By Christina A. Vickers
As Memory sleeps she lies as hairless and harmless as a newborn. She is as innocent as the child who has lit a match near a curtain, who never fathomed that she could cause great devastation. Yet Memory’s slumber is so light that even the gentlest of tickles will awaken her. My memory is like this. The most trifle act will trigger an onslaught of memories. A mental effort to snuff out that time in my life about thirteen years ago is like throwing gasoline on fire. But what spares me is that the memory comes and goes. Thirteen years is a long time to practice distancing myself from the reality of the past. Now I can see myself as though watching a younger me on stage at a theater. With her I sympathize. At the end of the performance I gather my things and return safely and soundly to my own life.
Thirteen years ago, at the young age of seven, I enjoyed spending time with my grandma. Grandma loves me in a way that is so open and pure that I am sometimes embarrassed or annoyed by these displays of affection as only grandma can make me feel. She could always be counted on to pinch my plump cheeks, or firmly hug me, or bring sweet fruits for me, or tell me she loves me. After all these years it has only dawned on me that I am her only granddaughter in America. Her other grandchildren are living in England with their parents. So whether I choose it or not, my star shines in her eyes and she in mine because I love her from my heart as well.
She wants the absolute best for me. With my future in mind she opened up a savings account for me into which she puts money in when she can. Nevertheless, there has been no amount of love that can shield a loved one so completely that she never knows pain. I was not spared the hurtful and covertly damaging experiences that were unknowingly begun by my adoring grandma. Funny—I do not remember his name.
My grandma is a religious fanatic. Though she would never exact harm against herself or anyone else in the name of God, to her God is the reason for everything, and everything is a reason for God. It does not matter how late she is running, once we are in the car she will always take the time to pray for God’s blessing for the coming journey. Fifteen-minute drives to Home Depot or the Laundromat are not excused.
Grandma is my mother’s mother, and even after my parents separated, my father rented to her the top floor of our two-family home. So with grandma nearby and attending church religiously every Sunday, there was no way she would allow me to stay home and watch cartoons. As a child I coveted my time to watch television or read one of the many books my mother would take me to the library to borrow. Dr. Seuss was my favorite for a long while. I was a smart child who was always awarded with certificates of accomplishment in school. But even three years later after giving my elementary school valedictorian speech, I was not smart enough to tell an adult what had happened to me. Also, if I did not speak the truth, what happened could just be a nightmarish dream.
No one more than my grandma imposed going to church on me. My father was mostly indifferent. He was definitely concerned for my welfare, and perhaps knew that going to church could not harm me and might in fact be beneficial. Yet he was also wary of the effect my grandma’s religious zeal might have on me. He did not want his only child to be brainwashed. But nevertheless grandma got her way, and sure enough, I had several pretty little multi-colored dresses and white hats to wear to church. Grandma always chided that in the House of the Lord it was inappropriate for women and girl children to wear pants or to not cover their heads. On the other hand, my dad would say that you did not have to go to church to be spiritual and that all the unwritten laws of propriety took away from the purpose of going to worship. Church was to be a place where one gains a better understanding of oneself, the world, and of God.
I do not suspect that the young children around me ever really understood the sermons. I understood the language for the most part, and could recite every verse as the congregation and the pastor took turns reading aloud from the Bible. Still, I was never saved, never caught the Holy Ghost, nor was I baptized. What I enjoyed most was not the sermons. It was the ferocity with which the pianist hit the keys, the drummer tapped the symbols, and the beautiful way in which a crowd of people, some with no singing talent individually, could come together and sing the hymns melodiously. I usually impatiently waited for the fast-paced songs where I could practice different ways of handclapping that I learned from watching my grandmother’s hands or playing on my child-sized tambourine.
The church could even keep the music going without music and only the Spirit of the Lord as rhythm. However, sometimes I prayed for invisibility. Grandma would get the Holy Ghost and start jumping, dancing, and shaking. She would lose her shoes and her hat. I took it upon myself to keep track of her belongings and always wondered how the ushers, who were all women and dressed in all white, could keep their hands locked together in the circle their arms formed around her. It looked like they were trying to hold a live wire. There were usually about three women about her. Maybe less if someone else caught the Spirit. They would not bother to try to calm her for they knew that at this point all that could get through to her was the Spirit—or the end of the song. On their faces I always thought there was a bemused look. As for me, I normally tried to keep my face as though grandma was not getting the Holy Ghost again. No matter how much she pinned down her hat to her Gerri-curled hair before she left for church, it would somehow fell off when she caught the Holy Ghost. Sometimes this would happen to her twice during a service, so it was no wonder she was exhausted after morning service. She would definitely need to rest before evening service began. That is how I met him.
We would go to her church sister’s house to eat and relax. Grandma would bring a change of comfortable clothes for her and me. We would get out of our stockings and dresses, and it would feel good to lounge without concern for messing up or crushing my stiffly pressed clothing. Grandma and her church sister would lie down after eating and take a nap. But I could never nap. I was young with too much energy.
He was the son of Grandma’s church sister. He was a teenager, perhaps ten years older than me. He had a small bedroom which was more rectangular than square. There was a bunk bed, but I never saw who might have shared the top. There was also a small color television set with a VCR on top of a small wooden stand. There were some videos on the shelf of the stand.
I admired him. I was attracted to him in only a way a young child could be. Whenever my grandma and I came by, I would ask for him. If he was not home, the hours between morning and evening service would be long and boring as all the adults were napping. When he was home, I got to do what I thought was playing.
He had a baby kitten. It was white with some black in its fur. It was pretty much harmless, but I had long developed a fear of animals and would not pet it no matter how much he cajoled me. The kitten had a little tiny bottle of milk. The son’s face would light up, and his voice would take on a tone as he fed her and spoke of breast-feeding.
Maybe he was testing me to see if I could handle the word breast. Maybe I could subconsciously sense a dreadful air about him. But I genuinely never knew what would happen when he invited me to his room.
We were all in the church sister’s car one day. I was in the back seat with him and the church sister and grandma were in the front. As we were driving I heard a police car’s sirens. I looked at him, and he was making the sounds with his mouth. I was so impressed. It was like I learned he could fly. I tried to do it myself, but I failed horribly. He did it again and I tried again, and then grandma told us to hush. I tried again, and grandma told me to hush. I kept asking him over and over to make the sound again but, he wouldn’t. I was left to sit in silence and wonder at the magic of his ability.
He told me I could come into his room. I asked grandma for permission, and she said it was okay. She and the church sister were going to take a nap. I went into his room and sat down on the floor. I was smiling, and he asked me if I wanted to see something, and I said yes, and he put in a videotape, and I saw brown skin on brown skin, and I realized what the two were doing, and my face crumpled, and I said I did not want to see that, and I wanted to leave the room, and he said okay and not to tell.
Suddenly church was not so fun. Every Sunday I would beg my dad not to let me go to church. He would ask why not, and I could never tell him. I knew I should not have seen what I saw, but I did not want to tell him because I did not want to get in trouble. But without a good reason my dad probably thought I was just being a kid who wanted to get her way. I perhaps pleaded enough to my dad that he started to get upset with grandma because she was bringing me home too late by taking me with her to evening service. He said if I was to continue going to church she would have to bring me home in the afternoon. I was relieved.
One day by chance grandma and I ended up at the church sister’s house. The two of them had gone out for a short time and left me with the son. He was to watch and take care of me. I stayed in the kitchen to keep to myself and away from him. But I got curious and slowly wandered into his mother’s bedroom where he was watching the big television. He was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. His penis was out and he was touching it. He asked me to come, to come and touch it. Then just come and look. And I shook my head no and ran away back to the kitchen.
Church was never the same again because I was sick with fear with what might come. But I had stepped up the begging and the pleading to my grandma as well as my dad. I never told them the why, but they got the message. Soon I was very rarely at the church sister’s house.
I never knew what happened to him. But I know what has happened to me. And the memory comes and goes. Now it goes more often. Thank God.