Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recycling - May 10, 2006

9 Chapters of Heartache

Chapter One

Nappy head, nappy head, comb your hair

Mama tells me to ignore those children. She says they're just jealous cause I got something they don't.

They're all plain and I'm special.

I don't understand what's so special about me. What's so special about being so different? I don't look like nobody. Not those kids at school. Not even my mama.

All those kids with their light skin and shiny eyes, with their hair that lays flat. Even my mama, she has yellow hair and eyes the color of fresh snap beans.

I never seen my daddy. He died before I was born. Mama said he drowned in the Forked Deer.
She says I look like my daddy and that's how come I'm special. Mama cries when she looks at me sometimes.

I tell her it would be a lot easier if daddy was here. It'd be nice to look like someone.

I've asked to see a picture of my daddy, but Mama says she don't have one. She says daddy didn't like having his picture made.

I've asked Granny and Paps about my daddy. Paps took me to the kitchen and traded ice cream for my thoughts. Granny looked real mad but then she cried a little.

Guess they must have really loved my daddy, too

Chapter Two

"Reenie asked about her daddy again today."


"Max, did you hear what I said?"

"I heard you."

"She getting older, Max. She gonna want to know."

"She don't need to know, Neetha. She just a girl."

"You used to say the exact same thing about Meg."

"Meg was different and you know it. Don't try to blame me for Meg."

"I'm not blaming you, Max. What happened to Meg was her own damned fault. But we can't blame her for Reenie not having a daddy. That's our fault."

"No, Neetha, its not. Meg knew better. We did what we had to do to protect her. Reenie's better off without her daddy anyway."

"How can you--"

"Look. I don't want to argue about this again. It won't change anything. If Meg wants Reenie to know, she can tell her. Let her explain to the poor child why she's a bastard and why the other kids won't play with her. It's not our place. Now go get dinner started before it gets dark."

Chapter Three

Every time I look at that child's face, I see her daddy looking back at me.

My blessing and my heartache.

He'd be twenty nine this week.

Reenie would have a daddy, someone who looks like her.

And I wouldn't have to endure any more lonely nights or one night stands or half-hearted relationships.

I never was a good liar. Mama always knew I was telling a story from how I'd chew my lip and pigeon my toes.

But no one saw through the biggest lie I ever told.

And since then, every day has been a lie.

Lying to my daughter.
Lying to myself.

Chapter Four

"Mama, its time to put those pictures away and go to bed. We got church in the morning."

"I can't decide what to get him, Janet. You think he could use a pair of work boots? He's so rough on his shoes. I don't know what that boy does to wear holes in his shoes like that."

"Now, Mama, don't do this. Not tonight."

"But his birthdays Tuesday. The store'll be closed tomorrow for the Sabbath, so I have to get him something Monday. Would you drive me into town, honey?"

"That's fine, Mama. Whatever you want. Well talk about it tomorrow, though. I'm tired."

"I wonder what's taking him so long to get home?"

"For who to get home, Mama?"

"Glory be, child. Who you think? Ain't but one 'he' in this house since your daddy died."

"Mama, you know that that he goes out sometimes on Saturday night with those Wilson boys. There's no need to wait up for him. He might not be in 'til after midnight."

"Lord, I know. I just worry bout him, Janet. I worry 'bout my baby. You'll understand someday when you got children of your own."

"I'm sure I will, Mama. Now let's go on to bed. We can't have you fallin' asleep in the choir tomorrow."

Chapter Five


Hope you and the kids are making it without me. I'm coming home on Wednesday after Leona gets here. Mama had a pretty good day. She got to talking about Ben tonight, though. He'd be celebrating a birthday next week and she's wondering what to get him. I know the doctors told us to set her straight, but I just didn't have it in me to do it tonight. I told her we'd go to the store and shop on Monday. I don't know how much longer we can all do this. Every day is different and they don't seem to get any easier. For her or us. I shudder to think about losing one of ours, but I pray that I handle it better than this if it should happen. I regret that we didn't let her see him. She needed to see him, Alvin. She needed closure. I just didn't think at the time that she could handle him looking so bad. Kiss the children for me. I love you.


Chapter Six

"Sherriff, Jerry just came home and said there's a colored boy laying on the side of the road out past the Harville place. I ain't sure if he's dead or not, but y'all need to come out and check on it. Jerry says the boy's covered in blood."

Chapter Seven

"Margaret Lee, I don't want no explanations. There's no explaining this."

"But Daddy, you don't understand--"

"I don't want to understand. I want to know why you would do this to your mama and me. Do you know what this could do to our family? I could lose my job over this. And for what? For some no good coon--"

"Don't you dare say that! He's a good man. He's good to me. And he loves me."

"A good man don't take advantage of a little girl like you!"

"I ain't a little girl now! I'm seventeen years old! And he didn't want to do it. He told me we should wait 'til we married. I begged him to, though. I wanted to. He didn't take advantage of me. This is my fault. I wanted to show him how much I love him!"

"You don't love him, child, he ain't our kind. He's an animal and no daughter of mine is dating an animal. He don't love you. All he knows is fucking. He just wanted to go back and brag to all his little greasy friends how he got him a little white girl in the bed."

"Why won't you listen to me, daddy? You don't know him. You don't know what he's like with me. He sings to me and brings me flowers and he made me a little jewelry box with his own hands. And he's smart, Daddy. He reads and he even writes songs some."

"And what did you think was going to come of all this? Did you think that far? You think you got a future with him? That he'll marry you? You two gonna have some little mutt kids running around your shack? You think he's gonna settle down with you? Those people are like dogs in heat. How could you be so stupid, child! Have we not taught you anything?

"But we--"

"We, we, we, Meg. We what? What were we gonna do?"

"Dammit, Daddy, we were going to leave! We've been saving money for months, just waiting for me to graduate. He was going to marry me, Daddy!"

"Leave? Now you listen to me. You ain't going anywhere. And I mean anywhere. You're staying in this house unless you leave with your mother or me."

"You can't go to school with me."

"Then you won't go to school. We're withdrawing you Monday morning."

"But Daddy--"

"Shut your mouth, Margaret. You brought this on yourself. I want you to call that boy and tell him this is done. You will never see him again. And if I catch him showing his face around here, I'll kill him myself. Now go wash your face off before your mother gets home."

Chapter Eight

Oh God. She hasn't asked me to bring her anything from the store this month. Please don't punish my daughter for her mistake. Please don't make her pay for this for the rest of her life. Please spare our family from the shame of her sin. I've served you faithfully. Grant this one prayer for me, Father.

Chapter Nine

"Now, Meg, did he say anything to you, anything at all?"

"He...he told me, 'Be quiet bitch or I'll choke you.'"

"And then what happened?"

"He put his...he touched..."

"It's okay, baby. I know this is hard, but you have to tell them everything. You don't have to be ashamed because you've done nothing wrong. Now, tell Sheriff Bailey what happened so that he can take care of this."

Chapter Ten

The body of a man wanted in connection with the recent sexual assault of a Sherman High School senior was found on Mason Road early this morning. Police have identified the man as 20-year-old Benjamin Miller. Miller had been beaten and preliminary reports indicate that he most likely died of trauma to the head. There were no signs of struggle at the scene and police speculate that he was attacked elsewhere and left on Mason Road some time between midnight and 4:00 AM. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Sheriff Dan Bailey.

Recycling - December 29, 2005

“Bethany Lynn Miller, you either get out of that bed in the next 10 seconds, or I will drag you to church in your nightgown!”

I roll my back to her and let out a combination snort and grunt.

“Young lady, I am not kidding. You are gonna make us all late again. Don’t make me get your daddy in here.”

I flip my pillow to the cool side and pull my quilt further up over my head. Like Daddy’s gonna do anything. He’s sitting in the den, drinking coffee and getting his Sunday School lesson ready.

Momma knows I’ve called her bluff.

“Now why are you going to make me act all un-Christian on Sunday? Why can’t we just have a nice, normal Sunday and go to church without a big fuss?”

From under my quilt I answer, “I don’t know, Momma, you tell me. You’re the one doing all the screaming.”

No sooner are the words out of my mouth than I know what is about to happen. In one swoop, my sheet and quilt are in the floor and Momma has jerked my pillow from underneath my head. I try to brace myself, but it’s too late. Morning has arrived and it’s cold and bright and loud in only the way Momma can make it.

“Now, smart-mouth, we are leaving in half an hour. I want you showered and dressed and presentable. You have new pantyhose in your dresser. And pin your hair back out of your face. You’re going to the Lord’s house.”

I mouth these last words with her. It’s a bit of a Sunday morning ritual.

When she clumps off to the bathroom to take the hot rollers out of her hair, I make my way to the edge of the bed. Why can’t I praise Jesus from here? I’d make a much more joyful noise from under my blanket. Instead of “Holly Springs Baptist Church” I’ll go to “Box Springs Baptist Church.” I smile to myself, wondering how I’ll work that in on Momma. She just hates when I make jokes about the church.

I walk down the hall to the kitchen. After pouring a glass of chocolate milk, I head to the living room to see how Daddy’s lesson is coming. Daddy’s the Sunday School teacher for the “Single, Separated or Divorced Young Men’s” class. He always waits until the last minute to do his lessons. He says that God works best with a deadline which explains why He created the universe in six days.

Mornin’, Daddy.”

“Morning, Miss Prissy Britches. You sure got your Momma riled up this morning.”

“Yeah, I thought for a minute she had the Holy Ghost in her. What’s your lesson about?”
“The fruits of the Spirit.”
“Sounds tasty.”

“Now, Beth, don’t sass about the Good Book.”

“Sorry. So which one are you on this week?”

“One of the hard ones—patience.”

“Can Momma sit in on your class?”

“Very funny. Now go get ready. And hurry, I can’t be late.”

I walk back down the hall to the bathroom, finishing my chocolate milk along the way and trying to decide what I should wear. I don’t understand why I have to dress up. Momma says that we should give our best to God and that includes our appearance. I figure Jesus wore tunics and sandals, so He probably doesn’t care if I wear pantyhose or not.

“Beth, why aren’t you in the shower?”

Momma appears in front of me. She’s in her slip and has a toothbrush in one hand and my little brother’s clothes in the other. Half of her hair is still in curlers.
“I’m headed that way, Momma. I was thirsty.”
“Well, you should have thought of that when you were layin’ in bed.”

“I’m sorry, Momma. It’s early.”

“I’ve been up since 5:30 working on costumes for the children’s choir, don’t talk to me about early,” she says, walking away. “Now hurry, I’ll need help getting your little brother dressed.”

“Why doesn’t Daddy help get him dressed?”

Momma spins on her heel and takes a deep breath. I know I’ve hit a sore spot with her.

“Because your Daddy is too busy drinking his coffee and doing his Sunday School lesson. Now go!”

I grab a towel from the closet and head toward the bathroom. I turn the water on in the shower and wait for it to heat up.

And I wait. And wait. After a good three minutes I turn the water off.


I stand and wait, determined she will have to come to me.


The door of the bathroom flies open.

“What, Bethany, what?”

“There ain’t any hot water.”

“Well, that’s what you get when you’re the last one up.”

“But I can’t take a cold shower. It’s 40 degrees outside.”

“Bethany, you have 20 minutes. Figure something out.”

And off she goes, leaving me standing there in nothing but a shower cap.

I wrap a towel around me and walk to the sink where I proceed to take what my grandmother would call a “whore’s bath.” I can at least handle the cold water on one part of me at a time.

I peel off the shower cap and brush out my hair, scanning the counter for a scrunchie. Today will definitely be a ponytail day. Jesus will just have to deal with it.

I flip my head over and use a blow dryer to fluff it up. As I stand up straight and turn the dryer off, I hear Momma’s voice from across the house.

“…help me do something this wouldn’t happen!”

“Are you saying that I shouldn’t prepare my Sunday School lesson?”

“I’m just saying that I can’t get the kids ready and me ready, too!”

“Well that’s your job so you’re just going to have to find a way to do it!”

I tiptoe down the hall. Momma and Daddy are standing in the kitchen. He has his coat on and is waving his Bible in the air at Momma.

“Just go on to church without us. We’ll be there after while.”

“That will look really good, Barbara, us coming separate to church. You already missed last Sunday!”

“Just tell everybody that the baby threw up or something. We’ll be there later.”

“So you want me to lie?”

“Fine, Glen, then tell them you’re a selfish jackass who won’t help me do anything!”

My parents usually get along pretty well. There’s something about Sunday morning, though, that brings out the worst in all of us. This morning is no exception.

I hurry back to my room before I get pulled into the argument or yelled at for not getting ready. I rummage through my closet in an attempt to find something to wear and listen to my father slam the front door.

After going through every possible piece of clothing in my closet, I stick my head out the door and holler down the hall.

“Momma, have you seen my denim skirt?”

No answer.


“I heard you. It’s in the dirty clothes.”

“Why didn’t you wash it?”

“Bethany, I’m behind on laundry.”

“But I need it.”

“Then you should have washed it yourself!”

I hear a tone in her voice that makes me decide not to push the issue. Why, why, why don’t I have more church clothes? Why do I spend all of my allowance on cool clothes and tennis shoes? I accept that I will have to wear what I wore on the previous Sunday and say a silent prayer that no one notices.

After hopping around my room doing the pantyhose dance, I pull on my dress and slip my feet into a pair of black flats. I sit down at my vanity and start putting on my makeup. At least something is will look good today.

No sooner than I have my foundation on than Momma is standing in my doorway.

“I need help with Jed. He hasn’t had breakfast yet.”

“But Momma, I’m not ready.”

“Bethany, we are already late as it is. I cannot tolerate your whining right now. You can do your makeup in the hand-mirror while he eats.”

I sigh and grab my cosmetic bag. In the kitchen, Jed is throwing a ball against the refrigerator.

“Jed, can you not do that this morning?”


“Yes, I’m Bethany. We’ve established that. Now, do you want Cheerios or Rice Krispies?”


“What Jed? I’m right here. What?”

“I gotta go to potty.”


He nods and smiles, sheepishly.

I begin to undress him, wondering why in the world mom dressed him in a one-piece. As I try to work his little legs out of his sailor suit, the floor around him grows wet, and he begins to wail.

“I sorry, Beffie. I sorry.”

I can feel it welling up in my throat—the urge to scream “Momma” and let her deal with it. But I don’t. I’ve seen my mother at the proverbial wits end, and I know she’s headed toward the edge this morning.

“Stay here, buddy, okay? I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to get you some clothes.”

I jog to my parents’ bedroom. My mother, still in her slip, is standing in her closet, leaning face first into the clothes.



“Um, Jed spilled grape juice all over himself. Does he have anything else to wear?”

Wh grjus?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”

She leans back from the clothes.

“Why grape juice?”

“He wanted it. But don’t worry, I’m gonna change him and I’ll be ready to go soon.”

I leave the room before she can protest. I grab a little pantsuit out of Jed’s bureau and a towel from the linen closet in the hall.

Thankfully, Jed is still sitting where I left him. After drying and dressing Jed, as well as cleaning the floor, I grab my cosmetic bag head back to my room to finish getting ready.

Momma is sitting at my vanity, looking in the mirror. She doesn’t seem to realize I’m in the room.

“Momma, are you okay?”

“Yes, honey, I just needed to sit down for a minute.”

I walk over to her. I’m not sure what to say. She’s always so in control, handling fourteen things at once. Suddenly she looks very tired—and very old.

“Is something the matter?”

“I just remembered that we’re having a potluck after church today, and I forgot to make anything.”

With her final two words, her voice breaks. Tears stream down her cheek, carrying her liquid eyeliner with them. I have no idea what to do except to put my arms around her. She sobs into my chest.

“It’s okay, Momma. Look, Jed’s ready to go, and I can do my makeup in the car. We’ll stop at the store and grab a cake or something. It’s no big deal. I’ll even sneak it in so no one will think you forgot to cook something.”

Momma stops crying and looks me in the eye. It’s a look I haven’t seen before, almost like she doesn’t know me. It only lasts for a second, though, and pats my arm and stands up.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He’s in the den.”

“Let’s get a move on then. We’re going to miss Sunday School, but we can’t be late for preaching.”

She heads to my door, leaving me a bit stunned. Before she crosses the threshold, she turns around and looks at me.

“You know, Bethany, you’re starting to turn into a young woman.”

And then she’s gone.

Our last 15 minutes in the house are a whirlwind. Momma disappears to her bathroom. I finish slathering on my makeup and smooth out my ponytail. I even dig out a pair little pearl earrings from my jewelry box. Something extra for the Lord—and Momma.

Momma emerges from the bathroom, somehow completely pulled together. Even her eyeliner is straight. She grabs her purse and our Bibles, and I grab Jed. She locks up as I buckle him into the car seat.

Twenty minutes later, we are pulling into the Holly Springs parking lot, a day-old Sock It To Me cake in my lap. Momma parks and runs Jed to the nursery while I sneak the cake into the fellowship hall as I promised.

Soon, we are standing at the sanctuary doors. The usher hands me a church bulletin and shakes Momma’s hand. Momma and I make our way to our pew up front. Daddy is already sitting there. I pray that he doesn’t say anything mean to Momma.

“Everything okay, Barb?” he says, a smile plastered to his face.

“Yes, we’re just fine,” Momma replies, returning the smile.

“Did you bring something for the potluck?”

“Yes, Glen, I did.”

“Good, I figured you’d forget.”

I halfway expect Momma to pick up a hymnal and smack Daddy. I even want to smack him. She doesn’t, though. She just keeps smiling and turns to Sister Patterson, sitting in the pew behind us.

Maylene, I just love your hat.”

“Bless you, Barbara, you’re the sweetest thing.”

“Oh, no, there’s nothing sweeter than a Sunday morning.”

As the preacher takes the pulpit, I watch my mother out of the corner of my eye. Hair in place and a smile on her face, living proof that God must exist.

Recycling - December 28, 2005

I'm digging through my old Myspace blog and recycling posts from as far back as 2005.


Howard opened the menu and nervously scanned the selections. It was his first date in over three years and thus far was going very well. When he showed up at her front door, she hadn’t seemed taken aback by his size, an admirable start to a blind date with Howard. Now they were sitting at a table in Trattoria La Strada, one of Howard’s favorite restaurants. He felt his stomach growl as he studied the menu. Petto Di Pollo Alla Parmigiana. Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. Filetto Al Chianti. Even rolling the beautiful words around in his mouth made him salivate. He had to make a good first impression, though. It had to appear that he was at least attempting to lose weight. Suddenly, the waiter was standing beside the table with their wine.

“Are you both ready to order now?” he politely asked.

Howard looked to his date. She was nodding, so he quickly made his decision.

“I’ll have the Insalata Di Pere Al Curry, please.”

A salad. Light and healthy. Besides, he could stop at Burger King on the way home if necessary. The waiter took his menu and turned to Howard’s date.

“And for you, Signora?”

“Yes, I’d like the Costolette Al Rosmarino, please.”

After the waiter returned to the kitchen, Howard nervously began a conversation with his date. She wasn’t necessarily an attractive girl, but she was charming. An alum of Sarah Lawrence, she had moved West with the Teach for America Program. She told him horror stories about teaching at an inner-city high school, though he never detected a note of bitterness or fear in her voice.

Within twenty minutes, their food had arrived. Howard tried to act excited about his salad. When he saw his date’s plate, though, his tongue flickered at his lips. Huge lamb chops smothered in olive oil and rosemary. He couldn’t stop staring at her plate. Howard’s date became uncomfortable, interpreting his staring as a reflection on her.

“I don’t usually eat this much. I missed lunch today, though, because I was tutoring.”

Howard assured her that it was okay, that he liked a girl who didn’t eat like a bird. The whole time he spoke, though, his eyes never left the magnificent mutton in front of her. She pretended she didn’t notice and picked up her fork.

Buon appetite,” she said and began cutting into the lamb chops.

Howard picked up his fork and stabbed at a pear and a few sun-dried tomatoes. Why had he ordered a salad? He could have at least ordered pasta. At least the carbs would somewhat satisfy his aching stomach. The combination of meat and spices floating over to his side of the table made Howard’s head hurt. He could imagine his teeth tearing into the juicy meet, the marinade saturating his taste buds. He wondered if he could get his date away from the table long enough to sneak a few bites.

But how to make her leave? Was there something she’d left in the car? Could he make her have to use the bathroom? Maybe he could tell her about his trip to Niagara Falls or the time he went white water rafting. What if he spilled some pepper and accidentally blew it her way. Surely she’d begin sneezing and have to leave the table for a moment. Better yet, he could spill wine on her. The bread basket was sitting beside her glass; it would look like a total accident.

Howard just had to have a bit or two of what she was eating. He could make her mad. He could say something mean and make her storm out of the restaurant. He was paying for the meal anyway, and it’s not like he had feelings for her yet. Sure, she’d been nice so far and seemed to genuinely be interested, but how long could that last? He’d have to eat in front of her or take his clothes off at some point, anyway, after which she’d put her tail between her legs and run. How would he do it? Make fun of her? Say something rude or hateful? He looked at his date, chattering away about some poem a mentally-challenged student had written. No, he couldn’t hurt her. He’d have to do better than that.

Then it hit him. He’d make her lose her appetite. He’d burp or fart or pick his nose. He’d cough without covering his mouth. He’d clean out his ears at the table. He’d sneeze and snort and maybe even spit in his napkin. It would have to work. No woman would sit at a table and continue eating with such an uncouth dinner companion.

Howard began straining, deciding to open his performance by breaking wind. He could feel his skin becoming flushed.

“Howard, are you okay?”
He told her he was fine and speared another piece of greens as he told himself that in a few moments he could ditch the salad and consume what was left of the lamb chops. He chewed heartily as he felt the pressure welling up inside, the gas making its way toward the seat of his pants. His date continued to talk, something now about a concert this Tuesday and needing someone to go with her. Howard couldn’t listen, though. All of his concentration was focused on getting her to leave the table and hopefully the restaurant.

“You know, Howard, I feel terrible. I ordered all of this food and just can’t eat anymore. Please take this other lamb chop and finish it. I don’t want it to go to waste, and I don’t like leftovers.”

Through the straining and pushing, Howard heard enough of what she said to piece together the meaning. He focused his eyes on her, slowly relaxing his body. Howard looked at his date and looked at the pork chop, lingering on the latter for several seconds longer. Through clenched teeth he attempted to protest.

“No, I couldn’t, I have my salad—“

“No, really, there’s no need for it to go to waste. It’s delicious. And, um, I noticed your greens look a little brown. Wouldn’t you rather eat this?”
Howard looked away from the lamb chops long enough to inspect his salad. Not a spot of brown anywhere. He looked back at his date and gave her an inquisitive look. She pushed her plate across the table.

“Really, Howard, it’s okay. I mean it.”

Howard looked his date in the eyes and smiled. She smiled back and patted his hand, wondering aloud if it would be possible to get ice cream after dinner.

As Howard chewed his first bite, he wondered if this was love.