The Matter Of The Daughter Of Clifford Harris

The Black body is a constant source of policing.

The Black, female body is a constant source of policing, shaming and control.

I wrote a mini series about this called, For A Fast Girl, earlier this year. Click here for that. It is 5-parts, and I encourage you to read that–and come back to this.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Welcome back!

When I first heard this story, I thought it was a whole joke. I heard about this, and I thought that people had to be playing. The fact that this happened, this happened to a Black girl, a Black woman–as a Black woman–is triggering! It makes me feel a mixture of rage, sadness, and embarrassment.

First thing:  Deyjah Harris is 18.

On the podcast, Ladies Like Us, Clifford (No, he will not be referred to as T.I. or TIP here) was saying how he goes to gynecologist visits with his daughter. Okay, I can ride with that. Let her be responsible for her own body. My first gynecologist visit was when I was 17. My mother was a nurse, an L & D nurse, and wanted to make sure I knew she knew I would not be under her roof always. Meaning, I got a Pap Smear (part of Well-Woman Exam), and my mom got me a script for Birth Control pills.

Me:  “Mom! But I’m not doing anything!”

Mom:  “Just in case you are.”

That was the extent of that. My mother knew that as much as she wanted me to remain a virgin/wait till I got married/wait for true love. The fact is, I was 17. Teenagers make stupid mistakes! She would rather me be safe than sorry. That, and she didn’t want me to be a teenage mother. This is also the woman that told me, and I am quoting damn near verbatim:  “You better stay a virgin till you leave my house! I’m an old L&D nurse:  I know what to look for.”

 

Image result for protect black girls

Bruh, I was not prepared to test that. So I didn’t.

But no, my mother–MY MAMA!–still didn’t come into that examination room with me. She didn’t ask my GYN if my hymen was broken. She didn’t ask if I was still a virgin. She turned the control of my body, over to me.

Now, I cannot speak for the goings-on at the Harris Household in Atlanta, but the Bush household? My mother was aware of all goings-on as it relates to her daughters. I cannot speak for the quality of motherhood that Tameka “Tiny” Harris has given to her daughter, but I will say this. Tiny needs to remind Clifford that the only vagina he needs to be concerned about is hers. All others–including these outside chicks he’s dealt with!–he need not be concerned about.

Deyjah is grown. Deyjah is 18. Deyjah is in college.

If she wasn’t a virgin (an intact hymen is not concrete proof that a girl has not been penetrated), was was he going to do?

The thing that I cannot ride with is him asking the doctor to make sure her hymen is in tact. I cannot ride with him asking the doctor for ‘his results.’ I cannot ride with the fact that after a birthday party, he put ‘Gyno’ on a post-it where she could see it. The fact that he considers his daughter’s body property? That is unsettling to me.

Here is why.

This behavior is the same shit that I grew up in! And I am now 20 years older than 18. Clifford is the type of dude now that he has all this money, can’t no body tell him nothing! He figures he can move in an around the world as he sees fit, because money (ergo, power) insulates him!

In the clip heard through here through the YouTube Channel, King Of Reads, the played details exactly what Clifford said. And how serious he is about this. Keep in mind, this same energy isn’t given to his sons when they start having sex! I don’t remember any news about Clifford taking his sons for STD testing, or making videos on teaching them proper condom techniques! There is nothing in the news about when his sons break the hymens of other women’s daughters, or other men’s daughters.

The Urban Prophet Nasir Jones, said it best on his Life Is Good album–the track, Daughters: God gets the ‘foulest players, and heartbreaker’s by giving them girls. I believe that. The hosts of the show are heard giggling as he is detailing what lengths dude has gone to in policing his daughter’s virginity.

They giggled.

They laughed, as if they couldn’t believe it

They didn’t challenge this.

 

Image result for bell hooks quotes

Perhaps, they have never been called ‘fast.’ Perhaps they had never been told the body you have is a temptation to weak men, and it is your fault if something happens to you in regards to rape, accosting or molestation. Maybe they have never been the victim of a father telling a doctor to ‘check her hymen’ and ‘give me my results.’ Perhaps they have never been told that the body they walk through the world in isn’t theirs. That is both weapon and distraction. The giggling was acrid.

Toxic patriarchy is acrid. And it grows putrid flowers that have the toxic ambrosia of hubris powered by influence! There is something so insidious about what he did to her; what social media is dragging him for; what the internet is doing–to her.

This type of policing of the female form  is often seen in countries where religious regimes are in power. Where women are chattel, to be possessed–as they are feral, wild and more animal that human.

This ain’t cute, Clifford! This ain’t cute, Tameka!

I know there are people that will champion what he did, what he is doing, and will say those that feel as I do are ‘overreacting.’ Or say, ‘these girls are fast and they need their fathers to be involved in their lives!’ I know there will be people whom will say that I, and those that feel as I do, which will dismiss my opinion. That is their right.

Ignoring something that does not make it more palatable. Does not make it vanish. It does not make it less easy to address. Cancer that you ignore, becomes metastatic–meaning it spreads! Bell Hooks said that patriarchy has no gender. I agree.

I am in full support of fathers being involved in the lives of their children. I am in favor of fathers being knowledgeable of how their children’s bodies work. The world is a dangerous, dark and evil place. But, this? Like this? No.

When does a Black woman own her own body? Someone needs to let me know.

 

[Top image from TMZ, middle image-Twitter, last image-AZ Quotes.com]

 

For My Daughters-Lesson 5: Struggle Love Is Not Love

 

Babygirls-

I want to you to know one crucial thing:

You cannot make someone love you. 

Here’s another one for free:

You should not have to make someone love you. 

 

If I can have you understand just how precious you are, and how amazing you will become–I think I will have done half of my job as your mother. Knowing these two irrefutable things about yourself as women–as Black women–this will allow you to be dynamic. Also, rendering you immune to the thirst to be chose!

There is this concept a friend of mine came up with. Honestly, she may not have invented the term, but for the case, I’ll say she did. She called it: struggle love.

What is this, you  ask?

This is the type of love that is toxic, dear ones. It is this promoting of the idea if you ‘just hang in there’ it’ll be better–when there is no reasonable hope of such! Now, don’t get me wrong:  every relationship has bad patches! Every relationship has moments (moments!) where you don’t like or can’t stand each other. In those temporal moments, you may have the choice to ride out the bad, knowing, seeing where the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not dark all the time! But dark times should not be ongoing! Those moments should be few and far between.

There were men that I chased, hoping they would see how beautiful and capable I was. There were relationships that I stayed in far too long, hoping it would get better. But better never came. See, what people don’t tell you is that ‘struggle love’ takes from you. It saps your youth, strength and focus. It takes or sabotages opportunities! This is what I heard from a man that  tried to keep, that it took over three years to leave:

“I don’t want you to go out of town for school, because I would miss you so much.”

And I listened. The thing behind that? He didn’t want me to be far from him, because he was insecure. And sometimes insecurity in the wrong man leads to controlling behaviors. Or to be clingy and manipulative.

Another man I tried to date wanted to change who I was. Hated how smart I was, that I kept myself up, and that I was ambitious. It was odd:  the same thing that drew him to me, was the very thing that made him hate me.

Struggle love props up this idea of the happily ever after at all cost! It promotes this idea that everything that makes you valuable as a woman is wrapped in being with man! While doing whatever it takes to keep him! It involves ignoring or tolerating outrageous, abusive behavior because ‘he’s my man, and you just don’t understand.’ No!

If you have any inkling; any type of ‘something told me’, any funny feeling? Believe it. This is the Almighty protecting you, warning you, from something that can hurt or trap you. The thing is, my loves, a hurt is something you can be be mended or healed from. A trap? That takes a while to get out of, and may leave scars or residue. With that residue, along with the hurt? This may make you susceptible to evil, manipulative people.

My dearest ones, my heartbeat in two places, I want better for this for you! I want you to remember you are a Queen. You are entitled to be both beautiful and ambitious. You are allowed to manifest your own destiny! You have the right to tell a man ‘no’! And that is a complete sentence! You are allowed to possess all pieces that make you formidable and feminine. Change for no one. Change for no man. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t fix something, or everything! You are entitled to leave any relationship when you believe that you had done all you can. It does not make you less than a woman to be single or walk away from what no longer suits you! Own your power and person, my loves.

You have the right to have healthy, lasting love. You do not, will not, have to give your body to boy, a man (or another woman) not be valid, valued or loved. Love is not a struggle. It is given. That which can be given, and given freely, is never a struggle.

I love you beyond the stars, to the moon and back.

Always,

Mommy

 

 

For My Daughters-Lesson 3: Ambition & Dreaming

 

 Dearest Darlings:

I want you to remember one thing, if nothing else:

If you believe you can, it will be so.

Most innovation and change in the world has come from someone dreaming. It is that energy, to build what only you may see which fuels ambition!

They go hand in hand, loves.

I want you to be bold about what you want from this life! If you do not see it, build it! I want you to take every gift, talent and skill and master them. Push them. Explore them!

Do not be persuaded or dissuaded by the opinions of stagnant, dreamless, vapid people. Do not fear the outcome of something before it begins! Don’t fear failing or falling! It is okay to be anxious, dear ones. It is even okay to be scared. Life is sometimes scary–especially, when you are embarking on something the surrounding world thinks you shouldn’t be doing; or succeeding in a field women, Black women, shouldn’t be in!

I am raising you to Torches!

This means your power is in three parts:

Light. Heat. Strength.

From your light you can, do and will inspire. You will lead a groups, movements and a generation! You will be all God has asked.

From the heat of your Torch, you will be able expose injustice, as well as provide compassion! You will be able to be strong when it is easier to quit. You will be able to care for those who can’t, and speak when others may not be able.

Torches provide strength, even when they stand still. They are a beacon–a place of hope. This is the flame of ambition. This is the power of dreaming! Strength is power put to use! You can do, will do, so much! And even being able to light the way for someone else is just as crucial.

Go forth and do good, dearest ones! I am already proud of you.

The After-WHEN THEY SEE US

I couldn’t do it, y’all.

I really can’t.  I tried, dearest ones. I was prepared to go in, let have and bring every linguistic dragon I could think of.

But…I couldn’t bring myself to watch this. At least, not right now. This series brings back too many memories, too many current traumas, too many things that right now I cannot lean into. I may not come back out the same. I am trying to remember in such times to keep my heart soft. I am trying to remember that police are not monsters, but human beings. I am trying to remember that police are supposed to protect and serve.

…even the people that you don’t like.

But in times like this? Mane, it would seem that the boys in blue hate the boys in Black skin. I don’t, we don’t, have the luxury of taking off skin. As a mother, sister, wife and daughter, I could not suffer my heart to be snatched through my chest through the incarceration of the Central Park Five (CP5). I could not do it! I know they are all out now, and out their money and trying to do as best as they can. But that doesn’t erase what happened to them, the time stolen from them, or change the fact they were sacrificed to further the career of Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer!

But I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t add this as I hasten to close this piece.

WE TOLD YOU SO.

We as communities of color, as Black people, as Brown people told you that the police can be, are, can be seen as the biggest organized crime syndicate ever constructed. We told you the police pull us over just because we are there, have a nice car, too many people in it or in the wrong neighborhood.

We told you that the St. Louis County Police Department was evil before Michael Brown died.on a street. We told you that Chicago PD had houses that hemmed people up and beat them up and through them back out into the night–daring us to say something. We told you that the NYPD, the LAPD, and the small sundown towns along or past highways didn’t like us.

We told you that they beat up my brother in Baltimore.

We told you the police officer hand no reason to stop the girl he wound up raping.

We told you that police harass Black children. Try to interrogate them without parents. Or concern. Or regard for any future they may have.

We told you that police lie to Black children.

 

We told you.

We told you.

We told you.

 

What Ava DuVernay has done is pull back the lies told by this police-positive narrative shoved at a non-minority people to not challenge badges and uniforms. She, through the vessel of art, showed the world–through the intersection of Blackness and humanity—the Central Park Five are more than articles. More than these monsters or mongrels the current POTUS believes should have gotten the death penalty!

Trauma is not for public consumption or amusement. But when you focus trauma, revealing its source, that is when you can harness it as a teaching tool.

There are so many exonerations happening now that judicial reform is something like rain–it is inevitable. It is impossible to ignore. The cry of ‘there are good cops too’ are hollow. They are shrill. And they are not followed up by any action which would empower these phantom ‘good cops’ to hold these blue monsters accountable.

The excuses are over, fam.

The jig is up.

In the immortal words of Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels:

“We know that all lives matter, but for right now? We gon be specific.”

 

Daddy Lessons #6: Dealing With The Fucksh!t

“As much as you can, avoid foolishness at all cost.”

-Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

My father was a man of action. He had this uncanny ability to discern what was, is, could be foolishness. For this ability, I am grateful. With him gone, and the regime of Orange Thanos, I have never missed him more.

When I encounter crazy situations, after trying to pray first, I look at the situation for what it is. From that observation, I come to one other rooted piece of gospel from the Urban Prophet: “Now, you know what you got.”

I don’t have the patience to go through this life giving 10-level energy constantly to 2-level problems! I don’t have the desire to give more energy to situations which cannot/do not improve or to people that don’t desire to hear wisdom!

This also goes for people that choose not to support me in prosperous endeavors! I have made up in my mind that people can walk, fly, ride or catch up! In order to have peace in this life you have to learn how to deal with people; and how to deal with people you don’t like or people that won’t change.

You cannot allow people with no power in their own lives to try to assert power in yours! You have to be able to tell people where they can and can’t be in this life! You have to be strong enough, wise enough, to listen to the things and people that matter.

And also know when to know what will never change. The best thing God will ever give you is sense and eyesight. When you use those two things together? You are unstoppable. Keep that same energy to deal with people, things and situations which don’t serve you. Protect your peace at all costs–because it’s priceless.

NIGHTLIGHT APPROVED-The Deacons’ Girl

I know I teased about a project I was working on before Christmas last year. Well, here it is! I was working on a submission for the Black horror podcast, NIGHTLIGHT, whose creator is Tonia Thompson. I had to wait a while before I could publish it on my site. But without further adieu, here is the story, The Deacons’ Girl. If you would like to hear the audio narration, click here.

–—————

There aren’t many people that can claim what the Deacon family bloodline can.

We know where the head of the Hessian is. You know who the Hessian is. You must know! The Hessian is who Washington Irving called the Headless Horseman. My family, 10 plus generations removed from enslavement, know where it is. It was my paternal beyond great-grandfather who saw the Continental soldier blow the head off the Hessian with a cannonball. He, Grandpa Deacon, joined the Continental army for his freedom. He was in the woods, scouting, as the family story says. He saw the Hessian wound other soldiers before the Continental soldier marred by the Hessian’s sword killed him with a cannonball and powder.

The story goes that the cannonball met the head of the Hessian with the force of a ripe melon thrown against the wall. The type of thud which assures you whatever you hit was dead—or should be. Supposedly, Deacon stood there, watching the blood pulse and pump from the bloody stump where the head once was. Grandpa Deacon said he watched one of the soldiers pick the head up by his short black hair. The family story says the Hessian’s eyes looked at him, through him, at nothing. Grandpa Deacon is supposed to have said, “Them eyes had to be coal black, jus like that ole neighin’ horse!” My soul shivered when this story was retold. All I could think about when this story was whispered loudly, when I was forced to recite it was the bloody trophy long dead soldiers carried with its eyes open, seeing nothing along his final walk in the winter bare woods. I had nightmares frequently about the mouth of the Hessian hanging open in the shape of a scream to protest his dispatched burial. Its eyes open as the cold dirt filled the open mouth and covered the open eyes.

He was too scared to move, but kept watching. From where he stood, he was able to tell where they took its head. The family story goes my great-grandfather saw these soldiers bury the Hessian head in what his own mother called the Han’t Woods. “They buried that demon head deep in that ole black dirt of them Han’t Woods,“ she’s supposed to have said. “Don’t nothing come out there alive and talk.” My grandfather, Thomas, told me this. Just like he had told his son: my Daddy. My family, with all its other trauma, had to keep the secret of where the head of the Hessian lay.

Grandpa Deacon is supposed to have stayed in those trees, trailing behind the soldiers. From his perch, Deacon saw the macabre procession take the cold, bloody body of the Hessian to this big black walnut tree. They threw it in this hallowed out space in the tree, tossing the head in after before covering the head, severed from its body, with soil. He waited until they disappeared over the horizon. Deacon went to the tree, now a grave, musket in hand. The story said he saw the dirt they packed into the tree begin to pulse like a heartbeat. He was only supposed to scout, looking for Redcoats. He was to relay the position of the Redcoats. He was the best scout his regiment had, which is why he got a musket. I would often wonder what he would have done had something come out of that tree–a musket would not have stopped it. He feared the commander of his unit would tell his old master he didn’t obey a direct order. If that happened, he wouldn’t get to be free. All his promises to his wife and their new baby would be for naught.

******

My family, both slave and free, came from upstate New York. They knew the legend Irving told wasn’t a legend–it was a curse. We couldn’t tell anyone growing up. I remember at Halloween how everyone would get a costume, real or imagined, deciding what they wanted to be. I couldn’t dress up, and after fourth grade I stopped asking. I couldn’t go trick or treating until I was old enough to sprint over Gallows Bridge, over that big body of water called Lake Hollow. Or as the locals call it Hollow Lake. They call it that because of the legend that no one seems to believe in but us.

My paternal grandmother, her too a granddaughter of Deacon, would make me wear a gris gris under my costume: wormwood, new grave dirt and rose water. This is how my Mama found out I had allergies. There were blood red splotches all over my chest and neck where it touched me. She said the gris gris made me ‘invisible’ to the dead.

I remember being in first grade when we moved to the other side of a bridge in Albany where water was. “Demons and spirits can’t cross water, Avery.” That was the only answer my parents gave me. Every fall, I had to recite to my grandfather what not to do. “Avery?” I would have to look up at him because he was so tall. He was always so serious when I had to repeat the instructions. “You remember what to do?” I would take a deep breath in, remember his exact wording.

“ Don’t go in the woods.

Don’t let nobody know you know the Hessian is real.

And is real angry at our family.”

We could have given the Hessian his head back, but we didn’t. My better than 10-time great grandfather, the slave that saw this all happen, could have given him his head back. Deacon could have made all this go away. He could have made us normal!

I grew to hate and fear Halloween. My sister, Tamera, drowned when I was 11, and she 17. The police report my parents requested from the Albany Police Department said my sister had water in her lungs . I remember my grandfather fighting with my mother, telling her the real reason why she died. “She didn’t listen! Tammy didn’t never listen! She dead cause she was being fast!” I was so mad listening to the grown-folks’ conversation from the heating vent in my room. As much as I loved my grandfather, I hated him then. I had enshrined the last memories I had of my sister. I held dear the memory of the last night Tamera went out: Halloween. She did her hair, put her makeup on. “Ryan and I are going out. I don’t care about some damn curse!” I sat on the side of the bathtub, thinking how pretty she was, and I wasn’t. “It’s some ol’ homespun family shit Grandpa made up to keep his kids underfoot!”

The red dress she wore had gold trim along the slender red straps, stopping a little above her knee. “Ryan’s favorite color is red and the Chinese say that red is for luck, so I’ll be fine!” She didn’t wear the gris gris Grandma made her. Tamera wasn’t allergic to it like I was. She just didn’t believe in it. “I make my own destiny,” she’d say, telling my parents the same thing when they asked why she didn’t wear it. Tamera looked at the shades of bronze, false lashes with a cat-eye liner, blending a little bit more at the corner with her finger.

She wore the gold Bali earrings Mama gave her for her seventeenth birthday.. Her hair was down, freshly relaxed and curled under. I watched her make faces in the mirror, pretending to pin it up before letting the length fall all over and past her shoulders. “Hot to death!” She said turning in the mirror. I knew she was going to the Bridge after a movie with Ryan. She wasn’t supposed to go! She had no protection. She had no business going where Mama and Daddy told her not to! Especially on Halloween night! Her legs were long and smooth, feet bare on the bathroom tile. Tamera had been itching to wear the gold Nine West heels she had saved up for.

They were going to see some movie, I think it was the last Mission: Impossible, Ghost Protocol. “I’ll be back later, Ava.” She had winked at me, and left the bathroom with the ease breezes have. Then she jumped in her boyfriend Ryan’s red Mazda to speed away.

I woke up to screaming and beating on the door of my parents’ house on All Saints Day. Ryan was screaming about blood, a horse, and Tamera. They weren’t that far from Gallows Bridge, Ryan said. “I wanted to show her the Orion constellation.” he said, sniffling and half screaming. “The best place to see them was near the dark woods about three miles from the Gallows Bridge.” As he cried, I watched him from the foyer on the stairs. “Tam said she didn’t wanna go home yet!” His face was in his hands as he sat on the navy couch, now ruined with memories, and probably my sister’s blood on his shirt.

His car was on the other side of the bridge. Ryan said he heard a horse, heard hooves. “I saw Tamera look up. She was scared, and told me to run.” Ryan still didn’t move his head from his hands. “ We ran towards my car, ran towards the bridge. I parked at the bottom of the hill.” I stood there in my Supergirl nightshirt and bit my lip. I felt hot tears roll down my face as Ryan spoke. The tears brought me comfort so I didn’t wipe them away. “She screamed, I turned to go get her! And this big black horse, the red eyes,” he moved his hands from his dirty face. “Something was behind her.” He focused ahead, looking at me I was sure. “I saw this dude on horseback grabbin her hair and,” he swallowed air, scared to go on. “Tam was screaming, trying to get away.” He looked at my parents again on the couch. “There was this wind that blew and knocked me out. I opened my eyes and,” he paused, seeing her head leave her body again. “her head was–gone.”

Ryan knew about the legend. He knew about those woods. They were halfway home. She was almost over the water. I remembered how shaky his voice was. How dirty his clothes still were, the splotches of blood and mud on his green Polo shirt. He was in a Bellevue psych ward in New York City for three years because no one believed him, and his parents were scared for him.

He said when he came to on the side of the bridge, Tamera’s headless body, still in her pretty red dress, was in the water. She was found in a similar fashion as my grandfather’s brother, my great Uncle Tuck. Drowned, but he had no head.

My family knew. We always knew. We kept the secret to save ourselves.

*******

For my sister, for Ryan, for Uncle Tuck, I needed this to be over. I decided a week before Halloween, after my eighteenth birthday, I was going to send it—whatever it was—back to Hell. Or wherever things like this come from. My grandmother, Ethelle, being the old conjure woman she was, told me the best way to catch a hant. She told me I would have to wait until the sun goes down or right when it comes up. I was going to take a gris gris she made me and go. I had her garden shovel and my iron nails for protection. It was three days before Halloween; I woke up at about 5 in the morning. I looked at the ceiling, breathing deep. “I’m going to go Tammy. It’s going to end!” I got dressed in all black, a sweatshirt and pants. Both things belonging to Tamera that I convinced my mother to let me have.

I walked downstairs through the dining room and the kitchen going to the backdoor toward my grandmother’s shed for a shovel. With my gris gris, my nails and the shovel, I started out and towards Han’t Woods. I walked, careful to avoid the bridge. The sun wasn’t up. My footsteps were brisk through the leaves as they crunched under my feet. I grabbed my shovel tighter, flexing my right hand around the oak handle. I concentrated on my steps, ignored the itching around my neck. There was the crunch of leaves behind me, and a quick trotting. I took a deep breath and held it, felt my hands tense around the handle. I exhaled and continued through the ever dense grass. I lost my footing and tripped. I clutched the shovel, baring up on it to be upright again. The trotting got closer, louder, and I laid on the ground, eyes closed. My Grandpa said that you would need to be still when you came across an angry horse, the worst thing you could do was lay down on the ground. But I couldn’t get up! There was a whinny and stomping of hooves near my raised left shoulder. “Avery!” I couldn’t move. I looked up to see Mr. Curtis riding on his sienna-colored horse, Cinnamon; the early morning sun giving me an outline of his face covered by the floppy hat he wore. “You know better than to be on the ground when you hear a horse!” I relaxed my gaze, and studied Cinnamon, refused to move. “Be careful, little Miss Deacon. You best get home!” He clapped the reins of the horse and trotted away.

I stood up, leaning on my shovel. I held the shovel tighter to ignore the itching. I remembered what my grandparents said as I wandered towards the oak and elm trees. I knew the tree had to be big. It had to be old. The soil around it had to be soft and loose. My stock were all farmers, people of the earth–I knew what loose dirt and packed dirt looked like. I closed my eyes and prayed to my Grandpa Deacon, begging him to help me. It got colder as I walked. The weather report on Channel 7 said today was going to be better than sixty degrees, but I felt my teeth chatter against my bottom lip. I knew the light wouldn’t reach where I was going. I heard crows and something else running behind me, a squirrel maybe. But it was too quick to be anything else. I cursed because I didn’t think to bring gloves. The trees seemed to grow and move as I walked. I just knew they would start following me–I half wished they would. I closed my eyes, counted my steps to keep myself concentrating on where I was going.

I forced my eyes open and saw Han’t Woods. I knew it had to be them because the trees were dense and there was no trace of the oncoming dawn light. It was graveyard dark. I was thirsty, so thirsty. I licked my lips. My mouth, tongue and cheeks were parched deserts.. I exhaled so hard my teeth rattled in my ears. I closed my eyes, stood still, trying to listen or sense where to do next. Closing my eyes was the only thing my grandma taught me how to do when I was scared, and I was frightened out of my mind. I needed to focus. Closing my eyes made me ignore what I was seeing and go to what I was feeling, which was more reliable. I stood still, and felt a hand take my right one, moving towards my wrist. It started to drag me forward, even with it feeling as if there were bricks in my sneakers rather than feet.

I shifted the shovel to my left hand, eye open to follow my unseen guide through the dense grove of trees. I blinked fast to adjust to the early light which stabbed holes through the canopy of trees. The hand was firm in its grasp as it lead onward, willing me not to fall. As I walked, the hands on my back infused heat and strength into me, allowing my eyes to remain open. I started to count the light strands through the canopy. There were no more sounds. No crickets. No birds. Only my footsteps.

As I covered more ground, . I began to hear whispers, sudden and harsh. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I couldn’t focus on this and not fall prey to the woods. There were more whispers, louder than before. My eyes stung, itched almost as bad as my neck and chest. I knew I was on the verge of tears, but I was too stubborn to let them fall. I welcomed the harried scamper is squirrels but there was nothing. I wanted something to fill my ears rather than the silence.

There were ever darker trees, the warmth of hands and my steady footfalls towards this tall, black walnut tree atop this small hill. . It was an obelisk above the other trees which surrounded it. I tucked the shovel under my left armpit as if it were a protective Teddy when the wind started to whistle. I was almost there.

I tried to ignore the throbbing in my feet, but they were tired. My left arm and shoulder ached from clenching the shovel. My wrists and back were burning from being pushed and dragged to my final destination. As the heat increased over my back and hand, I wanted to believe they were infusing strength back into me. I needed it as I approached the black walnut tree. It was easily as tall as a two-story house, and the color of soot.

Big, old, with the earth around it almost swept clean like something had come in and made its home there. I shifted my shovel in my hands and started to dig, “Grandpa Deacon, Uncle Tuck, Tamera–help me!” I hissed. I dug, ignoring the swelling signs of the wind. The gusts hurled me chest first against the thick stump of the tree. I felt the blood break through my cheek as the bark dug into it. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t see with all the dirt and debris being flung.

I began groping around in the dark. I wished for the hands that guided me here to help me search. My grandmother’s gris gris was burning, no longer content to provide the distraction of itching. My head and ears rang; I couldn’t breathe. My chest ached from being ragdolled into the tree. I looked up to find I was knee-deep in the hole I made and hadn’t found anything! I dug faster. I began pleading for the world to stop. I needed more time. I needed the itching to stop. I needed the tightness and burning in my chest to ease. I had to find the head.

I began to wonder if the Hessian caught me, would he kill me. I thought what it would be like to have my head severed, to feel what Tamera felt for the last time. My hands were raw from digging. I closed my eyes from the pain, and my left hand brushed against something hard. I opened my eyes with the wind blowing and saw what looked like a hip bone. The wind still blew with the same strength that hurled me against the tree. I was sure if I stood taller in the grave I dug, I would have been thrown into another tree.

There was at least four or five skeletal pieces! I dusted dirt from them, and found a piece of a red cloth. “Where is it?!” The wind sounded like a locomotive: loud and oncoming. I tried to steady my breathing, clutched my chest. The bruise was bigger than I thought, I couldn’t breathe as deep as I wanted. My eyes watered from the chill the wind gave. The cold ripples inched down my back, reminded me how alone I was, reminded me of exactly where I was. Among the wind, I heard hooves.

I was able to climb out of my waking grave in time to see it, even while it was still way off. The stabs of light let me see what I thought was a horse’s head. The horse was charcoal black. I knew what I was seeing probably was what Grandpa Deacon saw. There was no rider’s face I could see. “I thought the horse could smell me, knew it could.” The rider wore a cape with a high collar, the hood obscuring the face. The clothing dark and leather-looking. The cape was long as as dark as the horse he sat on. The horse bucked and neighed as the hooded rider pulled the reins, the boots he wore crusted with clay.

I stood and waited; I wanted to make sure this was what I thought it was. My eyes held open by the wind, my right hand wrapped around the iron nails for protection. The wind akin to a train whistle revealed the rider had no head.

I left the shovel and started to walk slowly towards the direction of Gallows Bridge. The wind stopped long enough for me to hear my heartbeat in my tightened chest. I tried to remember the way I had come, needed to be calm enough to remember. I gulped air and began to dart around trees to follow the stabs of light. I looked over my shoulder, and saw the horse turn with flattened ears. I screamed when the rider clapped the reins.

*****

I ran towards Mr. Curtis’s farm, which was the landmark to lake and the saving grace of the bridge. I started at a full sprint towards Mr. Curtis’s farm. I heard the hooves behind me, that sound of hard rain with the incessant angry neigh of a horse. My chest still wasn’t loosening, I couldn’t feel the gris gris. My chest began to feel like I swallowed fire! It began to ache to inhale. I ran! I didn’t know how far the Hessian was behind me.

I looked over my shoulder, saw the red eyes of the Hessian’s horse. Another scream ripped through my throat, more fire put in it. The horse rode down on me as if it carried the fury of a tsunami! It might as well have had wheels as fast as it ran after me. My feet ached and my pace slowed—like I was in cement. I clenched my fists, summoned whatever energy lingered in my body! I heard the hooves go past me as I hid behind a tree. I demanded my lungs not to burn. Told my knees to loosen. Screamed in my head for my feet to not ache.

I ran in the opposite direction, knowing there was a shortcut to Mr. Curtis’s property and the bridge. I couldn’t hear anything, even my own steps. I kept going. “Don’t fall! Don’t fall!” I repeated as I ran, feeling no extra speed or strength. I tripped over a tree root but when I got up, my feet slid from under my own weight. The leaves damp and slick from the night before gave me no extra help. I ran over the cognitive map of the area by Mr. Curtis’s property, assured myself that when I could see it, I would be okay. The Hessian would not take my life, not like this.

I got toward the end of the darkest part of the woods. I ran over a fallen branch, and heard neighing.

I looked over my right shoulder, saw him steadily closer to me, the eyes of his horse as red as Tamera’s dress the night she left the world. His sword unsheathed, the sound louder and similar to my grandmother sharpening her kitchen knives. But it was light, the sun was at my chest. I could see the outline of the bridge over the foggy horizon made by the lake and sun.

Is this how Tamera ran? Is this how Ryan out ran her, let her fall behind him? Was the last image he had of his high school sweetheart the Hessian’s sword slicing into the flesh of her neck? Separating her head with the face made pretty hours earlier? Did she scream when the Hessian grabbed her hair? Was Ryan able to help her while the Hessian pulled her from the comfort of the ground? Did Ryan watch as the blood coated the sword, the rage against our family assuaged, quenched, for a moment, with the blood of my sister?

My heart beat against my bruised chest. Whatever protection my grandmother’s gris gris gave me was gone. I couldn’t feel it anymore against the itching of my chest. My lungs felt like I was taking breaths of sulfur and fresh volcanic ash! My legs were heavy. My feet were about to break off they hurt so bad.

My eyes itched. I felt my hair fall over my shoulders, long free from its ponytail. My body softened and went limp, collapsing under my exhaustion towards the slick, muddy leaves of the meadow. There was no more hiding in the forest. No trees. No stabs of light. My eyes were heavy, I saw the bridge–closer now. I couldn’t get up. I felt my knees break, the hooves closer. My hands went forward, spent of energy and everything went black.

There was this warmth that infused into me, hands, three or four sets of them. The whispers came again, furious and soothing. My hands were wrapped in other hands with pants being pulled up like a naughty child having a tantrum. My head was swimming, I couldn’t focus, and my eyelids fluttered before being forced open. The bridge was more solid, more fog was being burned away by the morning sun. The heat from earlier wrapped around my knees, infusing strength into muscles and bone. I got to my feet again, half-carried and half-drug to the bridge. My feet thumped over the oak planks, The hands and warmth left me to stand in the middle of the safe harbor of Gallows Bridge.

I saw the fury of the Hessian manifest in the horse. The horse stomped its hooves and neighed loudly. I clenched my chest. I felt the bruise once more, comforted by the heartbeat and warmth beneath. Tears flowed from my eyes, either from relief or panic. I watched the Hessian on this horse the Devil has to keep in his personal stable. He clapped the reigns with more force, frustrated at my escape. The horse neighed with more insistence, still willing itself where I was. It was still unable to get more than a hoof on the aged planks under the dark, muddy hooves. The agitation of my getaway was evident in the volume of the whinny the horse gave.

The horse traipsed and trotted around the entrance to the bridge, stopping before a support beam. The sword hacked at the support beam and I watched chunks of the dark wood fall into the water! The chopping of the bridge left me frozen. I thought this was the way the Hessian saw fit to kill Tamera, Uncle Tuck, and who else knows! The Hessian guided the horse to the other beam, and as his sword glowed white hot, he wielded it with the same ax determination on the opposite side. I screamed, stuck in the spot I was left in, desperate to move!

The Hessian was determined to destroy the bridge with me on it!

As the blows of his sword connected with the wood of the bridge, flames ignited on the right side. They traveled up the structure as if it was a birthday candle. The fire lapped towards the rail where I stood catching the sleeve of my sweatshirt. The heat was hotter than any oven door I could open. The entrance which had been my salvation, cracked and crumbled into the water!

The hands grabbed the back of Tamera’s sweatshirt, while I put out the fire on my sleeve. I was pulled with the force that knocked me down and I was sure I was bruised behind. The flames crackled and roared, as the structure creaked and groaned consumed by the insistent heat. The inferno overtook the roof of the bridge, and a support beam fell near my head. I swatted at the embers in my hair. I couldn’t scream, my throat still hurt. The swinging stopped as the flames on his sword changed red then white! I felt splinters in my hand, and the gouge from the nails I gripped.

I coughed as I was dropped on the lake’s the muddy bank with the care of a beached whale thrown up by an ocean. The bridge was burning. My way to get back to Han’t Woods was gone.

The air was still. The crackle of the fire consuming the bridge was the only thing to be heard along with the call of the crows. My face bled. My hands ached. I had splinters in my elbows and backs of my thighs. I swallowed a scream in my throat, the curses that threatened to wake the dead in that old black walnut tree.

The Hessian turned with almost a flourish and at full gallop, rode back towards Hant’s Woods. I failed. I must have dug on the wrong side of the tree. My Grandmother Estelle told me when we went to visit the graveyard where the Deacons all rested why certain stones faced away and toward the sun. “Those that’s gon see the Lord’s return always faces north, Avery.” My grandmother had said. “Those that ain’t, well, they faces the south—away from the sun.” I dug on the south side of the tree!

I sat watching the bridge burn. My soft cries of the frustration from my rescue became a howl. This howl came from my throat in fury and rage, reminding me of the ache in my chest. The still, fire-warmed air reminded me just how helpless I had become. My family was cursed. There could be no more denial. No more reasoning away. I, like my Grandpa Deacon centuries earlier, would never be free.

=====

The Deacon’s Girl is going to be turned into a novel. The release date is October 2020. Stay tuned. -JBHarris

 

Daddy Lesson’s #3-Finances

img_0618-5

 

“Always keep some money on you.”

– Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

 

The running theme that I tell people is that I’m the daughter of a hustler. I really, truly am. My father didn’t like the word ‘No’, and believed in making sure certain things were in place so other things could happen. One of those things that he taught me was to make sure I could take care of myself. The best way he thought I could do that, was to make sure that I always had some money on me.

My father made sure my sister and I got used to carrying, purses and a wallet. He would tell us that we  should keep money on us in case we go somewhere. He wanted us have some sense of financial responsibility even then. I mean, when I was in fifth grade, when I started carrying a purse WITH money in it! I mean, it was my Dad that taught me how cool having a bank account was! He taught me and my sister how to use and ATM!

Daddy taught me how to hustle, and be okay with (as a woman) to have my own money. Even though he didn’t teach us how to save (that came later for me after he died), but it make me see money as a tool. It was this strange dichotomy:  money is  tool to be used, but not to be saved.  But there was a power in that as a little girl. I had the power to realize that I can do what I wanted to do–if I had the money to do so.

From that, I was never afraid to work for what I wanted. Ever. The dream is free, and the hustle is real…and it needs to be funded. Until the Lord sends more help, or you win the LOTTO? Hustle. It won’t kill you. I promise it won’t.