My life would continue to intermingle with Billy and Shara’s during the time I lived in North End. However, I was having a difficult time learning to navigate my childhood through inner city living.
I can’t really say whether the visit with Shara’s family that day had any effect on me. I don’t remember being confused or understanding her any better.
The whole visit just got filed away in that deep cabinet in my soul, where I stored everything that my woman-child eyes took in.
I certainly noticed the contrast between her and her family, but that was minimal compared to the things I saw on a daily basis.
As children, my friends and I saw real life played out in its rawest form. It wasn’t like some sitcom, where children got sent to their room as adults played and fought. They did almost everything right in front of us, in plain view.
We would emulate them, using terms we weren’t sure of. “Let me go to my check-end account,” one girl said as we played. She was referring to a checking account, which most of us had overheard adults talking about.
Our eyes and ears gleaned much. We would stop by each other’s house on the way to school to “pick each other up” as we called it. During those stops, it was nothing to see some man asleep in an adjacent room. “That’s my mother’s boyfriend,” the child would say. She would tell you all she intended for you to know in that one sentence. It was placed before you like a sacred line you didn’t dare cross with further questioning.
Sometimes you’d stop by and there would be a sister or brother who looked almost as old as the parents. The kid would tell you that their big brother or sister would be staying with them now.
“Oh,” would be the way we would always respond.
As children growing up in the North End, we had problems of our own. I would occasionally think about my uncle, Shara and the boys when I didn’t see them, but I was more concerned about a huge dilemma I was having: I was being bullied. My tormentors were boys. It would start with them liking you, buying you wine candy (Jolly Ranchers) or Mary Janes on the way to school. They would walk with you, telling you they would “take up” for you, which meant protect you.
Then one day out of the blue, your “boyfriend” would approach you at lunch or on the playground at recess and tell you that you’d better run after school because he was going to beat you up. He’d tell the whole school for the rest of the day in a profanity-laced rant what he was going to do to you when he caught you.
So you’d run, maybe duck into a store and make it home unharmed. If you were really lucky, you could hide out for a few days avoiding him altogether. Sometimes you weren’t so fortunate and you would get into a fight.
One time a “boyfriend” had injured me and I got sent home with a huge white bandage wrapped around my elbow. The bandage made it look worse than it was. My suitor was proud of the bruise he left.
“I’M TIRED OF THESE BOYS BEATIN’ ON MY DAUGHTER!” Mom screamed at someone in the school office the next day. Funny how even back then, we didn’t want to tell on the boys for fear of something worse happening.
After everything would seem to die down, they would be back on the playground, trying to woo you again with candy.
Years later, the Holy Spirit brought this time period to my rememberance. He told me, the twisted form of affection these young boys were trying to express was what they saw in their homes.
Today, we call it domestic violence.
My experiences growing up there caused me to worry a lot. I was always weighted down with secrets-my own and others. Soon I was biting my nails, just like I’d seen Shara and her sons do.
That’s what I was doing the day Shara asked me the strangest question.
“Bay,” she said as she walked toward me. She had stopped by one day for a visit without Billy or the boys. “How would you like to go to church with me tomorrow? It’s Easter Sunday.” I was sitting on the living room floor, with my legs crossed playing with my Barbies. Periodically, I’d take a break, to pick at the skin around my nails.
Shara was standing over me, with her hand on her hip, looking directly down at my face waiting for an answer. I didn’t know which was more odd, her looking directly at me or hearing the word “church” come out of her mouth.
I couldn’t help but notice her facial expression. She looked sad and mad at the same time. Her pouty bottom lip was glossy as usual and the corners of her mouth were turned upward. Her facial expression looked like, “You better say yeah”. There was something about her that day that made her look like one of my peers. She had that you’re-suppose-to-be-my-friend look that one of your buddies would give you when they wanted to guilt you into doing them a favor. I was staring at her so hard, I forgot to answer.
“Yeah?” I replied which came out sounding more like a question.
“Okay, I’mma pick you up tomorrow at 10:30. So be ready!” she said, slamming the door.
“Shara be lyin'”, I said to myself. I sat there on the floor thinking about our brief conversation as I buried my nail-bitten fingers in a pile of Barbie clothes trying to find an outfit that resembled what I thought Shara would wear.
One day, I asked Shara to play with my Barbies with me. She grabbed one from my collection, teased her hair out in this wild style and picked this glittery mini dress for her to wear. After she dressed her, she made her do a wild dance that made my Barbie look deranged. I didn’t think it was very funny, but Shara was hysterically laughing. She gave me this look that said, “Girl, please,” before handing me my doll back.
Shara was a real trip.
I was happy about the chance to hang out with her the next day. “But to go to church?” I thought. I spent the rest of the day wondering why Shara would make something like that up. I almost forgot to tell Mom that I was going.
I was ready and waiting that Easter Sunday morning, just in case it wasn’t a lie. Imagine my shock when at precisely 10:30am, Shara rung the bell. “It’s Shara. You ready, Bay?” she shouted through the intercom. Shara came up to get me. She had on a bad Coco Chanel suit that was silk or satin. It was a peach or tangerine color and had a sparkly broach. She was together from head to toe as usual.
Shara looked like a first lady.
It was slightly overcast that day, Shara and I walked to church. We were walking because, she had totaled the car, the Buick Riviera, my uncle bought for her. I found that out one day as mom and I walked home from Mott Supermarket.
“You know he went to the scene of that accident and told that officer that he was driving that car?” Mom said sounding disgusted. “It’s a shame he is such a fool for that girl!” she said shaking her head.
I remember hearing later that Shara had some warrants and would have gone to jail that day, but Billy stood in the gap for her.
Mom couldn’t stand Shara, although she treated her okay when she came around. My mother and uncle would have many arguments with Shara’s name laced throughout. Once Mom accused Shara of wearing her one of her fancy dresses-one of the ones she wore to cocktail sips. She said Shara wore the dress, then hung it right back up in the closet.
“I know she did it, ’cause I could smell her perfume!” I remember her saying to my uncle during one of their riffs.
Mother would fuss about that dress constantly. At least she didn’t steal it, I thought one day.
I don’t remember having much conversation with her on the way to church. She was walking fast like she was going to hook or hustle. I had to double time my steps to keep up with her. She looked so pretty that day, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
The church was on Main street, which was approximately six blocks from our house. As we rounded the corner, Shara looked up towards the building and said, “This is my church! I went here when I was a little girl.” She seemed very excited, kind of like the day when she wanted to make the brownies.
I was so happy for her.
I remember passing the edifice before. It was kind of spooky looking; the kind of church where you hardly ever saw cars, even during the regular times of service. It had a tall black wrought iron fence around the building and the parking lot. The church set way back off the street. It was a huge building with beautiful long stained glass windows all around it.
Still, something about it reminded me of a giant tombstone.
We climbed the high concrete steps to get to the sanctuary. Once inside the foyer, I noticed there was no usher at the door and service had already started. The church just didn’t have that Easter Sunday feel. We sat in the second or third row from the back. Shara shooed me into the row so she could sit on the end. I scooted back onto the pew, she plopped down loudly on it.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.