If Only I Could Tell, page 1
Copyright © 2018 by Neketa Y.S. Knowles
Print ISBN 978-1-54394-484-6
eBoo ISBN 978-1-54394-485-3
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
To the youth of our world may you find strength through your struggles.
To the late Neville Sears Sr. – the father of my dreams. I miss you every day.
To Petrona Bain – I love you, Mother. I am who I am because you are who you are.
To David – the husband of my youth and the love of my life, you are a pillar of strength and support.
To my family and friends at home and abroad – each of you have made an invaluable contribution to the finished product, me.
To Heaven’s Royal Governor who has guided me through the darkness and into his marvelous light.
To my children – Kevin, Anfranee, Markovia, Tanague, Tanae, Devontae, Deangelo, Denicieo, David, Britney, Darrinique, and Mo’Niyah – may you leave an indelible mark in your generation.
To my editors – Be-unique Brown and Shakhana Wallace-Ferguson, and Kay Coulter, thank you for your help and support.
To my illustrator – Dana Burrows, I appreciate your time and your talent.
To my top five – Albert Chevy Simmons, Zeldreda Adderley, Shavonne Archer, Deatrice Tucker, and Sophia Grant – you’ve each in your own special way inspired me and I appreciate you for it.
To my mentors – Azeal and Genean McFall, Brinka and Brian Cleare, Sophia Miller and Charles Miller – thank you for always setting the right, not the easy, examples.
To my siblings and friends – Marvin, Sherrine, Neville III, Rowena, Ival, Neville Jr., Aldrin, Kirkwood, Sharell, Bernadette and Darren Morris, Kishnell, Andrea, Mercedes, Shantel and Nikeysha – we may not always talk as often as we should, but know that I love you.
To my oldest nieces – Abby, Kristen, Eltrinique, Carlene and Shericia – we’ve gone our separate ways, but you all will always be my first loves.
Trisha waited until everyone was sound asleep. Then very quietly, she unlatched the window from her top bunk and peered out into the night sky. It was such a beautiful night; the night sky had always fascinated her. As she gazed into the starry sky and wondered what was up there, she heard the sound of bullfrogs coming from the open cesspit on a vacant lot next to her small house. Trisha quickly closed the window; even though she had an appreciation for nature, she hated creepy things.
She remembered that one night while everyone slept, she kept feeling something move across her forehead. Naturally, she thought that it was a centipede. As she lay as still as possible in bed, her heart raced. She told herself, Do not tense up, or you will be stung. The insect would move a few inches and then it would stop; then it would move a few more inches and stop again. This seemed to go on forever. “Mummy,” Trisha called out in a raspy voice. No answer. “Mummy,” she called again trying her best to remain still. Again, no answer. Whatever would she do? Too afraid to move for fear of being bitten, Trisha called out again, “Mummy,” with tears rolling down the side of her face.
“What is it?” she heard from the doorway.
“There’s a centipede on my face.” Mom walked over to the bunk to see what Trisha was going on about.
“What?” Mom repeated.
“There’s a centipede on my face.”
By this time Trisha could feel Mom’s breath on her as she leaned over for a closer look.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Yes, it’s right there, I can still feel it.”
Mom was tall, and she did not have to stand on anything to be able to look right into Trisha’s face. She stared for a moment as Trisha asked, “Do you see it? I can still feel it.”
Mom wacked the dress off of Trisha’s face and said, “Go to sleep, little girl.” It turned out that one of Trisha’s church dresses had lace at the bottom and as the fan oscillated, the dress brushed across Trisha’s face. A church dress? Why wasn’t the dress in the closet? Well, indeed it was. You see, Trisha lived in a small wooden house and there was no formal closet but a pole attached to two hooks in the corner of the room served as the closet. Trisha slept on the top bunk so the closet was just above her head. What a relief to know that there was no inherent danger after all. She would just have to rearrange the clothes.
When the morning came, Trisha jumped out of bed to see the source of her troubles. Sure enough, there was her blue church dress with the lace at the bottom hanging just over where she laid her head. Trisha felt a little silly now that she saw what had caused her such fear. Nevertheless, she placed all the longer clothing at the end of the pole furthest away from her head. She even tested it out by lying back and turning the fan on. She was safe from all lace creatures.
That night as Trisha lay back onto her pillow, she reflected on the previous night’s event. She could have had a heart attack all because she did not have a proper closet in the room. How was it that they could not afford a house with a closet, she wondered? Like many nights, she asked these questions in her mind, wishing that she had the answers: Why are we so poor? How come Mom doesn’t make enough money for us to have a simple closet? Why does it seem like our very existence is such a struggle? Why did I have to be born into this family? Why did my daddy have to die? Why couldn’t someone come and adopt me out of this hell hole? Like every other time she had asked herself those questions, there was no answer. I wish I could run away, she thought in her mind. Where would you go? she answered. There’s no one else. She sighed as a tear rolled down her face and drifted off to sleep.
Trisha had a hard childhood. They lived in a small community that was plagued with drugs, drug dealers, predators, under aged drinkers, gang bangers, violence, and promiscuity. Many of the boys her age were either dealing drugs or using it. Many of the girls her age were running after men with fancy cars and fast money. Many were under aged single mothers. The future seemed predestined for misery and failure.
She was the eldest of three children and her mom was a single parent for the most part; well, her mom had a live-in boyfriend, but from Trisha’s perspective, he took away more than he added to the family. He drank excessively, and he was verbally abusive. Her family moved around a lot because her mom struggled to meet the rental obligations. Each time they moved, either the house was a mess or the neighborhood was a problem. Mom worked a lot of hours and Trisha never really felt secure, but she tried to put on a brave face for her younger siblings. The house that they were currently living in was a small wooden two-bedroom. There was no indoor plumbing so they had to get water from the hand pump, which had to be primed before the water would flow. There was an outhouse out back, which Trisha hated using because it smelled terrible. She almost wished that she never had to do “number two,” but that was all there was. They had a small black and white TV because Mom could not afford a color TV. Trisha did not mind so much b
Trisha’s chores were clearly defined because Mom did not believe in idle time. Mom made sure that their time was fully occupied with chores. Trisha did the majority of the chores around the house, and she was punished if her siblings did not do theirs. Most of the time, she ended up doing all of the chores anyway. Trisha was expected to help her siblings with their homework, but she had no one to help her with hers. Yet she was expected to bring home good grades. For this reason, Trisha paid close attention in class and went to the library as often as she could. Neither was she afraid to ask her teachers for help if she was having trouble with the subject matter. She often stayed in class at break or lunchtime to make corrections to her work, or to get extra help where necessary. Even though Mom never said it, education was clearly not to be taken for granted.
Mom herself only received up to a ninth- grade education. When she was growing up, ninth grade was as far as you went unless your parents could afford extended learning. Mom’s parents could not. In fact, Mom’s mother died when Mom was only six years old, and her father worked on contract overseas and was gone for months at a time. A family friend took on the responsibility of caring for Mom and her siblings. So at the age of fourteen, Mom left school to begin life in the working world. Education was important to Trisha as well, because she knew that it was her ticket out of the ghetto.
On Saturday mornings after breakfast, Trisha and her siblings pumped water into buckets and jugs to fill up the two tin tubs which were used to wash the dirty clothes. Usually, Mom washed and Trisha rinsed then hung the clothes on the line. Mom was very particular about the way she wanted the clothes hung on the line. All of the white clothes were hung on the same line, shirts first then long pants, then short pants, underwear, and socks. The light-colored clothing in the same order and the dark colored clothing in the same order hung on the second and third lines. On one occasion Trisha messed up the order and received a slap across her face; she never messed up the order again.
Following laundry, Trisha scrubbed all of the floors in the house. The floors were wooden floors which required a hard bristle brush to scrub them. Mom’s standard was that they look like new when she was done. This was a solo job; the kids watched cartoons while Trisha scrubbed the floors. While the floors dried, the yard was raked because there were native trees like sour orange, avocado, and lime in the yard, which meant lots of fallen leaves to rake up. The kids helped with this chore. In fact, they did not consider raking leaves a chore at all. They loved playing in the leaves. Sometimes they made more dirt than they cleaned, but Trisha didn’t mind, because she loved to see them laughing and having fun. From time to time, she would join in and even chase them around the yard. Once the yard was tidy, and all of the water jugs were filled then stored under the kitchen table; the dishes from breakfast were washed, rinsed, and stacked to dry.
By midday, some of the clothes were dry and ready to be picked in, sorted, and folded. The kids needed to be fed and the ironing for church and school had to be done. The most dreaded chore of all for Trisha was cleaning the outhouse. She hated that with a passion, but it too was considered a part of the house; she tied a handkerchief around her face, took a deep breath in, and got to scrubbing and mopping as fast as her arms could go. Keeping house was a full-time job for Trisha. Naturally, on the Saturday mornings when Mom worked, Trisha watched a little TV before she started her day of chores. If she had to get on the kids for any reason, they would threaten to tell their mother that she watched TV before she did her chores, so Trisha had to buy their silence with taffy. Those little extortionists!
Although it was a lot of work to do every weekend, Trisha was proud of herself for getting it all done before Mom came home from work. She walked through the house to double-check that everything was in its place; she checked the clothes on the line to make sure that the order was correct; she inspected the yard and picked up any stray leaves; she had even peeped into the outhouse to see if she could smell the pine sol. The kids were bathed and fed. The church clothes and school clothes were all ironed and hung in the closet. Yep, Mom would be pleased.
When Mom arrived at home, the kids ran to the door to greet her. Trisha reluctantly followed them. They asked Mom what she had brought for them and complained about what Trisha did not do for them that day. Mom gave Trisha a disappointing glance, and then proceeded with her inspection of the house. Trisha followed at arm’s length. Mom checked everything and everywhere, including the outhouse. Trisha was confident that Mom would be extremely pleased with her work. However, once Mom was done checking the work, she just walked right on past Trisha and headed to her bedroom.
Crushed! Trisha was absolutely crushed. Fighting back tears, she went and sat on the steps of the porch with her chin on her knees, writing in the dirt with her finger. If my dad was here, she thought to herself, he would be proud of my work. Actually, I am sure that he would take me out for ice cream and let me get two scoops instead of one. He would tell me that he was proud of me, and he loved the way that I handle responsibility by helping Mom out around the house and with my brother and sister. He would probably even give me five dollars just for me to spend on whatever I wanted. Of course, he would also say, “Now, don’t let Mom know.” She smiled. Thoughts of her dad always made her feel better when reality stung.
Trisha’s father died tragically in an accident at work when she was a little girl, and even though she could hardly remember him, her heart longed to know a father’s love. Every time Trisha went by her aunt or her godmother, they would greet her by saying how much she was growing and how much she looked like her father. They would say that he was very kind and how everybody loved him. They would tell her that she had his smile and his temperament. She always found solace in those words. Mom never talked about Trisha’s father to her. In fact, she did not speak about him ever. Trisha’s aunt always said that his death was too heartbreaking for Mom to deal with so she repressed those feelings. The problem with Mom’s repressing her feelings was that it meant that Trisha had to resort to imagining what her father was like, and what he would be like if he was alive.
Trisha often daydreamed about her ideal father-daughter relationship. She envisioned that the two of them would be the best of friends. She would share all of her secrets with him. He would be excited to talk to her at the end of the school day. He would help her with her homework and practice with her before she took a test. He would come and watch her play sports and his would be the loudest voice in the crowd. He would take her out for ice cream and he would even save her from being spanked by Mom. She would be the apple of his eye, a daddy’s girl so to speak. He would be totally overprotective of her and she would love every moment of it. She envisioned that he was tenderhearted and did everything with her.
Instead, she was stuck with stupid ole Harry. He was Mom’s mean boyfriend. Harry was no ideal dad, she thought to herself. Mom met Harry not long after Trisha’s father died. Harry was mean to Mom and never spoke a kind word to her or the children, yet she stayed with him. He worked in construction, drank excessively, and used the most disrespectful language imaginable. Trisha did not like him at all and he knew it. She was never rude or ill-mannered toward him, but he somehow knew how she felt about him. Mom had two kids for Harry, and he made sure to remind Trisha that she was not his. In fact, her reality was that of a modern-day Cinderella.
Trisha recalled him bringing home movies and letting the kids come into his bedroom to watch the movie while she peered through the crack in the bedroom door. It was just wide enough for her to see the TV. She would laugh at the jokes and enjoy the movie just as much from behind the door as her siblings did from the bedroom. Trisha was not allowed to join in anything that Harry bought or brought hom
A hostile environment became Trisha’s normal life. Therefore, she withdrew to her imagination of what an ideal family was like in order to maintain some sense of normalcy. Trisha’s mom worked two jobs, so Trisha hardly ever saw her. They had no mother-daughter relationship because her mother really did not talk much. She never talked about her childhood or her past. She never talked about her experiences in life, and she certainly never talked about her dreams or aspirations.
The most Trisha knew about her mom was what she overheard from her aunt, who said that their mother died when Mom was six; she left school at age fourteen, and she had a couple of very bad relationships. Mom was difficult to figure out and even more difficult to connect with. Mom was not the affectionate type. She did not ask how your day was; she asked if you had homework. She did not inquire if you were okay; she scolded you if the neighbors complained about your behavior. She never hugged or said I love you, or told bedtime stories: She said, “School is in the morning, go to bed.” She never said that she was proud of you when you did well; she said, “You can do better.”
Yet Trisha believed that Mom loved them because she witnessed the long hours Mom worked to provide the necessities. Tired or not, sunshine or rain, sick or well, Mom went to work. Mom made sure that they had a birthday cake on their birthdays and clothes on their backs. Somehow, that was enough for them, because they also knew that some of their friends’ mothers were more interested in dressing up and partying than parenting, and so they were grateful.