"Nobody wants me, I got two kids, a dead end job, and I never even finished college."
Like a wounded bird seeking refuge from the storms of life Erika hid herself in the pentecostal church. Sunday mornings she and her girls, five year old Shena and seven year old Dana, were the first to arrive for Sunday School. Sunday afternoons they were in the church basement eating dinner waiting for afternoon service to start. Sunday evening Erika and her children were right there in the third row, during testimony service singing
"You don't know like I know what He's done for me, you don't know like I know what He's done for me"
Just as the song was coming to an end Erika's voice rose above everyone else's.
"You can't tell it let me tell it, O you can't tell it let me tell it, what he's done for me."
She dances and spins around as she thinks about how John used to come home at three o'clock in the morning.
"Get yo ass up and fix me something to eat, Erika."
"John, I'm your wife, you don't talk to me like that. Where you been anyway?"
"Shut up hoe, and get me something to eat, I'm a grown ass man you don't ask me where I been"
"Well grown ass man, you should have ate where ever you were, I threw yo dinner in the garbage four hours ago."
John swung the back of his hand so hard and so fast he never thought Erika would duck quickly enough. BAM! the back of his hand hit the wall as Erika ran to the bathroom and locked the door. "Ahh, ahh I broke my hand, Ohh."
"You can't tell it let me tell it, what he's done for me" Erika sang as tears stream down her cheeks like warm healing balm and her long lean body bent by the burdens of life sways like a reed by the sea of utopia. In a trance like state Erika feels warm and caressed as she heals a little more from her past pain. "Mama, Mama, sit down" whispers five year old Sheena. When Erika opened her eyes everyone else is sitting down, she is lost in a warm glow of acceptance flowing from some unseen realm. Dana reaches into her mother's purse fumbling around for a tissue, she finds one at the bottom under the makeup bag, it has lipstick on it that Erika wiped off her lips before entering the church doors. As Dana wipes her mother's tears the lipstick on the tissue leaves red streaks on Erika's cheeks.
"Eww, you making a mess" Sheena giggled, pointing to her mother's red cheeks.
Just then Erika comes to herself as she looks questioningly at Sheena and Dana. "Wipe your face Mama before the church Mothers see your lipstick" whispers Sheena pointing to the used tissue Dana is holding. "Oh Lord Where's my tissue." As she fumbles around in her purse the makeup bag falls to the floor. A tube of lip stick, a compact of eye shadow and rouge roll under the pew towards the altar. Dana jumps to the floor, swoops her small frame under the pew, and reaches out her fingers just as the tube of lipstick rolls up to Mother Dawson's polished white Mary Jane shoes. She recovers the forbidden cosmetics before any one notices what happened. Managing to clean her face Erika regains her composure just as the usher hands her the offering basket. "Give and it will come back to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" Erika joins in with the choir as she slips twenty-seven cents that she found in her change purse into the basket.
"What is this I'm seeing?" A ray of sun beams through massive windows that meet a twelve foot high ceiling, Like radar it spills over the window sill, along the hard wood floor, and shines on Erika's desk, as she sits in a classroom, listening to a professor and taking notes. "Where did that thought come from? I dropped out of college eight years ago, I got two kids and no money, I can't go back to school." Thought Erika.
"Remember me, remember me, Oh, oh Lord, remember me" Reverend Jacobs sang in his deep baritone voice as he stands behind the pulpit. "Turn with me in your bibles to First Samuel Chapter 1 verse 19. ...and the Lord remembered Hannah," he reads in a loud resounding preacher voice.
"My brothers and sisters I just stopped by to tell you that God has not forgotten his plan and purpose for your life. I don't care what it looks like, how impossible it may seem, God has not forgotten you..." The voice of the wind howled like a great evil beast travailing in birth pangs. While the piercing light of the crescent moon revealed every movement of five year old Erika, her brother James, and their Mother. Edna Jefferson grips her children's hands running into the clandestine darkness that covered them like a gossamer shadow, as they escape the wrath of their drunken father Earl Jefferson once again.
"I'll kill you Edna, I swear I'll kill you this time" Erika heard her father yell as they ran down the street she grew up on. With blurred vision and a trembling heart, Edna ran pass the big oak tree, (where Earl stole his first kiss), pass the corner liquor store (where Earl drank MD 20 20 with his team mates) into the still darkness of the night. Just as they reached the corner, like a guardian angel from heaven the Dexter bus stopped right in front of the three of them.
Shhh, Snap!, the door slammed shut behind them as they fell into the hard, cold, plastic and steel seat. Warm salty tears streaked Erika's little face, not her tears but Edna's. Tears passing from one generation to the next, as James set motionlessly staring into the dark empty spaces of the dingy, cold, city bus.
The voice of the ferocious beast howled louder, while the city bus acted as a shield between us and the darkness.
"Where we going Mama, it's the middle of the night?"
"Miss do you plan on paying? the fare is fifty cents each" interrupted the bus driver.
"I, I don't have no money"
" Where you going in such a hurry looked like you were running for your life?"
"I was, mister, I was"
"Well I was on my way to the garage, this is not my route but I just felt I should stop and pick y'all up." The bus driver noticed Edna's busted lip as drops of bright red blood mingled with tears began to fall on Erika's already tear streaked face.
"I can take you to Receiving Hospital, do you need a doctor?"
"Yes, yes I need a doctor, thank you." Edna said with dazed eyes and a wounded heart.
We spent the night in the cold. clamy, crowded, emergency room of Detroit Receiving Hospital.(describe how it smelled, how it looked and how she felt) as doctors told Mama she had a fractured skull and two broken ribs. Miss Peterson the Wayne county social worker came the next morning and took us to the battered women's shelter.(Describe the shelter) That's the day I laid next to Mama and James on a little steel frame twin bed, and dreamed.
Green grass as far as the eye could see covered the earth like a rippling stream, I was standing in the middle of the stream of grass as cascading ripples reached out to the horizon, I was causing the ripples. It was the courtyard of a college campus. Next, I saw myself sitting in a classroom when a sun beam darted in from the horizon, like a spot light as it shined on my desk, then my pen, then my face. Until all I saw was the golden light. Like warm, liquid fire, It reached into my soul, my heart, my spirit, at that moment nothing was impossible, it was surreal. When I opened my eyes, sun light sneaking into the room from the cracked window pane (softly blanketed) down on me, Mama and James like golden glimmers of hope. We never went back home and daddy never bothered to come looking for us. Mama started to heal on the outside, but the inside was where we all needed the most healing.
"James, James, come here boy" Edna shouted. "You have got to stop stealing food from the kitchen, you don't want to get us put out of the shelter do you?" James chewed and swallowed his stolen morsels quickly. "I want to go home." he said while folding his arms across his chest and poking out his bottom lip as far as possible."James this is our home for now, we have to live here and follow the rules like everybody else." "I want to go home, I want my Daddy." "Boy you are seven years old, that's old enough to know that no one should have to live like we did when we were with your Daddy." "We had enough to eat." "I know and thats why I stayed so long, while he...he...never mind, you know what he did." "Now James I promise things will get better, but you have to do your part too. Can you just try to follow the rules, and stop starting fights with all the other kids, please? If we get put out of here we don't have no place to go." "I want to go home, what did you do to make Daddy hit you Mama?" James said through tightly curled lips, a menacing frown and cutting eyes. "James let me tell you something, no man should ever hit a woman, ever!" " You must have done something, why was he so mad all the time?" "He was mad because life was kicking him down to the ground and he didn't know how to fight back, so he took it out on me."
Earl Jefferson was the star quarterback at Northwestern High School, he could have any girl he wanted, except Edna Washington. She had talent, intelligence, and a future, a four year scholarship to Howard University. She didn't have time for athletes.
"Here comes that Earl Jefferson again, I wish he would leave me alone."
"Girl you have got to be kidding, every girl in Northwestern High School would die to go to the prom with Earl and you told him no, three times!"
"Yes Jennifer I told him no, he only wants me because he knows he can't have me."
"let me see, he's six feet five inches tall, strong, muscular, handsome, like a Greek god chiseled out of black marble and for some reason that bothers you, What's the problem?"
"He is the problem, he should take himself to the prom because Earl Jefferson is in love with, Earl Jefferson."
"Darling you send me, darling you send me, I know I know that you send me, honest you do, honest you do." With a voice like warm, butter, Earl sings gently and softly into Edna's ear as she and Jennifer walk into the loud, crowded, teaming, school cafeteria. Edna looks away as if she is annoyed and waves her hand as if she is trying to shoe away a nasty fly. "At first I thought it was infatuation but oh it lasted so long, now I find myself wanting to marry you and take you home" "No Earl! no I will not go to the prom with you!" Edna turns abruptly and walks away while Jennifer and every other girl stares at Earl in childish school girl admiration.
"What is her problem?"
"Who does she think she is?" "I love Earl Jefferson, I will do anything for him,"
"He told me that he loved me when I lost my virginity under the back hall stairs in seventh grade,"
"He told me he loved me last night in the back seat of his mustang at Bell Isle."
These are the thoughts of Cynthia, Paula, Alice, Janice, and Maria, like dreams shattering, hearts breaking, smoking guns hating, women scorn waiting, hoping, unspoken secrets, broken promises, Earl Jefferson's conquests. Edna Washington's enemies.
(Describe Edna) Tall, classy, focused, studious, pretty, with big bright expressive eyes, valedictorian of the senior class, daughter of Reverend, Doctor, Christopher Dupre Washington, Pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church. The pillar of the community. Edna sings in the church choir, but never seems to satisfy her father's expectations.
"I don't know how a colored girl can sing a song like Amazing Grace, like a cloistered French Nun." Reverend Washington said impatiently during Thursday night choir rehearsal. "Give the microphone to Jennifer, Edna."
Jennifer Evans takes the microphone, closes her eyes and sings like Mahalia Jackson in Imitation of Life, as she watches her daddy walk down the stairs of their front porch. He said he was going to buy a loaf of bread but he never came back home to Jennifer, her mother Susie and her little sister Gloria. Two months later Susie Evans walked into Mr. Jones' Corner Grocery Store.
"Collard Greens and salt pork, sweet potatoes, some summer squash, oh , and I need plenty of flour and corn meal for my corn bread, Mr. Jones. Milk, Cheese and elbow macaroni for my famous macaroni and cheese. It's Sunday me and my kids always eat a hearty Sunday meal. Put it on our bill Mr. Jones my husband will be in to pay you tomorrow, he got paid on Friday, he'll be in to pay you."
"Now Susie you know Charles left you two months ago, you don't have credit at this store any more you already owe me more money than you can ever pay."
"No, no Charles will be in to pay you on Monday he always stays out every week end he'll be back on Monday as usual."
"Not this time Susie, Charles is gone, let it go, you got to get on with your life, get a job and take care of yourself and the kids."
Susie dropped her groceries and stared at Mr. Jones with blank, emotionless eyes. A sound like the crash of broken glass fills her heart, as milk spills across the old, dry, hardwood floor, rolls under the counter and stops in front of the cash register. Susie never looked at life with clear vision again.
"Twas grace that taught my heart to sing and grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed." As Jennifer opened her eyes something like liquid love, the healing balm of Gilead was streaming down the cheeks of every one in the choir loft. One lone tear filled with sadness, pain and shame fell from Jennifer's eye, it rolled down her cheek like much needed rain in the Sahara, it caressed her chin, her bosom, her heart ache. Jennifer ran to her seat next to Edna and laid her head on Edna's shoulder, as she cried silent tears of unreleased pain.
"Why do you try to be so strong Jennifer? Go ahead and let it all out nobody's judging you." Edna whispered.
"No sense in crying over spilled milk Edna, I have to get on with my life."
"Girl we have been best friends since kindergarten and I know you, you are hurting inside where no one can see."
"My family is on Welfare, my mother is living in a dream world in love with the invisible man, and my little sister is looking for love in all the wrong places. I do not have time for pain, I am the rock of my family."
"I hope you don't crumble under all the pressure you carrying"
"like my mother did" Jennifer quipped with angry eyes.
In a hushed whisper, Edna drops her head as she wrings her hands nervously in her lap. "That's not what I meant and you know it. And you are not on Welfare, your mother gets a check, until she, uh recovers...you know what I mean."
"I don't know if Mama will ever...recover, she put all her faith in a man who walked out on her...us...twelve years ago, she still runs his bath water every night, fixes his dinner and waits. She ain't never going to recover till she wakes up. I'm late for work see you at school tomorrow. Bye Reverend Washington." Jennifer rushes past Reverend Washington down the isle and out of the double doors.
Sometimes pain can hit so hard, so suddenly, a person stops feeling for a while, that's what happened to Jennifer when Charles Evans abandoned his family. She got up early the next morning and poured a bowl of cereal for four year old Gloria.
"Gloria come eat." Gloria rushed into the kitchen still in her Pajamas.
"How long is Mama going to look out the window? Did Daddy come home yet? Is it Friday he don't never come home on Friday?" "
"Mama been looking out of that window since yesterday when Daddy said he was going to the store to buy a loaf of bread. And no, it's not Friday, it's Wednesday and I'm going to school. Mama, Mama are you going to look out that window all day?"
Susie Evans stood in her living room looking out the front window until she collapsed and hit the floor just as six year old Jennifer was walking in the front door coming home from school. When Susie awakened her eyes were now her windows and she was a prisoner inside her body unwilling to live, to feel, to laugh, to love, again. Jennifer told every body that her Daddy was dead and her Mama had him cremated because they couldn't afford to pay for a funeral.
Jennifer sits in her room on the floor behind her bed, writing a poem in her diary. (this is the beginning of Jennifer's story)
Black men, Left Women and Hurting Children
My Daddy said he was going to buy a loaf of bread
He walked past Miss Ella's house when she said
You know I'll take good care of you come inside
My bed is perfumed and my lips are sweet
Lay down for a while
I'll kiss you from the top of yo head to the soles of yo feet!
She sang my Daddy a lull-a-by
...I hope you die
You see my brothers and sisters, a ha
There was a Priest named Elkanah, a ha
This man had two wives, a ha
Hannah and Peninnah
Peninnah had children
but Hannah had no children
Elkanah loved Hannah, a ha
But the Lord had shut up Hannah's womb, a ha
I said the Lord had shut up her womb, ahh
And Peninah her adversary provoked her sore, a ha
That word sore means to the point of incomprehensible pain
Have you ever been provoked to the point of inconceivable pain?
I present to you this morning that the pain is a part of Gods' plan...
For your life, a ha...
"I can't take no more of this John, cried Erika. You promised that you would leave her and now you telling me she's pregnant with your child."
"I said she's pregnant, I don't know if it's mine or not."
"So your wife and your hoe are both pregnant at the same time. How could you John, how could you do this?"
"I swear Erika, I swear, I will make things right, just give me time to figure things out."
"I'm leaving you John, we been married six months, and I find out you are sleeping with Cynthia Parker your High School sweet heart."
Three months later as Erika lay in bed on complete bed rest she felt a sharp pain in her belly, it tightened and gripped her insides like the talons of an evil predator, warm fluid gushed up between her thighs and ran down her legs, like a crimson flood. "Oh God please, don't let this happen to me."
"Erika, we will not be able to save the baby.'" Said doctor Whittington at Providence Hospital's Labor and Delivery room. "We need you to sign papers giving us permission to do a hysterectomy, your placenta ruptured and I will not let you bleed to death." Just then John walked into the room, with tears streaming down his face he walked over to Erika, kneeled down by the side of the bed and kissed her cheeks stained with fresh tears, he kissed her hand softly as his warm tears fell tenderly on her trembling fingers. "I love you Erika, everything will be alright."
When Erika awakened in the recovery room, pain was pulsating from her abdomen like a searing knife cutting away her flesh. "Oh...oh" Tears began to run down Erika's face past her temples, onto her ears into her soft black hair. "Honey, said Nurse Jackie. "We were not able to give you anything for pain, you have two incisions, one in your abdomen and one in your uterus, we are prepping your for a morphine drip now, whenever you feel pain, push this button, as many times as you need to, it won't let you overdose." Everything was quiet, still, peaceful, Nurse Jackie didn't say anything else. John spoke up. "Doctor Whittington said they did an emergency c-section, and as soon as he made the incision into your uterus the bleeding stopped. He said God must have sent you an Angel, because he's never seen anything like that in his thirty years of practice...the baby didn't make it Erika, it was a boy, a little, tiny baby boy." John holds Erika's hand and kisses her tears as his tears and hers mingle and fall to the sterile white sheet of the hospital bed. Rain drops fall lightly on the hospital window pane like tear drops from heaven. "I wonder if Angels cry" thought Erika, as she closed her eyes and wished the pain would go away.
The Sun rose up from the throne and commanded the morning to sing Erika a love song. As healing beams from heaven bathed her broken body and gently put her back together again. Erika awakened to the sound of robins, singing on her window ledge. Foot steps full of power and energy approached the bedroom.
"Hi baby" said Edna smiling and carrying a bouquet of yellow roses. "Earth has no sorrow that heaven can not heal. it just wasn't time yet honey, you'll have children in God's own time."
"Mama, Cynthia Parker is pregnant." Edna turns around slowly from placing the vase of flowers on the window sill and looks into Erika's eyes. Waiting, thoughts wandering, wanting to make the pain go away, the pain she saw in Erika's eyes.
"Cynthia Parker may be carrying John's baby, but he loves you, Erika. When he came by the house last night after leaving the hospital he laid his head in my lap and cried like a baby. Both of you lost your baby boy last night. Now give him a chance to become a man."
Edna walked over to Erika's hospital bed and set down looking into her eyes. Remember when James screamed and cried all night when he was fourteen years old, and we couldn't figure out what was wrong with him?" "Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?" "By the end of the week he was four inches taller. Growing pains, baby. That's what you and John are experiencing, growing pains." Erika hung her head and cried, her body shook, her heart beat faster and louder, she wailed, wept, and wiped her tears away. "I don't want to wait for him to grow up, I didn't sign up for this, I can't take this pain Mama, I can't take it another day." She hung her head and cried for herself, her husband, and her baby boy. Edna gently places her hands on Erika's head and pulls her into her bosom, they cry together as Edna's tears mingle with Erika's tears.
Earl Jefferson wouldn't take no for an answer. On the night of Northwestern High School's Senior Prom he pulled up to Reverend Washington's house in a brand new Duce and a Quarter, black on black in red. He walked up to the door dressed in a black tuxedo, with a white ruffled shirt, red chammaban, and a red rose boutonniere, carrying a red rose corsage, embellished with white babies breaths. "Good evening Reverend Washington, I would like to escort Edna to the Prom. No, I sound rehearsed...Hello there doctor, no, Reverend Washington." He reaches for the door bell when the front door suddenly and unexpectantly swings open.
"Uh hello Mrs. Washington, is Edna home?"
"Yes Earl Edna is home." Reverend Washington walked up behind Mrs. Washington.
"May I help you son?"
"No Sir, I mean, Yes sir. My name is Earl Jefferson and I would like the honor of escorting Edna to the Prom, I know this is highly unusual Sir, but I heard that she didn't have an escort. Well, I mean, I heard that she and Jennifer are going dutch and I would like to schauffer them to the prom, Sir."
He fumbles with the plastic box holding the corsage and drops it on the porch. Mrs Washington smiles as Earl bends down to pick up the corsage.
"What a beautiful corsage."
"Thank you Ma'am." The moment grows more and more awkward.
"Well come on in" said Reverend Washington. " What church do you belong to son?"
"My family attends Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, Sir."
"Edna you have a visitor" Mrs Washington called from the bottom of the stairs.
"O yes, I know Reverend Sanford very well"
"then you must know deacon Jefferson" "Yes I do know deacon Jefferson" "He's my uncle"
"Yes Sir, my family has attended Hartford for three generations now."
Edna was annoyed and flattered at the same time, she didn't know which emotion to go with at the moment. As she descended the stairs dressed in a white chiffon gown, with a scalloped neck line that cascaded off her soft brown shoulders, she smiled and lit up the room. Her heart began to soften and she decided to follow it's lead. "Ahem, Miss Edna Washington may I escort you to the prom?" Earl said as he crossed his arm in front of his waist and bowed. when he looked up his smile filled the room. Just then, Jennifer walked in the front door with her cousin, Frank Gibson. "Wow, who's Duce and a Quarter is that in the driveway? Earl Jefferson, what are you doing here?" Jennifer asked with eyes big as saucers. She looked at Edna. Edna hunched her shoulders looking out of the corner of her eye at her father. "Hello Jennifer and Frank" said Reverend Washington. "Frank? What are you doing here?" asked Earl. "I am the escort of Miss Edna Washington and Miss Jennifer Evans. My mother made me do it," he said under his breath. "Well Edna this young man asked you a question," interrupted Reverend Washington. "We can all ride in my car, well my Uncle's car" Said Earl as he approached Edna to pin the corsage on her dress. He couldn't figure out where to pin it, or how to pin it on, when Mrs Washington took the corsage, found the strap and placed it on Edna's wrist. "It's a wrist corsage" she said smiling. Reverend Washington quickly retrieved his camera from the china cabinet drawer taking dozens of pictures. "Have her back home by 12:00 midnight, son". Reverend Washington said as he sliped Earl a fifty dollar bill." "Yes sir I sure will. Edna we are going to Carl's Steak House for dinner, then we will be fashionably late to the prom." "I ain't got no money for Carl's Steak house whispered Frank. "But I do" said Earl as he slipped Reverend Washington's fifty next to his fifty dollar bill in his wallet.
Oh, oh heaven must have sent you from above, oh, oh heaven must have sent your precious love.Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrel sang on the radio as the four seniors ride down Woodward Avenue. Earl took Edna by the hand, singing gently to her as if they are the only people in the car. His voice floats over her body like warm honey. She smiles and dreams of young love. Earl is a perfect gentleman, he opens the car door for Edna, and Jennifer. Frank rolls his eyes. He pulls out the chair for Edna and Jennifer, getting in the way of the mater-de, as the mater-de and Frank both roll their eyes. "What you trying to do, marry her man"? whisperd Frank when Edna is not looking. "That is exactly what I intend to do" Said Earl with a sly wink.
(Find the makes of cars and the styles of clothes worn to proms in the 60's. describe Janice , Paula, Alice, Maria, and Cynthia as they arrive at the Ponchatrain Hotel, some dutch, some with their dates, all wishing they were with Earl)
Cynthia Givens, short. sassy, full bossomed, with a 24 inch waist and 36 inch hips.Her eyes are always at half mass as if she is dreaming or hiding her true thoughts. She has been Earl's main squeeze off and on, since they were in the seventh grade.
"What is he doing here with her?" Cynthia Givens whispers in Angela Turners ear.
"He promised to take me to the senior prom when we were in seventh grade."
"Wasn't that way before he caught you cheating with Dennis Rice his best friend?"
"Earl and I were not going together then, I was free just like he was free."
"Why didn't you come to the prom with Dennis? You never told me what happened with that."
"He got back together with Evelyn, now he won't speak to me and Earl won't speak to me."
"Has any body ever told you the rules of dating? You don't date with your sister's boy friend, past or present. You don't date your best friend's boy friend, past or present. and you sure don't date your boy friend's best friend, past or present. What did you think would happen?"
"I wasn't thinking I was just going with the flow."
"Well did you sleep with him?"
"Dennis, who else?" interrupted Gina.
"I will never tell."
"Yeah she slept with him if she went out with him, she slept with him. You know she a hoe." Angela tried to pretend she was just making fun, but deep down inside Angela knew Cynthia had been with her boy friend Ed Davis.
"Cynthia and Earl are just alike thats why they deserve each other...girl you know I'm just playing right?" Angela asked Cynthia, with dagger eyes.
"This was supposed to be our night, I have dreamed of this night since I was thirteen years old, and she has to come along and ruin it." Looking like a spoiled child, Cynthia crosses her arms, purses her lips and sighs.
Hell has no fury like a woman scorn.