Below is a carry over of the characters I created in Rebbie, a 30 Days /30 Stories post from a few days ago. Please read the first entry to further get into the character here.
I was about 11 when my whole life got turned upside down.
One Friday night we girls was staying over with Olivia and Alethia at Miss Jackie’s house. It was late and I woke up having to go to the bathroom. As I passed by Miss Jackie and Mr. Hal’s bedroom, I heard the bed squeaking and their voices through the half-opened door. I didn’t know grown folks made so much noise when getting Special Hugs as Papa called it. I tried not to laugh as I closed the door gentle like and went on about my business.
Saturday morning, Miss Jackie was just a smiling and humming all over herself as she made us breakfast. It weren’t that unusual, she gots like that every now and again. This day, she just seemed happier than usual. I was asking Olivia why her mama gets so happy like that every so often. I thought I was talking low, but apparently Miss Jackie heard me and laughed saying it was because Mr. Hal gave her such a special hug she still felt good. My mouth must have fell open something fierce ‘cause I ain’t even realize it was open ‘til Miss Jackie told me to close it before a fly went in it and why I was looking at her like that. I told her how Papa told us we ain’t to never ever ever talk about special hugs in front of no one and that I was surprised she was talking about it all easy like that.
I tells you, there must have been something in them damn pancakes ‘cause my mouth was just a going that morning! Next thing I know I’m telling her about the time Papa slapped May-May something fierce ’cause she mentioned it in the kitchen once and only us girls was there. He immediately apologized for hitting her, but we were to NEVER talk our Special Hugs again not even with each other. Something in Miss Jackie’s face changed, I remember it did looking back on it, but I wasn’t old enough then to get it and like I said my mouth was running on it own accord that morning.
“Special Hugs?” She asked.
“Yeah” I said, stuffing my face with the pancakes she had just placed in from of Olivia and me. “Like the one you and Mr. Hal had last night when I passed your room as I was going to the bathroom. I ain’t know grown folks makes so much noise with their special hugs. I closed your door. Papa says the door should always be closed and locked and we need to be quiet when he’s giving us our Special Hugs. I guess ya’ll forgot.”
That’s when the bowl holding the next batch of pancakes Miss Jackie was mixing hit the floor. Olivia and I jumped. Twice. First from the bowl dropping then again when Alethia, May-May and Cassie came tearing into the kitchen right behind it.
Miss Jackie was staring at me kind of funny like and I think that be about when I got the first sinking feeling that maybe something wasn’t no where near right. May-May saw Miss Jackie looking at me and asked me what I done did to her. I told her I ain’t done anything but ask her about her Special Hugs from Mr. Hal. Then May-May starts in on me on how Papa says we’ ain’t suppose to talk about it at all and now Miss Jackie’s gonna tell Papa and how we three all gonna get it for sure. I was trying to tell May-May how Miss Jackie done talked about it first, but all Cassie heard was how Papa gonna whup us and she starts bawling.
Cassie’s bawling starts Olivia bawling and I declare that girl is the most sorry-fullest looking thing on this here green earth when she gots her face all twist up in tears like. Next thing I know we all up in that kitchen crying, Miss Jackie too. She apologizing to us, we apologizing to her, Olivia and Alethia were apologizing and they damn sure ain’t had nothing to sorry about! It might have gone on like that for another half-hour at least, but then Mr. Hal walked in.
“What in the blazes…?”
Miss Jackie’s head snapped up at the sound of his voice. It was years before I understood that unspoken language that grown folks who know each other well can speak, but Miss Jackie and Mr. Hal had to be speaking it that morning. Ain’t nobody said a word as Mr. Hal washed his hands and took over making the pancakes in another bowl, Miss Jackie and us girls cleaned up the mess from the dropped bowl and soon everything seemed almost right back where they were before the bowl hit the floor.
There was this hincky feeling that kinda lay over everything. Miss Jackie and Mr. Hal joked with us and just did all the things they always do with us girls when we all together. Still, every now and then I would see Mr. Hal sneak Miss Jackie a look and they would speak that quiet language of theirs and they would both look at me and my sisters for a short moment with this sad look.
They sent us girls out in the front yard to play after breakfast, which we did. Olivia and Alethia had snapped-out of their crying spell by then, but May-May and Cassie kept giving me dirty looks. It felt like everybody was a blaming me for something Miss Jackie done started! I couldn’t see where, but I knew I had somehow messed up Miss Jackie’s good mood and I felt bad for that. I told May-May I was going round back to the kitchen to get some water. I actually was fixing to tell Miss Jackie and Mr. Hal to go on back in their room and have another special hug if it would make Miss Jackie happy again.
Heavens, I was young!
I was actually going to say that! I just felt so bad for messing up her good mood and if that was the thing that made her so happy in the first place I figured it would work again.
“Hal you can’t over there! My God, Hendricks will kill you over them there girls!” Miss Jackie’s voice was all panicky.
“Dammit Jacqueline! What am I ‘posed to do? Wait ‘till he gits here askin’ for them and then tell ‘im he can’t have them? Woman think! All the hell he’ll cause up in here in front of all the girls.” Mr. Hal was mad about something. “I gots to take the fight to him. It’s the only way.” It was the first time I had ever seen him like that and I stopped in my tracks too scared to go in and too scared to run for fear they would hear me and think I was listening in grown folks business, which Papa always told us never to do.
“’Sides I ain’t going by myself. I’m taking Patrick and Rev Emerson with me. We jus’ gotta pray he don’t come for the girls ‘fore I gets back with them.” I could hear Mr. Hal walking, no stomping around in that kitchen. I think he was trying to keep his voice quiet down, but he was just too upset. That made me feel just that much worse somehow knowing I was the cause of this too. I had just about decided to go on back to playing when I heard the one thing I shouldn’t have.
“It’ll be all that much harder to take the girls away from him if they back in his house.”
I believe I done mentioned how my mouth was on its own accord that morning, because my head just wouldn’t kick in as I tore into the kitchen.
“Whatchu mean take us girls away from him? Why you wanna take us from our Papa?” I was loud. I know I was loud. I’m constantly being told to bring my voice down; it tends to get a little up there and I wasn’t nowhere near trying to keep it down as I ran into the kitchen and got in Mr. Hal’s face like I was grown. I started hollering for May-May, which was kind of a wasted breath since she was already on her way in from when I started yelling in the first place. Of course May-May running in brought Cassie, which brought Alethia and Olivia.
In less than a minute we had an even worse crying yelling and hollering about than before. Miss Jackie crying trying to calm all five of us girls down. May-May at me and me screaming at the top at top of our lungs about how ain’t nobody going to take us from our Papa, Cassie bawling again just because we were and Olivia and Alethia were just standing there tears running down their face.
Men are rarely any good when women starts to crying their heart out. The poor man had Miss Jackie and the five of us little ones all at the same time. He just looked from one crying female to another and shook his head.
Somewhere in there I got the notion to just go tell Papa what they was trying to do and took-off. At least I tried to. May-May was on the other side of the room from me, but I was back in kitchen so fast standing in exactly the same spot I was in before, if I hadn’t heard the slamming of the screen door I wouldn’t have known I moved at all. I realized it was May-May who held me back as she stood holding my arms now.
May-May had turned thirteen a few of months before and had her monthly for a while now. The women folks were all “…youse a young womans now” when they be seeing her and she done gone and let it get to her head . She started to boss me and Cassie around like she as grown as Miss Jackie. Calling us “dumb little girls who ain’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’!”, especially when Papa wasn’t around to hear her. I was so sick of her trying to be all big on me, like she grown too I turned on her. I was yelling at her for being all mad because Papa just told her a couple of months ago that she be too old for special hugs from him now and she can’t get none no more and how she ain’t wanting me and Cassie to get none either. Miss Jackie groaned and suddenly sat down like somebody done dropped the heaviest of loads on her shoulders -which looking back on it now is kind of exactly what happened- and started whispering the Lord’s Prayer. May-May turned on me then and screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Rebecca in Jesus’ name will you just Shut. The. Fuck. Up!”
And for the first time in my life I understood what folks meant when they said the words, the earth stood still.
Nobody, but nobody called on the name of the Lord like that! Mr. Hall and Miss Jackie looked at me and May-May with this – this look. I was some years older before I could fully understand the level of shock they must have been going through at that table to look like that and it had nothing to do with May-May cursing, but at that moment all I could think was: Now what I done did?
“You know don’t you, Myrna-May? That it’s not right?” Mr. Hal’s voice was so soft, barely above a whisper, but we all heard him right clear. I ain’t realize how quiet it was in the kitchen again until I saw Livvie asleep in his arms at the table. I don’t even know when all of us sat down, but we all were. May-May just hung her head down with these tears coming down her face. It was a real quiet kind of cry. I ain’t never known Myrna-May to cry like that. She always made noise. She was either really happy, really sad or really mad. Even when she herself didn’t say anything, her face said everything. These quiet tears was something new to me and it scared me to the core. It scared me to the point that I was finally, finally did something I ain’t been able to do up to that point.
“I hear some of the older girls talking about it. It took me a while to figure out it was the same thing. It took me even longer to figure out what was supposed to be right and wrong.” Myrna-May’s voice was low. It sounded like she was talking from way cross the room through some kind of fog, but I was sitting right next to her. She was speaking loud enough though because neither Mr. Hall nor Miss Jackie asked her to speak up.
“They make jokes about doing – it – with someone’s papa, but I could kinda tell by the way they talked that it really wasn’t right somehow. They made it sound all nasty and everything but…” Myrna-May stopped and looked from Mr. Hal to Miss Jackie who nodded at her for her to keep talking.
”But if it’s supposed to be all bad and nasty, w-why does it feel so-so…good?”
Mr. Hal’s neck actually made a snap like sound when it popped-up. We all heard it and turned toward the sound. I truly believe the ONLY reason Mr. Hal didn’t completely explode at the moment was his girl asleep in his arms. Miss Jackie had jumped-up quick like, ready to catch Olivia if he had, but he stayed in his chair. Even so, the look on his face just before he looked down at the floor again scared Myrna-May and me so bad we grabbed each other’s hands. Miss Jackie came and put her arms around me and Myrna-May. Alethia came and rubbed May-May’s arm. I ain’t quite sure how, but everything clicked at that moment for me. It all just sort of came together. I looked up at everything and everyone around me and as usual I said the first things that came out of my heart.
“Our Papa’s not suppose to give us special hugs is he, May-May?” I asked Myrna-May.
“No, Rebbie honey, not like that.” She squeezed my hand. She had stopped crying, but she was still speaking in that far away voice.
“It’s something grown men folk only supposed to do with grown womenfolk only. Never, ever with children.” Miss Jackie added and there was something – final – in her voice.
“We ain’t ever going back to our Papa is we?” I guess there was something final in my voice too because they both looked at me kind of hard, but soft and Mr. Hal sighed real hurt like.
“No, Rebecca honey, you can’t.” Miss Jackie stroked my face speaking in that that same low across the room sound that Myrna-May had. Miss Jackie ain’t never used my whole name unless it was something really good or really bad.
I ain’t have to ask which one was what .
To this day, I have yet to decide if it was for better or for worse. Way, way, way down deep, where I don’t want to really even admit it to myself, if I had to do it over again, even knowing all that I know now all these years later, I think I would have made more of an effort to keep my mouth shut.