During this time we were attending my stepmother’s church where we often remained in service for what felt like the whole day. I do know that there were times that we’d arrive back home around two or three o’clock in the afternoon tired and hungry. One particular Sunday afternoon, we arrived home and dinner had yet to be prepared while the morning’s breakfast had long worn off, along with my taste for “church mints” and water.
Maybe my timing was all wrong but I was hungry. I didn’t nag about dinner…not a sandwich…no ice cream or other snack. My ten year old appetite couldn’t wait another hour or so for dinner to be ready, I asked my father for a banana. He had gotten pretty good at maintaining peace in the house and being that his wife was in the kitchen prepping dinner, he replied, “Go ask Ruby…”
So, I did.
I walked in the kitchen as I had many Sunday afternoons before and asked for a banana only to be scolded and called out as if I had not only eaten everything in the fridge but broken into the house to do so.
Ruby cut her eyes at me to show her annoyance and hesitated before replying, “Go on…have it…” mumbling as she turned her back to me, “greedy little bastards…”
I do believe that the next moment was the only time in my life, even to this day, that I have ever used profanity when referring to an elder.
I felt, welling up within me, every ounce of anger, frustration and disappointment that I had ever experienced in my ten years on earth…fire burning in my throat…
“YOU STUPID, HIGH YELLOW BITCH!? I AIN’T NEVER ASKED YOU FOR NOTHING…!”
The rest of my words and actions are a blur as my blood boiled and I rushed to attack. Knuckles clenched into what I imagined were fists of steel ready lay this grown woman out she, expectantly, retaliated as she and I. She and I cussed and screamed at each other for what felt like forever only ending after it took my father and brother both to hold me back from destroying my moving target.
There had been moments like this before where she’d expressed her distaste for Josh and I but this was the beginning of the end of our lives on North Kansas Street.
Soon thereafter, on a cold night in the middle of my fifth grade year, my then twelve year old brother and I experienced our last battle in the war with Ruby as her and our father argued in the den in the rear of the house. Josh’s bedroom was closest to the kitchen which separated the house from east to west. It was there, lying in his bed, that he heard the words that would change our lives forever. During the course of the argument, our father’s wife threatened to kill his “little bastards”.
As I slept peacefully in my room adjacent to his, Josh came barging through my bedroom door which was covered with a poster of a topless of Patrick Swayze in tight, stonewashed jeans (don’t ask…) and cut outs from “Right On!” magazine. He stormed in like a hero saving a princess from attacking forces outside of a village and urged me to hurry and, “get up, we’re going to mom’s…”
Shaken awake, I managed to not panic but follow my brother’s directions closely as our father raced in to try to calm Josh down and assure him that we were safe. I’m sure my brother didn’t think for a moment that we weren’t safe there with him but with Ruby still screaming and attempting to fight everyone in her path, he knew that he couldn’t take the risk. With me in tears at the confusion of it all, I followed behind Josh as he smashed through the glass storm door, shattering our world with it. I ran behind him in the cold air which must have frozen my memories in the yard as the frost on the grass. I don’t have clear recollection of when our mother was called, who called her or the drive to the small two bedroom condo she shared with her “roommate” Myrna on the Southside of town but just a few short hours later, we were finally home.
The last memory I have of that night is going to the emergency room after Josh began to experience an uncontrollable cough accompanied by the taste of blood. Doctors discovered a broken piece of glass in my brother’s throat and although he went on to totally recover from the incident…my eyes still well up with tears at the thought of my brother doing all he had to do to save his little sister.