American Raised

My America is so free until its dysfunctional. My family is as functionally, dysfunctional as they come. Because of them, I have loved and can persevere anything. I have never discussed what it has cost me, though I would not trade my experiences for the world.  Since I was young, I remember the strangeness of my feelings. My mom tells me the stories of me as a baby, free spirit and self-sufficient, running around the house, shirt off. “The neighborhood’s baby”, is what they repeatedly called me. I walked around free and always eating with only a diaper on. I hated to be held. You could easily lick a couple of your fingers and completely style my hair. That was the years when love and happiness was free. I grew up in Columbia, SC; a small city with a country feel. In Columbia, everyone knows each other. If you did not go to middle school or high school together, your parents did. For as far back as I can recall my mom dated guys but would normally find a way to not commit fully. I knew this had a lot to do with her past pain and relationships. My biological father was only around a time or two. I remember him coming around for my 6th birthday. He brought me a brand new, shiny bike. I was elated. I rode that bicycle from 10:00 a.m. that morning until 3:00 p.m. When it was time for lunch, I proudly parked it near my front porch. That was the last time I seen that bicycle and my biological father.

We lived in a low-income, minority community. Most parents worked two jobs or long hours on one job, and the kids all watched each other. We knew not to open the house door to strangers, not to cook on the stove alone, and to call the police in case of an emergency. The old folk say, “It takes a village to raise a child”, I agreed, but then It took me 30 years to understand it is what the village consist of. I had the option of going to school from home or my aunt’s house. I chose my aunt’s house. We were supposed to walk home together from school, complete our homework, and then choirs. My older cousin Tia was my aunt’s only girl. Tia hated school and choirs, and generally did not do either. Tia looked forward to curling her fake weave ponytail in the microwave and catching the city bus to go steal out the mall with her friends. She had her own free. My aunt had begun dating a guy named “Tony”. Tony was dwarf short, black as oil, and mean. He always yelled at us or treat us differently when my aunt was not around. We hated Tony. That Saturday, Tia had not washed her sheets nor made up her bed. She showered and went straight outside with her homegirls. Sed and I had just finished a game of “rollie pollie” in the street. It was hot and humid. We ran inside my aunt’s kitchen for a drink of purple cool-aid. It was one of our favorite drinks and almost the only drink we could make by ourselves. Many times, my aunt cursed us out for using too much of her sugar. Sed placed the steel bat in the corner of the kitchen next to the washing machine and washed his hands. He was a few years older than me, so he fixed snacks for both of us. We ate our snack and drunk our cool aid. Moments later Tony came in the house from work. We always knew when he was home. The energy in the house instantly changed. It was like the “boogie man” just walked in the room. Most days he got off work and hour before my aunt. “Why the hell it smells like piss in here?” Tony yelled. Sed and I sat quietly watching cartoons in the living room. We knew exactly why he smelled pee. He knew also. Tia had a bladder issue and still peed her bed. Considering she was 14 and not 2 years old, it pissed Tony off. If she did not wash her sheets few times a week, the entire apartment would smell like and alley of alcoholics. Tony began slamming doors and yelling “Clean this house up”. Sed and I ran upstairs. He was the younger of my aunt’s children and only three years older than me. We knew to stay clear of Tony and his anger. It was something about us that instantly irritated Tony. Not long after, Tia came home. Tony cursed and yelled at Tia like a neighborhood prostitute. She had on her famous microwaved weave ponytail and a crop top she made. We just sat upstairs and listened. Tia began to cry. She did not seem to be crying because her feelings were hurt. She came upstairs where Sed and I were almost trembling. None of us said a word. Moments later, Patrick entered the house. He came upstairs and noticed us sitting in a group. Patrick knew something was not right. He noticed Tia had been crying. “What's going on?” Pat asked firmly. We all sat with our heads down. “Tia got yelled at for not washing her sheets and peeing in the bed” Sed replied. Tia kept crying. Patrick, without warning, fled down the two flights of stairs in my aunt 3-bedroom apartment. Tony was in the living room propped up watching t.v.  “Why the fuck u yelling at my sista?” Patrick yelled. I never recalled hearing Tony’s reply. The next thing we heard was the table and kitchen chairs being shuffled along with a lot of tussling. Seconds after that, I heard the front screen door slam, and then silence. Tia, Sed, and I sat there in shock crying as if we seen something first-hand. “Go see what happened Tia” Sed demanded. “No!” she replied. We were all too scared to go face what the silence was truly about. I no longer heard Patrick nor Tony. Tia finally wiped her face and inched her way to the cracking staircase. It was dead silence. She slowly crept down the stairs, one at a time. We watched from the top of the stairs already devastated. Tia disappeared out of our sight down the stairs, but we could still hear the last couple stairs screech. For several moments we heard nothing. “AAYYYYYYYYYYY AAYYYY!” Tia came running and yelling back up the stairs twice as fast as she went down them. She was startled and crying hysterically. “What? What?” we both asked her. “Tony bleeding out his head and mouth!” she replied crying. “I don’t see Patrick and y’all bat bloody in the kitchen beside him” she continued.  We all three began to cry in unison. I could not move. Seconds later we heard the front screen door open. It was my aunt’s normal time to come home from work. We heard her scream like a scary movie and run back outside. We watched my aunt from the upstairs window trembling out of control trying to dial 911. An ambulance arrived shortly after and Tony was escorted to the hospital. The cops interviewed Tia since she was the older of us three. Sed and I were still too shock to recall the details anyhow. Patrick ran to his girlfriend house and was hiding. I remember him calling us from a random number, scared asking if he accidentally killed Tony. That day was the last day Tony dated my aunt and the last day I seen my older cousin Patrick free.