was ticking.
Another reason I took that label was because one of the nurses at the hospital, Daphane, was from there. She was the first one that was nice to me. She never forced my medication on me. Always brought me some books to read. Snuck me in some extra dessert after hours. Plus she told me what was going on on the other side of the double-locked doors. On the outside. Liking her helped me like being Harlem. She understood where I was coming from.
Daphane. She looked a few weeks shy of twenty but claimed she was around twenty-four. She came here right after I was boxed up and shipped here. A sweet, cute, caramel-flavored, thin sister who always gave a sincere smile back at me when I sent an earnest smile toward her oval face and light brown eyes. She'd always wink and speak when I passed by her on my way to therapy. Whether I was handcuffed or not. My fatassed, cigarette-smelling, Grizzly Adams–bearded, Bozobald counselor never smiled. He talked down to me in a slick sort of way. I hate that Doc Brewster with a passion. First chance I got he would be my next one eighty-seven.
All the rooms were white. White walls. In the corner, a white, twin-sized bed with white sheets sat next to a white porcelain sink that had white fixtures. Like they were trying to make this hellish place seem like it was somebody's Ku Klux heaven. Nothing up in here but southern white nurses in white uniforms. Me decked out in a white hospital prisoner uniform.
Daphane and Phyllis were the only women of color in this joint. Heaven and hell.
Again, I just woke up in a heated sweat, calling out for them to stop. In my nightmare, my little arms struggled with the police as they pulled me away from the paramedics. As I woke, my eyes stung from the salty blood. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was a grown man and not still that terrified child. That it wasn't still that day my soul died.
I kept having the same nightmares. If you were religious, you could call them a recurring set of visions. So I called them nightmares. My mother beating me. My father beating my mother. Me finding my father's body after my mother stabbed him in his sleep. Me crying daddy's gagging on his own blood as he tried to find strength to pull the steak knives out of his neck, back and chest. Me running into the front room and finding my mother's faceless body after she put a shotgun under her chin and pulled the trigger. Me sitting at my father's feet and looking him in the face as he took his last breath. Me getting his cigarettes off the kitchen table and putting them next to his dead body, just in case he wanted to take a smoke. Me balling up into a psychological knot and being quiet, not speaking a word to anybody for almost two years. Me living the life of the Unwanted. Molestations. Me being shipped from place to place to place like unclaimed luggage. Me trying to kill two sets of argumentative, abusive foster parents. More beatings. More molestations. By then I was what they called an "incorrigible" twelve-year-old.
The dreams didn't bother me at first, because I kept my secrets to myself. All I did was read. Closed myself off from the world with newspapers, Shakespeare, Iceberg Slim. But reading let me escape only until my eyes got tired. My mind stayed awake and reminded me of what I had done. I knew I was to blame for it all.
When I became violent, they said visions like these were the reason. That I was reenacting what I had seen. I could've told them that. They said I had shit pent up and repressed inside and that was the only way I knew how to release it.
Today, Doc was trying to get inside my head and find out why I killed the people at the inconvenience store. That was the day I got caught. Silent alarm. I made it barely two miles on foot. Police helicopter chased me. It was live on three news channels simultaneously. Had higher ratings than Seinfeld. They showed me running, jumping fences and whizzing through brush. Great stride. I should've run track or something. They played the tape of me shooting the guy.
Damn, I looked good on tape. Great profile.
That was my fifteen minutes of fame.
Should've been an actor.
"Why did you kill those people in the Seven-Eleven?"
"One." I flipped my middle finger. I had to sound harsh and remind Brewster. "I killed only one. Damn, why you always exaggerating? I only wounded the others."
"But you killed eight others. Three women. Four men. One child."
"That's between me and you." I chuckled. "Patient-client confidentiality. And I already know the 187 count."
"It's between me and you."
Daphane cleared her throat. "Why did you shoot him? The Caucasian man at the Seven-Eleven. He wasn't bothering you. He was only twenty-four. He had a family. A pregnant wife."
"So I heard. He was smoking a cigarette."
Brewster asked, "You killed because of a cigarette?"
Daphane asked, "Why?"
"Dunno. I was just in one of those moods, I guess."
Brewster asked, "How did you feel when you shot him?"
"What do you mean? I felt like I needed to reload."
"What Doctor Brewster is asking is," Daphane said, again clearing her throat, "did you feel any remorse for shooting an innocent man?"
"Nope. He tried to keep me from getting away. That's a no-no. Plus, his arrogant ass didn't want Habib or Abdul or whomever to give up the money. And like I said, he shouldn't've been smoking. Cigarettes kill."
Heard the 7-Eleven guy's wife of three weeks had a nervous breakdown when they told her. Miscarried on the spot. She was too screwed up to come to the trial to watch me get ruled insane, then to watch me giggle and blow kisses when they took me away.
Why did they think I was crazy? I was sane. Their idealistic view of the wretched world made them crazy.
I appreciated solitude and darkness. They both echoed what was inside me. So at night, I wanted to stay awake so I could appreciate myself by myself. But no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn't. The medication left me weak, wore me down.
They said jacked-up memories were trapped in my mind and had to be released if I was going to survive, if I was going to make it back to their version of sane. If I was to get normal again. I never talked about them: my insignificant black secrets. They stayed in me, sheltered from the rest of the nonchalant world. Now I was supposed to "let them out to play." From the darkness into the light. From "slavery to freedom." Why did they use racist terms like those to try to persuade me? Were those psychological clichés supposed to be so damn appealing to my blackness?
I had very few memories, and no positive memories of my mother or father. Not one, and I always hated that. I wanted to celebrate Mother's Day with her, Father's Day with him, birthdays with both. But the jacked-up memories had me trapped. Hey, they happened, right? Reality was a real mutha, for ya.
"Daphane, hand me the green folder on Harlem's parents."
"Yes, Doctor Brewster."
"You want to talk some more about your mother, Harlem?"
"My mother? Let's see, where should I start? Alcoholic. Liar. Alcoholic. Child abuser. Alcoholic. Selfish. Alcoholic. User. Alcoholic. Chain smoker. Did I mention alcoholic?"
Daphane rubbed her neck, then sighed. "Yes, you did."
I heard Brewster's frustrated breathing. I started to nod off.
"Harlem, can you hear me?"
"Yeah, Doc. Unfortunately, I'm still with you."
"I'm going to take you back."
"Been there, done that. But go right ahead. I'm ready for another depressing déjà jacked-up vu. My day was going too good anyway. And we can't have that, can we?"
"Start counting backwards ..."
"From a hundred. Why can't I count up to a hundred?"
"If you wish, you—"
"It was a joke, Doc. Yeah, yeah. Don't matter. I know the routine," I said. "Daphane?"
"I'm right here," Daphane said. I loved her smiling voice.
"Thanks, Daph. One hundred. Ninety-nine. Ninety-eight."
I drifted to another horizon, went to a place where I was asleep and awake at the same time. I was here and there.
"What do you see?" Daphane asked. "Look around."
"Lots of trees. Daffodils, and bumblebees looking for food. Close-cut grass. Sunshine. Lots of nice sunshine. Warm. It's ... damn ... it's beautiful."
"Maybe five. I believe about five, because I don't have a memory of school. I'm in South Memphis. Ain't it funny how black people always live in south something or on the south side? You want to find the ghetto, go south, young man!"
"Tell me everything," Doctor Brewster interjected.
"Clock-watching MF. Brewster, you a punk."
"Harlem," Daphane said, her voice having that nice smile. "Pretty please?"
"Tell Doctor Brewster what happened."
I exhaled. "Okay. Anyway. I'm five. My mother. We never bonded. When I was fresh out the vagina, she dropped me off with some old Mississippi folks who lived down the street, and didn't make it back until I was six years and some change. I guess she forgot, or maybe something more important came up at the racetrack. Maybe she just couldn't hang. I wasn't a terribly atrocious child, so I know it wasn't because of my looks. I wasn't too dark, which was fashionably incorrect according to some stupid black folks back then. Nobody wanted a black-ass baby that looked like it came from deep, deeeep, deeeeeep ju-ju country in Africa.
"Anyway, I'm mind-rambling again."
"That's okay," Brewster said. "Let your thoughts flow."
"Sorry. I'll try to stay focused."
"Try not to get upset, okay?" Daphane said.
Doc Brewster was trying this hypno bullshit on me. I was supposed to regress, go way back into my past, and see what else has me so jacked up that I behaved the way I did now. He kept calling me Ronnie, and they knew how I felt about that name. If I didn't have these thick leather straps on my arms, I'd choke the life out of him. But I couldn't, because the whatever shot they just gave me left me too weak. I was fading.
"My name is Harlem. Can't you remember? Harlem. H-A-R-L-E-M. Harlem."
"Right, right. I apologize, Harlem. I'm sorry. I was reading off your charts."
"That's alright. I'm sorry for going off in front of you, Daphane."
Daphane smiled. "That's okay, Harlem. Don't be too mean today, okay? I had a rough night last night. Just do what Doctor Brewster asks, and I'll sit down with you and we'll look at yesterday's newspaper."
"You save me the business section and the funny papers?"
"Yeah. I've already circled your investments. One of the stocks you picked out went up a whole point from yesterday."
"Thanks, Daphane. I appreciate it."
"When is it?" Doctor Brewster asked. "Can you see yourself?"
"I can't really tell. It's kind of foggy." My head dropped. Closed my eyes. "I hear voices. Screams."
"What do you see?"
"Magnolia trees. Four-leaf clovers. Weeping willows. Dandelions. Children my age. We're young and happy. Then all of a sudden I'm not. Shit is happening."
"Because of hell."
"Yeah. Hell showed up."
"That's irrelevant. When it happened, it didn't seem that important. It wasn't obvious to me. My naïveté. My ignorance."
"My drunken father stormed across the playground and snatched me away. He beat me in front of all the other children. I didn't know why. I couldn't ask because he was too busy hitting me. My substitute teacher, Miss Bailey, tried to stop him but got pushed to the ground."
"Why is your daddy beating you?" Brewster asked.
"Yesterday," I started, but my throat tightened with fear.
My eyes watered. My voice sounded like that of a child. "Yesterday evening, he sent me to the store to get him a pack of cigarettes. I brought back the wrong brand. He wanted Kool. I brought back Salem."
My daddy walked away. Left me on the ground. Kids laughed and pointed at me. I wished I was bigger so I could hurt him back. I wished him dead.
The memory played over and over in my mind. Each time my daddy hit me, I twitched in my chair. I felt each slap, every kick. I convulsed in pain, almost as if I was in an electric chair.
By the time Daddy got back home, the school had called my mother. They argued and fought. That night, they both died. The cigarettes.
An everlasting Pine-Sol smell. Echoing words. Rubber soles screeching on the saintly floor, walking in from the hollow hallway. Electronic doors being buzzed open and closed. The rattling of medication bottles as somebody walked by pushing a wobbly cart. Keys jingled like Christmas bells, then my door opened. Somebody from the outside world came into my hell. I smelled sweet perfume, the fragrance of my only friend.
I didn't move.
"Nope. Just checking my eyelids for cracks."
"I brought you the newspaper. Sorry, I didn't get it to you earlier, but I had the last two days off."
"Away from this beautiful place? What were you doing? Giving up the poonie?"
"You are so nasty. Here's your paper. I'll read it to you."
"Thanks, Daphane. Could you loosen up this strap so I can get some more circulation in my hand?"
"I can't untie you, Harlem," she said sternly. "You know that's against regulations. I could lose my job."
"Please? I'll be a good boy, baby."
She unstrapped the leather bindings on my wrist, and my hand was free. With one hand loose, I could easily knock her out of the way and set myself free in a matter of seconds. The doors to this place are a joke, and the security's no threat to a brother as big as me. I flexed my wrist and pulled Daphane to me.
I kissed her on the ear and whispered, "Thanks."
I would hate it if she lost her job. If she was fired, I'd have nobody who understood me. The loneliness would kill me.
She giggled and slapped the side of my head. "I told you I'm married, so quit flirting with me."
"Let's run away together."
"But tomorrow, my sweet, tomorrow never comes. It's always today."
"I know. Tomorrow never happens. Some people have no tomorrow."
"So live for today."
She kissed my cheek, then we made small talk as she massaged my arm, restarting the circulation. I told her it felt better, then she put the restraint back on. This time it was more comfortable. She sat in front of me on a stiff plastic chair and read the stock market reports to me. She always educated me on what trends to look out for and where to put my money, if I ever got out and got any money. She wanted me to get cased and go straight. Most of the time I didn't understand what she was talking about, but I liked to hear her talk that smart talk.
She'd invested some of her own money. Overtime money that she kept stashed from her dumb-ass, cheapskate husband, just in case. She had made close to eight thousand dollars over the last six months. I was very interested in what she did. I encouraged her, and she encouraged me. Through me, she was gaining more autonomy in her life. Through her, I maintained a freaking life. If I weren't so messed up inside my head, I'd want to love her forever and a day. I know I could, if she'd let me.
"You know I love you, don't you?"
"Shut up with that nonsense," she said, then flipped her hand at me. "Your medication must be kicking in."
After we joked a little, she read me the entertainment section, then the comic strips. "The Family Circus" always cracked me up. But it made me sad, too, because it makes me wish I had a family. People who cared. I bet the people in the cartoon strip had relatives to turn to when they got to the end of the road.
"How's your sister?"
"Fine," Daphane said. "I showed her the picture you gave me. She wanted to know what a fine-ass brother like you was doing locked down in a shit hole like this."
I laughed. "Couldn't afford Club Med."
"Who are you?" Daphane asked sincerely.
I smiled. "Harlem."
Excerpted from VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE Copyright © 2006 by Brandon Massey. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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