TITLE: Hart & Soul, Part VII: The Overcomer-Free at Least
By RENEE GREENE
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I longed with lusty anticipation to get to just be a kid for a whole day. I would actually get to play with other kids; do something besides wash dishes, do laundry, clean the house, watch TV, pick threads out of the livingroom carpet on Mommy's command. My moments that morning flashed between sheer excitement and unspeakable dread. The bus would be there at 5 o'clock pm, Carolyn said.
I tried talking myself out of going; but I knew if I did, I was done for life. Forever a victim of someone else's selfishness. I felt in my heart that I would never get the chance to be a child again, that all opportunity would be lost forever. So much happened before and at age 12--the destruction of my beloved Mitsuki, the burnt brand new Suzy Homemaker oven I had gotten for Christmas--thanks Tangie--, the debutante ball I didn't get to go to, cracking my skull on the sidewalk when I was trying to learn to ride a bike--why the hell would someone just let me go the very first time I got on a bike, before I even had a chance to balance myself? That's why I wouldn't let anyone try to talk me into learning to swim--I knew they'd push me into the water before I learned to hold my breath and I'd have drowned instantly. That damn 'female thing' I hated so much when I didn't understand why I had to go through it. I had no intention of marrying anyone or having any kids under any circumstances. I had big plans to live alone, be alone, get a college degree, work alone ... it was the age of women's lib ... and I planned to be a part of the "No Men!" brigade that was spreading across the USA and getting bigger by the moment. The black men seemed to be having a bigger problem with women's libbers than white men, I had no idea why; but who really cared?
I stowed the bag of overnight knick-knacks behind the livingroom door near the old black piano. The piano had black lacquer paint peeling from it; it that had sat there untouched for many years, out of tune and with broken keys and dull hammers. The last time I heard Mama play it, we danced around it, glad to be in her presence again on one of her better days. Mommy came in and ruined it for all of us. She listened to that "honky tonk," told her that her piano lessons had been a waste of money, she was supposed to replace Miss Vernelle Marshall at the church one day. Mama promptly told Mommy to kiss her ass. She slammed the piano lid down-hard-and walked away. The music tapered off and disappeared as the stench of cigarettes, alcohol, and no-telling became louder, almost acrid, whenever she did decide to come home; which was less and less as the years wore on.
Five o'clock, Carolyn said. If the bus showed up on time--God I hoped it would show up on time. Its arrival would herald the beginning of several steps I knew had to happen in order for me to get away. If there was a tomorrow, or a day after, I wasn't thinking about it at the moment. For the moment, all I had to do was make it out the door and on the bus undetected. I could scooch down in a seat and hide until we pulled off.
I became obsessed with listening for that bus as minutes got consumed by what I believed were hours, days even. That darn clock couldn't have moved any slower as I listened for the sound of it, prayed it wouldn't make much noise on approach, hoped no one would awaken--particularly not Poppy--whose room was at the front of the house in what should have been called a den. He could hear everything going on at the front of the house, unless he was sleep. He could see everything out the front window of his "bedroom," which had a door leading into the front room, as well as the front porch--perfect for not having to go through the house to chase someone outside. He had a direct line to the outdoors.
I peeked, watched, listened, my heart pounded harder and harder the closer the clock ticked to five. It would be just my luck that someone in that house would wake up from their Friday evening siesta earlier than usual. Maybe, in a sense, I wanted to get caught so I could get out of what I was about to do; but the closer I came to getting away with it, the more I wanted to go. I spent the next 15 minutes 'til five convincing myself that seeing them ever again would be too soon. I knew I would miss my big sister the most if I decided not to return. I had done nothing but cry since we left Denver. I cried over my daddy, then cried when they split us up after Mama went into the hospital, then cried some more when we got to Columbus. I knew she was only taking us to that dreadful place in the south because she hated our guts and wanted us dead. She didn't care about anyone except herself, that much I was sure of.
I hadn't been alive long enough to do that much crying, but Tresa said I was just being too sensitive about stuff. She was someone who could take a butt-whipping without so much as a whimper, said if you cried it just made it that much worse and they hit you more. But she didn't get whippings as often as I did. And when I got them, they ended up being formal neighborhood affairs with me being chased down the street by every grown person on 18th Street, yelping like a hit dog; or with me bashing out windows with bricks or rocks, breaking dishes, throwing food from the refrigerator out into the back alleyway...whatever I had to do to keep from cussing or hitting back, or killing someone. If there was a row going on at 529, everyone knew it was me getting my behind tacked.
Tresa had been a staunch advocate at times, a trusted friend when Mama and Mommy and Poppy weren't being fair to me; but she also knew when to keep her mouth shut and keep out of trouble for herself. Even when our brother Kip and little sister Tangie just got into some devilment for which I wanted to rip their little freakin' heads off, she would take up for me. I would miss Tresa if I never came back, but it was a sacrifice I was going to have to make. The rest of them weren't worth me hanging around for.
The whole one-night sleepover was morphing itself into a plan for me to go find myself a real family. People who knew how to love and care for kids, acted like real parents, real grandparents. Oh, for a grandmother who would read me Bible stories and show me how to do things like the other folks' grandmas. Or a grandpa who would take me fishing or tell me stories about when he was a boy. I decided to tell the people at the Salvation Army how badly they treated me so I could be put up for adoption. I would see Tresa again after I was grown--I'd find her, and we would talk again one day; maybe laugh about my escape. She would ask me why I left, and I would tell the truth. That did it for me. The thought of truth took root in my soul and it was decided. I was not coming back. Ever.
My thoughts were busted up by the sound of a big yellow piece of rattling cheese that I could hear coming down 18th Street, toward our house, at least a block or so before it got there. I wanted to run outside to see how close it was, but I had to do a last-minute check and make sure those boring people who were my relatives were doing what they did best--laying around doing nothing while planning on another day filled with...doing nothing. At least nothing I cared to do all day.
I made an 11th-hour sweep through the house, 'shushing' the bus in my head, listening to my heart about to explode and fall right of my chest at the fear that the noise would wake them up. Poppy's room, I checked last.. I hushed my breathing to listen for the sound of him stirring, moving, grunting, making any of those old people noises he made first thing in the morning, and hearing nothing, I made four moves in one. The bag, the front door, down the steps and across the yard, and dashing like a mad dog into the open bus door. I didn't want them them to have time to park it. I wanted to get on and have them take off immediately.
No such luck. The driver lady didn't turn the motor off because I was already at the door before they had a chance to blow the horn. The lady in the dusky blue-ish uniform with the red cross-tie and black low-heeled pumps got up to come to the door to greet me. I produced the forged slip of paper as she blocked the doorway, then stepped aside long enough to let me on. I sat on the middle row and wondered how long it would take her to either figure out the signature was forged or head toward the door looking for my "parents" to tell them we were leaving. I would then be busted. Beaten half to death, but out of the mess I had just made. Please, please, please, just GO!!!, was in the frontal lobe of my brain. I knew if I yelled out, it would cast immediate suspicion on me and I was having a hard enough time controlling raspy uneven breaths, I wasn't trying to hyperventilate and pass out. Didn't they even hear my heart thumping? I sure did.
She looked at me, stopped and looked at the front door to the house, then turned to me. "Ain'tcho folks comin' to see you off?" No, I shook my head--too much of a lump in my throat to talk. What folks? When I was finally able to pry my dry lips apart and swallow, another lie fell out--the second I had told in my life.
"They said goodbye inside." She shook her head, the look on her face clearing stating the shame of my parents letting me go off without so much as coming out to check and see who I was going with. She shrugged and stepped back up inside the bus, telling the driver to pull off. I scooted my head down below the window next to me to make sure not so much as a strand of my sandalwood hair popped up; then I held my breath for only the fiftieth time that afternoon. God, if only we could get past the tree.
It was the tree out front that had its roots sunken so deep into the ground that the city would have had to tear up the entire street to move it. The tree I used to beat every boy on the street climbing until I went up it one day and discovered I was also afraid of heights. The tree that had some sickly sweet-smelling flower that we could never quite identify blooming on it during the spring. The tree that held the birds that chirped at the same time every morning during the spring, summer, and part of the fall-when it would blush like a newly-lit furnace. The birds that disappeared during the three coldest months only to return again to its thick, filling branches at the first sign of warmth. Once we were past the thick tree, I knew I was home free and on my way.
I waved goodbye to the tree, to my family, to the neighborhood that I planned never to see again; turned my head from the window to the other kids--all white, except for two boys--who were sitting on the back of the bus playing with each other. I didn't know those kids, and it didn't look like Carolyn and Denise had come aboard. I didn't see them when I got on. It looked like this was a night I would be spending alone, surrounded by a bunch of kids that I didn't know from Adam's yard cat.
But ... I was free, at least.
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