What happens to a child when her own parents reject her and sit idly by as others abuse her? In this poignant, heart wrenching debut work, Regina Louise recounts her childhood search for someone to feel connected to. A mother she has never known--but long fantasized about-- deposited her and her half sister at the same group home that she herself fled years before. When another resident beats Regina so badly that she can barely move, she knows that she must leave this terrible place-the only home she knows.
Thus begins Regina's fight to survive, utterly alone at the age of 10. A stint living with her mother and her abusive boyfriend is followed by a stay with her father's lily white wife and daughters, who ignore her before turning to abuse and ultimately kicking her out of the house. Regina then tries everything in her search for someone to care for her and to care about, from taking herself to jail to escaping countless foster homes to be near her beloved counselor. Written in her distinctive and unique voice, Regina's story offers an in-depth look at the life of a child who no one wanted. From her initial flight to her eventual discovery of love, your heart will go out to Regina's younger self, and you'll cheer her on as she struggles to be Somebody's Someone.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||2 MB|
Read an Excerpt
By Regina Louise
WarnerCopyright © 2003 Regina Ollison
All right reserved.
If somebody was to ask me how I came to be here, I swear b'fore God that I wouldn't know what to say to 'em. My whole life, I always wanted to be able to hear stories 'bout how I came into the world a wanted and special child. But the folks I lived with told stories 'bout my mama that wasn't meant for children's ears. Truth be told, seemed like nobody could even dig up a idea of how I got inside my mama, let alone what happened afterwards. Since no one was gonna tell me what I wanted to hear, I let myself believe that God had gave me a mouth and mind of my own to do what I seen fit, and I set about imaginin' what my beginnings would've been like. That way, if folks was to ask me 'bout myself, I'd have an answer ready for 'em.
There she'd be, my mama, sittin' in her hospital room in a rocking chair, arms wide open to collect me-her head leaning to the side as she smiled and reached out. I'd be folded up in a soft pink blanket that smelled like flowers from God's backyard. After the nurse laid me in my mama's arms, she'd drag her breath in and know that everything was the way it was s'posed to be. Then for the fun of it, my mama would pull my li'l arm out to see whose hands I'd got. Maybe they'd be stubby and fat like Uncle So-and-so's? Or even lean and long like Great-gran'mama Whatchamacallit. And somehow, knowing that she was thinking 'bout me, I'd reach out and bind my little fingers round her one and know we belonged to each another. We'd feel just like the white families do on them TV shows I watched. 'Cause finally, there I'd be, the one my mama'd been waiting her whole life for-a li'l girl to call her own.
In no time a'tall, she'd name me. Not just any ole ugly name, like Lula Mae or Donna Janine. No, it'd be one that had been hanging round her mind, waiting for me to come so she could finally give it a rightful resting place. After that, she'd unwrap me like a present and count all my fingers and toes to make certain they was all there. Then the nurse would call my daddy and he'd come, and drive us all home. We'd live happily ever after. And that would be the end.
If anybody was to ask me, that's what I'd tell 'em.
Truth was, from as far back as folks could recollect, me and my sister Doretha lived off and on in a foster home with a woman named Johnnie Jean Thornhill. We called her Big Mama since using her first name was out the question if you was under a hundred. And the times when we wasn't with Johnnie Jean, we'd be trying to get back together with our mama, Ruby, whose only talent-accordin' to the grown folks-was running round town drunk and cussing up a storm while trying to take up with other women's husbands. This meant that those few visits we did have always got cut short and Big Mama'd have to come and pick me and Sister up from wherever my mama would've left us. Nobody would tell me this stuff to my face-I had to play like I was 'sleep most of the times to hear the whispers of the grown folks.
When I did ask somebody 'bout the exact reason my mama left, and how it came down, everybody got deaf and dumb all a sudden like that girl Helen Keller that I read 'bout so I had to play possum real good and just sit and listen. I finally got the answer and then some. I learned that Doretha had come some five years b'fore I was even thought of. They say that Ruby's not wantin' Sister started way b'fore Doretha was even born. It was all on account of Ruby being thirteen with nobody to claim what was laying in her belly, and since Big Mama could get extra money for taking in a pregnant girl, she convinced Ruby to stay on. And once Sister was born, Big Mama took to her like she was her very own. Apparently, five years later, nobody was stepping up to claim her second child either-that would've been me, Regina Louise-but I never got that far to hear how I came.
If you let Doretha tell it, she didn't even know I was her sister till she was almost nine and me four. But that was almost seven years ago, and I couldn't recall knowing her any different. And the part 'bout Ruby being her mama was something she never talked on. And if you did, it was sho' to put her in a bad way. I learned quick how to stay on Sister's good side. If the truth was to really be told, I never even knowed Ruby was gone till she called one day and said she was on her way to get me and my sister. But she never showed up.
The first time Ruby didn't come wasn't so bad. I just told myself that she hadn't been to the house in such a long time that she prob'ly forgot the address and was still driving round looking for it. But the many times after that, when she'd promise and still didn't come, there'd be a achin' in the middle of my bosom anytime I'd hear her name talked 'bout.
If anybody bothered to ask me, I'd tell 'em that the worst thing 'bout a mama leaving her children was that there ain't nobody to take up for 'em if trouble seemed to find 'em. And at Big Mama's, folks sho' needed taking up for.
* * *
Careful not to disturb the raggedy screen door that barely kept the man-eatin' mosquitas from tearin' our asses up, I leant my body into the frame and stared up at the sky. I could tell by the way the clouds moved that God was gonna start cryin' soon. I wondered who had pissed the angels off this time. The white lady from the Church of the Nazarene told me that whenever somebody committed a cruel act against one of God's children, their guardian angel would run and tell him, and he would cry for their pain-that's where raindrops come from. The white lady said that when the clouds changed quickly from fluffy white to smoky gray, well that's when the angelic messengers was runnin' 'cross the heavens. And when every breath you take holds the promise of his tears mixin' with the dirt, it was guaranteed to be a grand event. Thunder! Lightnin'! And sometimes if the crime was unforgivable, he might just throw golf balls made of ice at 'em. I know one thing: I felt sorry for whoever it was this time, but I sho' was glad it wasn't me.
That screen door was what sep'rated where we lived from the other folks who also lived on our land. See, there was two houses plus a silver Airstream trailer on our one property. Me and Sister lived with Big Mama and her husband Daddy Lent in one house. Since our house was so small, Sister and I shared a room. That made two rooms left: one for Big Mama and Daddy Lent, and the last one for none other than Lula Mae Bledsoe-the dangerous one.
The other house was for Big Mama's real daughter Aint Bobbie and her four children plus one. The plus one was a nobodies' child named Donna Janine-who Aint Bobbie took care of even though she wasn't hers. As for the trailer-it was used for the overflow of visitors that we would sometimes have.
I 'magined that living with Big Mama wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for ole Lula Mae-she was Big Mama's oldest ex?foster child, who'd moved out and back in. And on account of her Christian ways, Johnnie Jean couldn't turn nobody away who was in need. That means Lula Mae was part of the family again-right along with her two kids, Ella and Sherry, who didn't have no daddy to speak of. You should've seen how spiteful that ole Lula was to folks. Talking 'bout people behind they backs and in front of they faces for that matter. She acted like everybody in the whole world had jumped her from behind and left her for dead, and she'd be damned if they was gonna get away with it. Many times the things I overheard her saying 'bout me, my mama, and a lot of other folks wasn't fit for the ears of a junkyard dog on its last leg. I even heard the grown folks say Lula was more ornery than a tick full of turpentine. Big Mama said that Lula Mae was meaner than she could ever be, and that was a good thing. That way Lula could do all of Big Mama's dirty work and not get in the way with Big Mama making it into heaven.
If you didn't do what Lula Mae asked faster than she could get the words out her mouth, she'd be on you like flies to a pile of shit. All I could say was that, even though her kids might've had they mama living right with 'em, she was no real mama to them-that's why right now, I had her baby strewn 'cross my side. She'd been with me since I finished up my chores this morning. If anybody'd bothered to ask, I would've much rather been rolling down the river with Huckleberry Finn and Jim the slave. But instead I had to be the child's keeper. Secretly I didn't mind being with the baby that much-I just sometimes rather be round Huckleberry.
Ever since my teacher Miss Schenkel loaned me The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I would 'scape to his world every chance I got. I read that book so many times I lost count somewhere round ten. Over and over Miss Schenkel would ask me to return the book back to her, and each time I'd tell her I'd misplaced it. I got to telling her that so much, she just told me to keep it. And I did. The truth was I always kept the book hiding in the underside of my pillowcase. I put it there every night after reading it, just in case Huckleberry and Jim would think to come and get me so we could ride down the Mississippi on they raft.
My mind returned to me as I pushed Huckleberry to the side. The sweat had slid down the back of my legs and pooled its way to the bottom of my feet. We needed some shade. Holdin' baby Ella on my hipbone, I decided that we should go outside to the front yard and wait for the rain to break through. There was so much heat hanging in the air I thought I'd lose my mind. As I stepped outside onto the dirt in my flip-flops and tried to breathe in the muggy air, I felt like I was being smothered with a wet blanket. But I didn't let the stickiness bother me too much, on account that Big Mama'd said it's what makes the women of the South stay younger-lookin' longer.
Outside we sat down under a big oak tree, on a pallet somebody'd left out, so its branches could shade our skin from the heat of the too-hot sun. I placed the baby b'tween my legs and licked the dust from the pacifier that was pinned to her bib-then I put it in her mouth. Within no time Ella's dark Karo syrup?colored eyes was rollin' into the back of her head-till she fell off to sleep.
Since right after she was born, Ella was like my own child. She was with me almost all the time. Ofttimes, seemed like I was the only one who wanted to get next to the baby other than her mama. You see, Ella was born clubfooted, which mean that her feet was turned backwards from the ankle. She had to wear special shoes that was screwed on to a curved metal bar-they was meant to force her feet forward. As long as the brace was on, her little ankles looked fine, but when them shoes was off, you didn't know which direction her toes was heading. Since the braces made her twice as heavy, nobody wanted to tote her round when she wore 'em. Everybody else complained 'bout how they back hurt and how uncomfortable holding Ella was. Not me-no siree. I never whined. I'd pick that child up and sling her 'bout my side, and we'd be on our way.
Instead of being with her child, most of the time, Lula Mae could be found watching her soaps and yelling at me to take her baby and git.
I tried not to argue with Lula. Instead, every chance I got I aimed to get her to like me, but the harder I worked, it just seemed to make her more and more ill-tempered, which meant that she was either apt to cuss me out or find a reason to go upside my head with whatever she could get her hands on. Sometimes it was a rosebush switch with the stickers left on it, and other times it might be an extension cord pulled from a old iron or maybe even one of those orange Hot Wheel track pieces. But the worst of all of 'em was the Green Monster: the cut-off green water hose. And when the beatin's wasn't 'nough, she'd haul off and start cussing-saying things like, "Yo' mama ain't shit, and if you don't watch out you gonna be just like her. And all I know is I betta' not ketch you even looking at a boy with yo' fast-ass self."
I hated how Lula always had something to say 'bout me being "hot" or "fast." I never understood why I always had to hear that kind of mess, when I hardly had nothin' to do with boys, except for maybe Huck-and since he lived somewhere in Mississippi he didn't count. So other than him, I wasn't studying boys in no kinda way. Deep inside, I kinda figured out the reason I was called those names was 'cause of my mama and the reputation she'd made for herself by chasing after married men and leaving us for other folks to look after. I finally came to figure that where I come from, it wasn't a matter of whether or not you yourself was guilty of what you was being accused of, but that what your mama did could hang over your head like heavy, dark clouds on a sunshiny day. I guessed when she left us my mama didn't figure that Lula Mae was gonna be the one to look out for me and Sister, on account that Big Mama was getting old and was more concerned with having a spot in heaven than takin' care of young girls.
Seeing how low-down my mama maybe was, I tried real hard to make it easier for Lula by helping her with Ella. Most times, unless I was doing my schoolwork, or reading, Lula didn't even have to ask me, 'cause I kinda figured that the less Lula had to take care of kids, the less right she'd have to be hateful. I started out by going to the baby if she cried out at night. The walls of the house were so thin you could almost hear everything throughout the entire property. I'd even change her diaper and warm a bottle for her if she was hungry. Since combing hair was one of my favorite things to do, I had no qualms 'bout caring for Ella's. It was easy to comb her hair 'cause Ella and her sister Sherry had what black folks called "real good" hair, not like mine. Theirs was soft to the touch, and each curl would wrap itself round your finger like a Slinky round your wrist. I would just section her jet-black tiny curls into plaits rubbed with Alberto VO5, so she wouldn't get tangles. I wanted baby Ella to be hardly any trouble a'tall to her mama. I guess I was hoping that somehow I could make what my mama did go away from Lula's mind. But it made no difference to Lula if I was good or bad. She must've just looked at me and seen Ruby, and I figured it was reason 'nough to keep her plain old ornery and plumb full of hate. There was very few things that scared me, but Lula Mae's nasty temper'mint and God was at the top of the list. The only thing that could top them was being beat with that Green Monster hose, and told not to cry when the whoopin' was done.
'Cross the yard from where me and the baby was sitting, I seen Donna Janine, the nobodies' child, standing on the curb talking to some high-yellow-skinned boy. I don't know what she thought she was doing, 'cause she knowed that talking to boys was off-limits on account we already had 'nough mouths to feed.
Excerpted from Somebody's Someone by Regina Louise Copyright © 2003 by Regina Ollison
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.