It seemed like ever since the night Shara had the “seizure”, everything seemed to go downhill for her and my uncle. I’m not sure how long they lived in that beautiful three family house on Edgewood, but it wasn’t very long. They moved around a lot, like nighttime nomads, to neighborhoods that were seedy and steeped with illegal activity.
Shara seemed to walk slower on certain days. The sassy strut that she had so skillfully perfected was now reduced to a sloppy shuffle. Her coal black darting eyes, were struggling to peer through her weighty lids.
Some people say the eyes don’t lie. Well, I say neither do hands. I remember the first time I noticed Shara’s hands. It was during one of those weekend gatherings the adults would have at our apartment. When Shara talked, she was always loud and animated, especially with a few drinks in her. I looked up one night,to find her wildly waving her cigarette in the air as if it would lead to the point she was trying to make. It was then that I noticed they were shockingly different from the rest of her. They were the same Sugar Baby caramel color, but her nails were chewed right down to the skin. It was as if they had something to say; but she was punishing them, trying to keep them silent.
Now they were screaming out, they had become swollen and claw like from repeated drug use.
Her stocky son, who appeared to have most of her ways, punished his hands as well. He would eventually pull three of his nails right off the nail beds.
“Look what this boy did!” Shara said one day as they were visiting. She was holding his arm up by the wrist to show us the mutilation. The skin had already started to grow over where the nail beds should have been.
“Does it hurt?” I asked him that day. I imagined it did as my own nail beds were starting to throb from staring at his.
“Nope,” he said, clearly proud of his accomplishment. He seemed happy to have mastered that level of pain.
Shara dropped his wrist in disgust and walked off. She seemed to be upset only by the fact they he had gone too far.
The one thing that never changed was Shara’s fashion sense and cleanliness. She still kept her appearance together, along with her sons and her man.
As Shara was trying to juggle her growing addiction and domestic life, Billy was contending with a jones of his own:a love jones. Loving Shara seemed to be a full time job. He always seemed edgy and preoccupied. The playful, silly side I loved so well was barely seen now.
Before,he would stop by regularly to the apartment that Mom and I shared, as he still had a room there. He used to say things like, “Hey Tam, why did the boat tip over?”, giving me the beginning of some corny riddle. I would skip behind him, begging for the punch line. Most of the time he wouldn’t give it, telling me I had to wait until the next time.
Now when he came by, he always looked despondent, like a huge weight was on his shoulders. He’d barely make conversation.
Billy was always trying to cover her; to shield her. But she was hurricane Shara, whose ferocious troubled winds and torrential rains of anger could not be tamed. Where there was Shara, there was trouble.
Like a hurricaine, people were always having Shara sightings. The stories involved her cutting someone, lying, details of her last prison stint, or someone seeing her downtown boosting. They would always end their tales with a cold chilling laugh. Pretty soon I started turning a deaf ear to it all.
I wanted to see more of the Shara that giggled and wanted to make brownies that Saturday evening at their apartment, the girl with the frilly kitchen.
I wondered if they ever got tired of talking about her. Did they ever think she was at one time somebody’s little baby girl?
Billy, Shara, and the boys, came by one day to pick me up. They would do this occassionally taking us out for ice cream or to Riverside Park, a local amusement park locate near our town. I wondered where we were headed that day, as we were going in the opposite direction.
“We gotta make a quick stop,” Billy said to me and the boys, before we could ask any questions.
“We’re goin’ over Mommy’s,” Shara added. I don’t remember the boys’ reaction to this. I was too busy thinking about how funny it was to hear her refer to her mother as mommy.
Shara’s family didn’t live very far from me, yet the neighborhoods were worlds apart. Mom and I lived in North End, the northern section of the inner city. Our neighborhood was full of three-family houses; houses that looked like three small single family home stacked on top of each other. Smack dab in the middle of the block was our apartment building: 105, as we called it. It was a 30 apartment building that set behind the houses. It was odd shaped and kind of looked like a red brick cruise ship. I wasn’t a tall building at all,it only had three floors that held ten apartments each.
Our building was owned by Mr Doyle from Doyle Construction. It was the only one of its kind in North End, and you could tell he put alot of thought into it. It seemed like he was trying to make a pleasant affordable place for families to live. It had an enormous fenced in backyard with lots of green grass in the back and sides of the building. The yard was in tip top shape because nobody ever went back there. Everybody stayed out front on the stoop.
There wasn’t much grass in the North End and it was as if nobody trusted it. Everybody wanted to be out front where the happenings were. Even the neighborhood cat had her kittens right by the noisy stoop for all of us to see.
The street where Shara’s family lived was quite the contrast. The streets were lined with beautiful trees and the homes had rose or azalea bushes out front. The grass reminded me of green shag carpeting that had been freshly vacuumed for company. The whole neighborhood looked like it was expecting us. Almost every house had those huge picture windows, as if they wanted everyone to look inside to see how happy they were.
Shara’s mom greeted us at the door. “Well, come on in. How’s everybody?” she said, holding the screen door as we slid past her. Miss Bea was a nice soft spoken woman, with press and curl hair, who was Shara’s complexion.
“Hi Mommy,” Shara said as she brushed past her mother. Her steps were loud and deliberate against their beautifully polished hardwood floors. She did her strut and she stomped her way straight back into the kitchen. I don’t recall her ever sitting down during our visit. She just cased the place like she was looking for something.
Shara’s mom pretended not to notice. She sat talking to us in the living room with her hands folded on her lap, like someone told her to sit still, just like that.
A lady once told a family member of mine when Shara was a teenager, there was a bus taking kids to New York City to a dance. As the bus was about to take off, Miss Bea stopped the bus and got on looking for Shara. She told the driver that she needed to get her daughter off the bus as she was not allowed to go. Shara and her mother argued and the whole scene ended with Shara fighting her mother like she was fighting someone in the streets.
That’s the first time I had ever heard someone tell a story about her and not laugh. I couldn’t imagine her fighting this saintly looking lady.
The first thing I noticed at Shara’s mom’s was where she got her cleanliness. Their home was so spotless, it didn’t look lived in. The hardwood floors and windows sparkled and the lacy curtains glistened. Everything seemed to be some shade of blue.
Over time, I would visit Shara’s family several times, eventually meeting all of her siblings. She had two brothers: an older brother named Rodney and a younger teenaged one named Kevin, who Shara seemed to adore. She would talk to her younger brother using that same baby voice that she used when she talked to Billy and her boys.
Her brother Rodney was a quiet serious looking guy who was a principal of a school or something. He had that same soft spoken voice the mother had and same carmel complexion. Something about him reminded me of Shara’s son, the sensitive one.
Then there was Shara’s sister Barbara. From the first time I met her, I could see that she was someone who seemed to vacillate between two worlds: Shara’s and the rest of the family. There was something about her that looked up to Shara and wanted to be like her. The family would eventually win and Barbara went on a get her degree in the medical field.
And last but not least was Shara’s fraternal twin sister, Sigrid. Meeting her was the most shocking of all. She had that same quiet soft spoken voice but she was the opposite of everything that Shara was. She was married homely, plain and very religious. She wore long dresses and wasn’t into styling her hair and all. She also had a college degree but was a stay at home mom with several small children.
It seems like every time I was around them I noticed something different. There were several frames on the wall which displayed graduation pictures, degrees, and the family’s credentials. There were none for Shara.
Everybody talked in the same low voice except for the sister that wanted to be like her. Her voice was midway. It was almost as though they believed if they talked any louder, they would reveal a secret.
Whenever you saw any of her family members, you could tell by their conversation, they were trying to distance themselves from her. Most times, there wouldn’t be any mention of her even though she was the only thing you had in common with them.
There was something Stepford about them; something mechanical, like they were trying too hard to be perfect. They seemed slightly hypocritcal.
I met Shara’s dad, Mr. Neil the day I met her mom. He was a dark skinned man who her stocky son resembled. He had Shara’s darting eyes and kept his hands in his pocket. His shoulders were not broad or square; they were rounded with a downward slope that gave him a guilty look.
I could tell Shara’s visit made her parents uncomfortable, although they were trying their best not to show it. They talked mostly to my uncle. They seemed to like him and appeared to be relieved that he was in Shara’s life.
I’m not sure what our visit that day was all about. It seemed more like Shara was making an appearance. Perhaps she was wanted to show off her own family, which included someone who was on her side.