The Healing Continues
The story continues or, more accurately, it unfolds. Today I share with you being naked – the second part in a series of unknown length, as we continue our conversation about the seven deadly sins and virtues. This part that I chose to call “Naked Before God” is a story I began writing years ago. In fact, it is a story that was so hard for me to think about back then in 2000, that I stopped writing it.
I share this part of a half-written story with you not to elicit sympathy, to be scandalous or to create drama. Neither is it my intention to dwell in the past, constantly reliving and/or rehashing my once haunted memories. It is a piece that is intended to serve as a touchstone for healing for you and a continuing journey for me. While your journey might be very different from mine, I am confident that we share some of the same emotions, feelings and attitudes, albeit to varying degrees.
What I also do know is that we all yearn for wholeness, for peace and more significant, for love and acceptance. Therefore, I share this part of my life to show how far I (and indeed you) have come. I share in the hope of creating deeper understanding of the process of healing and transformation – that it can take a minute to hurt someone or be hurt but years or a lifetime to heal.
As I did last week, I do again now in asking that you read this post with compassion, not sympathy, with love, not judgement and with a sense of the hope and strength that it was written with.
Further, after reading this and any other article here and you find it helpful and/or insightful, you are invited to return regularly for more of the same. Be counted as one of the community members by simply subscribing. The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically. As the leader blogger and coach of this community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, when and however needed. You may contact me here.
Naked We Came
My intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.
“I said to myself, “The only thing they can do is to kill my body. They are not going to get my mind, and my soul will live on in my children and in other people.” Shahieda Issel (b. 1957)
“So much missing, no sense of self, no core, no trust. Only a deep hollow we need to fill.” Sister Michele (Indian Nun on child prostitution)
“The miracle enables you to see your brother without his past, and so perceive him as born again. His errors are all past, and by perceiving him without them you are releasing him. And since his past is yours, you share in this release. Let no dark cloud out of your past obscure him from you, the truth lies only in the present, and you will find it if you seek it there.” A Course In Miracles, Textbook, 13: VI. 5. 1-4
Hellshire, Jamaica: February 2000: Lying stark naked on the bed, eyes fixed on the ceiling fan, spinning and quietly humming its own tune, I am crying.
Crying because I simply cannot remember. Crying because the harder I try to remember, the vision fails to appear on the blank, black screen of my eyelids.
“Why can’t you be like her?” I hear my voice asking. “Everything else fits almost perfectly, so why can’t you remember?”
The “her” my voice is referring to is Iyanla Vanzant whose books I had just poured over. I was lying on the bed for almost an hour but it felt like more. It felt like I have been exposed all my life but as the emperor with his new clothes, I was the only one who could not see that I was naked.
“Just go back,” my voice was coaxing. “Just go back.”
However, I could not and it was getting cold, a sheet of goose pimples was slowing creeping up my body. Covering myself with the warm sheet, curling on my side and pushing my old friend – my thumb – in my mouth, was all I wanted to do.
“You are thirty-five, damn you!” screamed my voice. “Thirty-five year olds don’t suck their thumbs,” it admonished me. “That’s why you can’t remember, you always suck your thumb and pretend that all is well.”
“All is well.” That did it. Those words always get me. The floodgates opened and from deep within me, instead of the warm jersey sheets we had recently bought, I felt a different kind of warmth rising. I could feel the tears bulging from tiny molecules and enlarging into juicy, hot, salty beads as they paused in my gut.
Travelling through my body with the tears was a pain so piercing yet freeing. As the companions reached their destination, my heart, I screamed “No!”
And so I remembered.
Memories Of Long Ago
My earliest memories of my childhood is not in numbers. What I freely recall is walking across the street to Miss Gardener’s grocery shop directly in front of our house.
Miss Gardner was the ‘big’ lady on my avenue, not only because she owned her house, as most people who lived in Pembroke Hall in the 1960’s did. It was the thriving business, the grocery shop, that she had at the side of her house that gave her that status – at least to my five year-old mind.
For me, this was the best shop in the neighbourhood as it had all I could wish for. Lollipops, mint and ‘plummy’ sweeties, cream soda and those absolutely wonderful cream-filled chocolate cupcakes. What more could a girl want! All I had to do to be in heaven was to look right, look left, then look right again and cross the street. I did not even need money.
Over the years, I would come to understand that my family was not as large as I had first imagined. There were many men and women who traversed through my mother’s life, people who I had to call Aunt or Uncle. It was one such Uncle, Maurice, a ‘boarder’ in my mother’s rented house, who told Miss Gardner to give me a bottle of cream soda and a pack of creamed-filled Hostess Cake every day on his tab. I just had to make it across the street into the shop, careful to avoid waking the mongrel bloodhounds she had protecting her property and business. In those days, half-starved and therefore angry, dogs were the security system an entrepreneur required. These dogs, however, were hell-bent on snapping at passers-by and good customers alike through the spaces in the wooden gate separating business from home.
In those days, it was drummed into children that “manners take you everywhere,” and my mother took this responsibility very seriously – drumming I mean. So, needing my daily supply of heavenly treasures, upon entering the shop, I opened my mouth and shouted at the top of my voice, to make sure that Miss Gardner could hear me over the counters that towered over my spindly frame, “Good evening, Miss Gardner!”
“Good evening, Cutie,” she would reply. “What for you today?”
Cutie. That was my nickname and one which I loved for many years. I am not sure who first called me Cutie but for some reason I believe it must have been my mother. Not that only a mother could have considered me cute. I was a large baby, weighing almost ten pounds at birth. My mother spared nothing by way of food and clothing and so by the time I was a year old, my cheeks were as chubby as my rump.
My mother, it seems, had this need to prove to the neighbours and all who cared to notice that she had the cutest and the best fed child. Mama, as I call her, had me ‘late’ in life, at least according to the then Jamaican standards and therefore felt she had much to prove, including that she could afford to have a child. She was a career woman, you see, and was busy honing her skills, initially as one of the first batch of female conductress on the Jamaica Omnibus Service (JOS) and later as a beautician. It was during her first career that she met my father, the dashing, debonair, JOS bus driver named Efitz or Fitzy for short.
Mama was more than a career woman. Measured by another Jamaican 1960’s standard, she was also a ‘loose’ woman. In love and lust, Mama was a fornicator and the fruit of her lust or love, whichever you prefer, was me – Cutie.
I really do not recall what Mama looked like in those early years of my life. My memory is dim possibly because I did not see her much during that time as she was so busy trying to make everything right and I, her Cutie, was left in the care of domestic helpers and neighbours. Pictures of her show an average height, slender and shapely young woman, dressed in the fashion of the day – pedal pushers. Her ‘brown’ skin was smooth, tempting anyone to touch her bare shoulders which were exposed in the puffed sleeved, off-the-shoulder blouse.
To this day, I can remember her saying to me decades later, as she wistfully looked at that picture, “That was when I was Cherry, now I am the branch.”
Miss Cherry, as most people call her, was madly in love with Fitzy and, apparently, he felt the same about her – at least for a while. He was something of a playboy, like many true-bloodied Jamaican men. Cherry hardly spoke about the details of their romance, except of course to tell what went wrong.
“He had another girlfriend, a conductress like me,” she told me once. “But him was good to me, ‘specially when I was pregnant with you.” With a sad smile, she would remember when they moved in together, into his parents’ house on West Main Drive in Maverly, the community neighbouring the one she and I would live soon after my birth. In the 60’s, Maverly was a middle class community, a place where many working families purchased land and constructed starter homes. Mama and Fitzy renovated a couple of rooms in the house and made it comfortable for themselves and the child that they were expecting.
If my mother was to be believed, and I have little reason to doubt this, the naked truth was that my father was a regular ‘cocks man’ at the bus company. “You were not your father’s first child, you know,” she told me quite matter-of-factually. “He had a son with another chick that also worked at JOS.”
Miss Cherry gave me this titbit when I was about five or six years old. “Louis’ mother went to foreign though, she went to the States,” was the next piece in the introduction to my half-brother, with whom I would later have an on/off relationship.
“Fitzy and I were really in love,” Mama would say, sounding as if she was really trying to convince herself about this than making a factual statement. “He would meet me at the bus stop on Saturday mornings, to help me carry the market bags,” she proudly recollected.
According to her, things changed six weeks after my birth when his mother, a devout Christian woman, finally got the upper hand and caused the young mother to flee the West Main Drive residence by night. Recounting the story of that fateful night in 1965, Mama, her eyes full of tears and terror as if she was right back into the drama of the event, told me, “She never liked me. I don’t know what I do ‘dis woman but she just never liked me.” With the tears streaming down her face she recalled that little things would happen, that little things would be said about her that someone would tell her but she would disregard.
My paternal grandmother, according to Miss Cherry, did everything to frustrate her. “She locked off the water on our side of the house. I came home from work and see your clothes still in ‘de soap water,” Mama remembered. “The helper tell me that she couldn’t wash because Mrs. E tun’ off the water.”
I will never forget her words about the moment of decision for her, the decision that would have profound impact on not only her life but in fact mine. With steaming tears rolling down her cheeks she said, “Cutie, it was like something buss’ in me head when the helper said ‘dat she had to go next door to beg some water to make your feed!”
That was the turning point for her.
Always into the mystical, Mama told me that she had a ‘visitor‘, her dead aunt, in her dreams that fateful night. Her visitor had a message and it was a very simple one indeed – “Flee!”
“I quietly got up out of the bed, careful not to wake Fitzy, and packed a few things in your baby bag and left.”
Mama would share this story about the dream and her flight over and over with me throughout my childhood years. It was told to me usually when some bills were to be paid and I was asking for money to go to Miss Gardner or some other shop. This story is so indelibly imprinted in my mind, whether a deliberate act on my mother’s part or not I would never know.
The effect, however, was that my relationship with my father’s mother, ‘Granma’ as I would come to call her, was strained. In fact, I would never see her again after my father’s funeral. We never shared a hug much less a kiss or words of affection. That was how my resentment of ‘old’ people started to bud and when I began to question what it meant to be a Christian.
I became a stranger to not only my paternal grandparents but also to my father. By extension, I would soon become a stranger to the Christian faith and started to live life on my own terms. In the years after the flight from Maverly, I was to see Daddy less times than the fingers on my two hands, including the day of his funeral in 1980.
Fifteen years old and with less ‘visits’ with my father than the number of years that I had been on earth, our good-byes were said with me standing to the side of a white coffin, looking down at this stranger, the naked shell of the man that I had in my heart. I silently wept and, standing emotionally naked, I continued to unknowingly grieve my loss until 2002. That was the year that, along with my daughter and now ex, I visited his grave for the first time since his burial and finally mourned him and our ‘relationship’ before leaving for Canada…
To Be Continued