Author’s Note: The following excerpt is from the book titled, Yellow Tape [A Memoir] coming in the summer of 2021.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in synchronicity. We were meant to be – because we happened.
We took shelter in dark closets and screamed like tiny Sirens until our eyes were bloodshot and bulging, our ears ringing, our faces slick in tears and mucus, and our legs were covered in urine. Chaperones in an obliged competition for who could scream the loudest and longest interval — to stop MaMommy and MaDaddy from fighting again. We were toddlers.
When there was silence – except for the tinnitus in our ears, our eyes blinked for sound and with unclenched fists we dried our faces with the palms of our hands and the cuffs of our pajamas. Sometimes we looked to each other for muted answers – our eyes suspended like question marks.
I was two years older than my sister, and much taller. I reached for doorknobs above our heads — I slowly turned. We peeked through the crack of light in the door. If the crack was too narrow and my sister couldn’t see behind me, she would get down on her knees and look under the door for shadows. We had this routine, you see. If we heard our Mother moan, I would shut the door again — quietly. We squatted on the floor close to each other for comfort and embraced our knees like pillows against our chests and waited interminably. Twin hearts beating in sync.
I can’t remember when, or how, or who rescued us from the closets… we may have rescued ourselves, quickly scurrying on bare feet to the bedroom we shared. Success was silence, and when there was silence, we were safe. We never looked for our Mother. She didn’t want to be found.
The next morning, my cheerful Mother would fix our favorite breakfast. Pancakes and bacon and sometimes scrambled eggs. We loved sugar, so we smothered our breakfast in Aunt Jemima syrup. With care we looked for signs of injury to no avail. What were we crying about, after all? A tacit agreement that we were silly little girls worrying over nothing.
But we had so many questions. What happened? Why aren’t you sad? What can we do for you? Was it our fault? Did we do something wrong? Why was MaDaddy so mad? Did he hurt you? Do you love him? We always settled for, may we have more syrup, please?
I huddled over my breakfast once to hide the stain of a teardrop in my syrup. My Mother said, “Don’t cry.” as if crying was unnecessary, inappropriate, and a violation of her privacy. Strong girls don’t cry. So we colluded with our Mother and pretended the incidents never happened, and drowned our pancakes in syrup, swallowing quietly, staring straight ahead, wearing our happy faces, our lashes blinking in accord and swung our legs under the table. It was a quiet ritual and the feelings were always the same. My sister and I learned early to swallow our feelings like pancakes, smothered in syrup.
I know pain in a vacuum and how hollowness and emptiness can coexist, like a moon that blocks the sun. This morning was metallic like the quicksilver mercury a classmate shared on the playground in a secret show and tell. It was one uncontrollable morning that moved without impediment.
It was my sister’s 10th birthday. My mother was standing at the stove scrambling eggs in her night gown. Out all night, my Father burst into the kitchen. With five children at the breakfast table, he grabbed my Mother by the neck and at the same time pulled open the kitchen drawer grabbing the big knife without looking… as if it were placed there specifically for this one morning.
I bolted from the kitchen on the heels of my Father dragging my Mother out of the kitchen… but somehow, she broke free… running and begging, Honey please, please, I love you… she ran, but not far before he slashed her right buttock with the knife, and I saw white meat… White meat! I ran for help!
I left my Mother. I left my siblings trapped in high chairs, and screaming over bowls of Sugar Smacks… I felt my sister on my heels… we ran down the winding stairs, screaming… determined… pleading, the horror… the mortification! What is going on? What is happening? Call the police! Call the police! But my Aunt, my Father’s sister, called a sibling, a brother for guidance… Call the police! I screamed. I couldn’t stop him. What was I to do? My Mother never wanted to be found…
“Call the police!” I demanded over and over again. She didn’t. Instead she locked herself and her daughters in the bathroom… and my sister followed her there. They barricaded themselves… and I faced him squarely… Pugilists without gloves, without tape, without corners… “I hate you! I hate you! You killed my Mother! You killed my Mother! I hate you.” I screamed repeatedly.
He hit me. A Pugilist hit me in the head. My knees buckled. I didn’t fall. He hit me again. My knees buckled, but I didn’t fall. I would not fall. He reared back and hit me with a roundhouse punch a third time. Boom like Forman punched Frazier. My feet left the floor. I sailed across the room and landed behind a Settee… the back of the chair toppled over with me — and behind the chair I peed on the floor and it ran like mercury. I sat in it and looked up at my Father doe-eyed and mortified. With the back of the chair in my lap I thrashed like a deer hit by a car on the side of a road looking for grace. I don’t know why he came downstairs or who he was looking for. He found me. At 6’ 3’’ he loomed in the doorway like a dark ghost fading up the stairs with the footfalls of an athlete and the precision of his occupation: meat cutter.
I mustered the courage to follow him… Determined I climbed gingerly up the stairs that reminded me of every corner and crack in the doors of those closets my sister and I hid in when we were toddlers, but this time I was alone.
At the top of the stairs, I turned the corner, and my Father was in the mirror in the bathroom cocking a brown suede fedora on his head. He was wearing a brown silk walking suit and brown suede shoes. I didn’t know where my Mother was. I was awestruck. He was beautiful. Fate would have my Mother behind me watching me watching him. I wondered how he could be so cruel, so vain, so cold, so calm, so cool. He didn’t see me, or perhaps he did. I didn’t look for my Mother. She didn’t want to be found.
Quietly, I retreated back downstairs and waited for the Police. I left my Mother. I left my siblings. My sister and my Aunt were still locked in the bathroom, and my uncle had not arrived even though my Aunt called him for advice. Instead, he called the Police. The Police finally arrived, a paddy wagon behind them. A paddy wagon for my Mother! Not an ambulance.
At 12 years old I was indignant. I knew my Mother was not to be treated like a criminal and a paddy wagon was not appropriate for her! My Father should be in the paddy wagon! She was the victim, she needs a Doctor, she needs help, sympathy and proper care. How would they even secure the stretcher in the paddy wagon? They were in the house and up the stairs before I could finish my thoughts. My Mother was carried back down the stairs, and because she always wanted to protect her children, she asked the Police to cover her bloody head so her children could not see what would taint her maternal code of propriety, only her children understood.
My Father was escorted down the stairs like a hero… a god. He was a star. No handcuffs… It was as if the Boston Police knew and respected him, and were impressed with his walking suit, his fedora, and those brown suede shoes. The crowd cheered him! By this time, my Aunt and sister stood behind me. We peered through the curtains at the crowd that gathered to witness the death of my Mother and someone, a young woman pointed at me in the window and shouted, “Look! She looks like a monster!’ Quickly, we closed the curtains and retreated to our separate corners. My aunt gathered the bearing she hid in the bathroom, now on full display and my sister and I shared a gaze and we knew we would never share a closet again.
I had a concussion. No Doctor examined me. It wasn’t confirmed by the authorities. I bargained with God between crying jags until I fell asleep over and over again. My face, my eyes, and lips were swollen and lacerated. My family walked around me as if they would not see me — except to offer soup, and then I would remember why I grieved, why I lay in the same spot on the same couch and again I would cry myself to sleep. They left me there until my eyes were no longer swollen, no longer bloodshot, and my lips were no longer bruised. Traumatized. My eyes didn’t blink, and they left me on my own. That was perhaps the most generous thing they could do, sans calling the authorities to rescue the catatonic child, and putting the son and brother at risk. He was jailed without bond. I saw a snippet on page 10, or perhaps it was page 2, in a little box at the bottom of the page hidden in plain sight, “Colored Man Attacks Wife with Meat Cleaver.”
We gathered ourselves by degrees. I heard snippets of conversation. My Mother was alive… She lost so much blood she needed transfusions and they reached out to other jurisdictions as far as Florida. We had to go to the welfare office for assistance and were instructed by my Grandmother and Aunt to dress down to look poor and pathetic… We dressed in a manner that my Mother would never abide for her children. I overheard a constant refrain. My Mother “… must have done or said something.”
They said a man called my Mother on the only phone in our Victorian house – my Grandmother’s phone on the first floor. Another of my Father’s brothers, told my Father a man called my Mother and chided him to do something!
I was alone in an abyss of violence justified by hostility, doubt, and betrayal. I was convinced they didn’t like my Mother, or me for that matter. My breath was alien, angry, staccato. My Father slashed my Mother’s right buttock and left random slashes on her back. He broke her arm, he cut her skull… and finally, and this was a first — he scarred her face. A crescent moon on her cheek – the symbol for a new beginning.
Because of the institutionalization and practice of The Rule of Thumb, women in Massachusetts endured domestic violence. It was incumbent on women to press charges. The D.A. begged my Mother to file criminal charges against my Father. My Grandmother begged her not to file charges against her son. My Father begged her not to file and guaranteed he would never harm her again. My Mother did not file charges.
The yellow tape was removed from the door. We cleaned the blood and flesh off the floor and the walls, and discarded bowls of cereal abandoned and calcified in sour milk like the bark of a tree my Father fashioned into a lamp, and filled the space with children tethered and tripping over yellow tape that tangles as they grow taller.
My Mother came home wearing a shield of armor – a cast. White, clean, no graffiti. She was proud of that cast – a symbol of survival – of an accident. We were so happy! Our Mother was alive, and even more beautiful than before! I remember my Mother lying in the center of her bed surrounded by her children. One of my siblings ran his hands through her hair, and she scolded him, “Don’t do that.” The polar opposite of “Girls don’t cry.” Don’t make a girl cry. Don’t avail yourself to her body. Don’t break her skin.
My Father stopped by. They had an announcement. He was coming home. My sister and I were bewildered, and disappointed but always respectful; however, upon that announcement, I slowly rose from the floor and walked away without explanation or hesitation.
This time my sister followed me up the stairs to our bedroom in the attic. Not long after walking away from them my Mother did something she rarely did – she came upstairs to our bedroom. She sat on the edge of my bed and gingerly told me my Father said, he hit me because I was hysterical.
I am not a monster! I am not a monster… It’s more complicated than that.
No nursing homes
No toilet paper
*I’ve toyed with a conundrum, for too long. [Reserved][Reserved] functions like a digital art installation in Woodstock! (WIP (x Bars)). I could render [Reserved][Reserved] a mechanism – to catch That Yoni’s beat in perpetuity. I could close the brackets with bars that fills your loins with blood. I could leave redundant emptiness here — like tautology or romanticized art, or structural language — in this bifurcated space, like stars.
Parallel Discussions (In Medias Res) Overtaken by Events
Behind Pushkin’s Coffeehouse, Aristotle Michelangelo and Louis Picasso sat on the remnants of a barge, trading barbs in Ibiza… swinging high top leather sock hip hop sneakers, and creeper boots in blue green virtual water, with Rick Owens’ reflection in the pool, burning fat ones – away from the beautiful ones — in a Period Piece. The Darlings of today’s literati — visionaries during the Harlem Renaissance, play themselves in a satirical throwback in VR.
Louis Picasso: “In RL, it’s 6 P.M. You just got home from work or you work from home in your virtual office. You decide to spend the evening in space! You scan Balmain for your Avatar – dope fashion — with as much audacity as Hype Williams’ black lacquered Keisha in Belly — wearing Versace!
You decide to download your brand new Porsche designed by Porsche and Atari for Microsoft, on the Pacific Coast Highway — Malibu on the left, Pepperdine University on the right, you’re on your way to virtual LA in the fast lane — your thighs are burning. Other avatars and their cars share the PCH too — driving Vipers, Corvettes, the white BMW X6 and you are speeding at 100 MIPS, streaming Coltrane.
Aristotle Michelangelo interjects: “Then you decide to go to BET’s virtual Nuyorican Café in Gotham City for the Open Mike – Saul Williams and Jessica Care Moore are featured (as themselves) tonight. You hand the keys to the valet — pay at the door with your password, sit front row center no matter what time you arrive, sign up to read your poem — because you can start over from the beginning or resume. Gender! Lame. Race is unimaginative in Space. Ethnicity is a brand — at best. The Open Mike is over at 10 P.M. but there is still time to go to Bar Pitti. You walk in and Claude McKay is at the bar in a heated debate with Ralph Ellison about literary ownership — by Netflix.
McKay shouts and then nearly whispers to Ellison, ‘It takes more than creative androgyny to “embody” the opposite sex. The storytelling responsibility of all writers, whether female or male is to fill the void. When a woman creates a man, she must imagine the sensation of “owning” a penis. When a man creates a woman, he must imagine the sensation of “owning” a vagina. It is a void, not a vacuum. A vacuum would imply the all-consuming black hole — the feminization of sex. It is not trained comprehension or chromosomes — it takes pure imagination to get the story straight…’
Louis Picasso: “Then, at Midnight, you blow kisses and wuggles to your friends, and log off. You stand and stretch your back, and your bladder is bursting because you forgot about your biological realities. The television is off; it has been off for weeks. Why watch television when you can be your own audience? Randall Walser said it best, “The filmmaker says, ‘Look, I’ll show you.’ The space maker says, ‘Here, I’ll help you discover.’ We will be our own creators functioning like actors in high culture — tools of the taste public! We will create our own universes — our own planets. We can superimpose our images circa 6 BC – AD 30, and follow Jesus to the Promised Land, witness the crucifixion – and how we feel and what we think is utterly private and without commercials! Because, global messages with common appeal will forever change with today’s technology, the challenge is to make communication visual, images symbolic, and still sell product… I want to propose arcane ideas…”
Aristotle Michelangelo interjects: “I want to develop, manage, and direct vision. My goal is to be where imagination and business are indistinguishable, because imagination without business, and business without imagination is as incongruous as capitalism without consumers… I found a dope quote dog!”
“When, she was still in her teens, well before she met Caesar, Cleopatra already had slept with Antony… though Caesar was fifty-three and she but twenty-three or so she proved ready enough to bed her third Roman. It is said that Cleopatra was a woman of lively turn and enticing talents. She also had a keen sense of the political. That this Roman [Caesar] conqueror had the power to secure the Egyptian throne for her must have added to the attraction she felt for him…Caesar established her in a sumptuous villa across the Tiber, from which she held court, while political leaders, financiers, and men of letters, including the renowned Cicero, danced in attendance.” Michael Parenti
Louis Picasso: I’m reading the same book, and I have a better one!
“In a prologue to Caesar and Cleopatra [George Bernard Shaw] that is almost never performed, the god Ra tells the audience how Rome discovered that ‘the road to riches and greatness is through robbery of the poor and slaughter of the weak.’ In conformity with that dictum, the Romans ‘robbed their own poor until they became great masters of that art, and knew by what laws it could be made to appear seemly and honest.’ And after squeezing their own people dry, they stripped the poor throughout the many other lands they conquered.” Michael Parenti
Aristotle Michelangelo: Shrugged his shoulders unconsciously, “Chez Bricktop in Paris?”
Louis Picasso: Not now. I am having a violent reaction to prescription drugs! My body is like, ‘Don’t put that shit down here again!’ They gave me all this medication for Acute Caesarion whatever — and I took it! Of course, you don’t exhaust the shit. You’re not an idiot. But, what the fuck? Where the weed at?”
Aristotle Michelangelo: I think it would be dope to channel Kerouac’s apology for automatic writing.
“He likened writing to dreaming and fantasizing, as a substitute for life. So, he wrote The Subterraneans, in three days and nights of speed typing energized by Benzedrine — to imitate the rhythm of Bebop like free energy flow, and unrestrained association, to reveal the unconscious… because he wanted to flow from inside out in spontaneous prose!” Dystopia, Explode 2015 2.0
So, here goes… They called her Marnie — behind her back. I was torn. I played with variations of Marnie. Black Marnie. Brown Marnie, Tortilla Marnie. It’s the language of found art. Bansky, Kehinde, Jazz, Hip Hop… They teased each other. Hitchcock’s Margaret, Mary, Marnie, teases Mark, so she could get the combination, to his company safe, and steal the money. She was a Kleptomaniac, a compulsive thief. A killer. She disappears. On the run! He tracks her like an animal, and finds her at a Lodge, riding her horse to the stables. He orders her off the horse, tells her she’ll walk — he’ll ride. He interrogates her. She tells him a bullshit story she can’t keep straight. He calls it, manure! Tells her to start over from the beginning, and this time — tell the truth. Back at the Lodge – he tells her to freshen up, change her clothes so he might take her to the police – she thinks. She does not know… It’s Tippi Hedren in RL! The white woman of a black man’s dreams – when he dreams about white women. Blonde, pearly white teeth and skin — Barbie! Beckie! He tells her, they will return to ‘the house’ and announce they are engaged, would to be married within the week and then cruise around the world. Of course, she thinks he’s “Out of his mind!” He told her, it was either marriage or the police, old girl. Black Marnie. Who would play her?
They get married. Eventually he takes her virginity. She tries to commit suicide. I don’t think I want to go there… Suicide. Who should play Mark? [#nomoreslavestories.] Does he catch her?
Aristotle Michelangelo: Pussy Riot danced in the cathedral — goes to jail, and the artist nailed his scrotum to the Red Square. She’s a prisoner of love. That kind of love makes me uncomfortable, racked, and anguished like a pet must be around possessive people. The energy is ignitable like the choice between blowing up and letting go. I don’t want to belong to anyone. But, what do I know about love?
Louis Picasso: Black people don’t like black people. That’s why we’re in this — hole… barrel, bucket, duck it, fuck it… We know it’s true. Listen to the tonal center of this beat!
Aristotle Michelangelo: In sixty revolutions a minute, if it’s not organic, I can’t get with it. Hate is not organic. Hate is a social construct. I want to live the life I swam to the egg for… A social construct is like zoon pushed to the egg, by stronger swimmers behind it. It’s still goal niggaz. I want an organic experience on this gridiron. A certain freedom, mere man can’t give, conceive or contrive. I want freedom Divine. You want to be free — you have to fuggin’ work for it. Zufi?
Aristotle Michelangelo: You need money, software and rigs in the virtual world. Bombs are obsolete. Race and gender is a pastiche — game challenges for points.
Louis Picasso: Beauty and power is iconography and homely stamps are hiccups – and brick and mortar is a path to experience the destruction of daredevils and matadors — in coliseums of pestilence and poverty – empirically.
Aristotle Michelangelo: Why go there? When, life is a perfect dream in a virtual world.
Louis Picasso: IJS. Get on board with — evolution. Evolution is not physical space. It’s the diamond life in our heads on a loop. Its VR not the moon…
Aristotle Michelangelo: I love wearing the mask! You can’t see my countenance — in La La Land, my eyes may smile. My lip may curl up or down… I’m an introvert; an INTJ — is that Caprino?
Louis Picasso: Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, it will be impossible to ignore slavery in America… Why are some Black Americans worrying about slavery in America being taught in schools? The horse is out of the barn! Instead of embracing Juneteenth and all that it implies… Black Americans are WHINING and using the language of slaves, “they won’t, let us, allow us, give us and get…” Instead black Americans are still looking the other way when a black man drags a black woman by her hair [DC], and black people are murdered by black people in Chicago – for giggles. June 19, 2021 marks the day, that Black America must acknowledge that ‘we’ are no longer slaves and assume responsibility — that’s what freedom is.
Copyright 2016, 2018, 2020 E Maria Shelton Speller. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast rewritten or redistributed without permission.