When I was a child, I always felt out of place. I was outspoken in a home that was led by the rule: Children are to be seen and not heard. Still, I had a keen sense of right and wrong, speaking up and questioning the words and actions of my parents. I overheard their lies and learned of my father’s secret affairs. They cursed and drank but we could not. They sent us to church while they stayed at home. Their double-life couldn’t have been more blatantly obvious.
For some strange reason, I loved the truth like little girls loved baby dolls. I wanted to carry it around with me wherever I went. My mother said that once when I was about ten or eleven years old, I kicked my father in the knee after witnessing him hitting her. She said that my father raised me up off the ground by my nightgown but that I was unwavering in my conviction so he put me down. It was simple: He was wrong. I also told my younger brother that he was adopted and I told my mother that I had been molested and later raped. The latter truth she still struggles to believe, accepting it would make her feel as if she were to blame. Also, she would have to then address her own experiences of both.
We lived in what persons would describe as the projects and I took this same attitude while in school. I loved rules because they provided order, structure and a certain degree of predictability. More importantly for me, they provided security; something that I felt that lacked at home. It seemed that each time they fought, my father was put out of the house. I would have a daddy one week but for the next month or until they made up, I did not. I followed the rules and for the most part, I was kept safe. In school, I followed the rules, excelled academically and was placed in a local magnet school. I was the only child in my neighborhood who did not attend the public school and was picked up by a special bus that drove me to Brown Barge Middle School.
I had been picked out because of my academic discipline and rigor and so I was then picked on. I can’t count how many days I was beat up after school. It was as if an announcement had gone out to the entire community: “Starlette to be beat up at 4 p.m. Come one. Come all.” I still don’t understand why I never ran from them. I would come home with a busted lip and oftentimes, a torn or dirty blouse. My mother would yell, “Why don’t you fight back?” I would shrug my shoulders and she would hit me. “Answer me when I’m talking to you!” On more than one occasion, she whipped me for not fighting back. I was an embarrassment to her and not fighting back meant that I had brought shame to our home.
The children in my neighborhood had also given me a nickname: Forehead. It was their cruel version of Einstein. They reasoned that I was smart because I had a big forehead, more storage space I suppose. And they would chant: “Forehead (woof, woof), Forehead (woof, woof).” When my younger siblings would get mad at me, they would sing it, as if a family choir, at the kitchen table. Still, I went on to college and afterwards graduate school. I am and remain the only woman on either my mother’s or father’s side to accomplish either, which puts me in an awkward position during family gatherings. They don’t know what to say to me so most of them have stopped speaking to me altogether. Still, I’m grateful for the storage space.
Today, I still love rules and if not for Christ, I would be a Pharisee. My husband would probably say that I still am at home, believing that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” I love to clean and nothing more than a clean house. I am content when everything is in its place and a firm believer that there is a place for everything. I take this same approach when it comes to people. There is no person or cultural group of people that does not belong in the earth. We were created because there is a place for us and no one can take it from us. There is enough of the earth to go around. Every person has a place and there’s a place for every person. It’s when we don’t follow this rule that we break others.