Chapter Five I
A woman is battered once every fifteen seconds in the US.
Battering is the single largest cause of injury to women in the US.
Over three million are beaten in their homes each year. (Reported cases)
Still proud, America?….Land of the Free?…. Home of the Brave?
A young girl, not yet ten years old, emerged from the subway at the 77th Street station; she had to take the E train from school to the Lexington Avenue station at 53rd, transferred and rode up to 77th Street. She lived on 79th Street two blocks to the east, near 2nd Avenue. Lots of numbers in Manhattan.
She was calculating the miles from her school to her parents condo. She knows the length of every block in Manhattan, including the width of the street from one block to the next, and the length of every subway stop. She was busy doing the math in her head, just for fun.
As she turned up Lexington Avenue, she heard a man’s gruff voice, “Get in the fucking car bitch, or do I need to get serious again?”
The girl looked up, right in front of her, a big man in a bulky overcoat was dragging a woman, yanking hard on her arm towards a car parked by the curb. She wasn’t resisting, he was brutal for the sake of brutality. The girl saw the woman had replaced fear with resignation. The man slapped her hard and pushed her in the back seat of the car. There was a small child, a boy of about five, standing next to the car and looking up at the man. He wasn’t crying, he stared wide-eyed, his whole body trembling, he hadn’t replaced fear with anything.
The brute raised his hand to the boy, the young girl said, “Don’t! He’s only a child, leave him alone.”
The man turned to her, he was balding, fat, his eyes narrowed, a sneer on his face, he pushed her to the ground, “Mind your fucking business kid.”
The little boy used the diversion to scramble into the car next to the woman, the man slammed the door and slid into the driver’s seat. He looked through the window at the girl still on the ground, smirked and screeched into the traffic.
A black woman stopped and helped her up, “Girl, you okay? Better watch what you say to people like that. What could you do, little girl like yourself?”
“He didn’t hit the boy.”
The woman said, “Boy going to get hit sooner or later, his mama too. I know men like that. They like it, like to make people suffer. Sick bastards.”
The girl, “Somebody ought to do something.”
The woman stroked her hair lightly, “You okay?”
The girl, with her sad intense eyes, looked up, “Yes, thank you.”
The woman said, “Be careful honey. You got nerve, standing up to him. I know grown men who wouldn’t have the guts. Just watch it, baby; some people, they mean, just hateful mean.”
They went their ways.
The girl continued to her condo. Her mother was in the kitchen, “Hi sweetheart. Everything okay? You look…thoughtful.”
The young girl told the story, skipping the part about getting pushed down. She didn’t see the point in worrying her mom about it.
Her mother sighed, “I’m sorry you had to see it. There’s a lot of ugliness in the world. You know that from your talks with your dad. Still, talking about things and seeing them first hand, there’s a difference.”
She kissed her daughter, stroked her soft hair. The girl went to her bedroom, switched on her computer and started researching abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse. She read and studied photos for an hour, women’s faces cut, swollen, bloody and bruised. She felt the pain, read the despair in the disfigured faces. Then there were the children. The images were burned in her brain….she would not forget.
She folded up on her bed cross legged and began to reach out.
Chapter Six I
Sitting at the vanity, I am brushing my long black hair, not focused on anything in particular. Unfocused is unusual for me. In my nearly ten years, I had grown up watching mom do her job, one step after another precise commands and orderly sequences of web design and programming. This is what I knew, how I handled the world. Brushing my hair is one of my zone out times, no planning, no structure, just the simple slow rhythm of the brush strokes. Mom got us Mason Pearson boar bristle brushes, good for thick long hair, I started with a detangling comb, then switch to the brush. Today I’d been sitting for quite a while, one mom in her office working, the other at the gym working out.
An image slowly begins forming, strands of white, a hint of soft white glow. I stop in mid-stroke, watch white strands gently swaying. An incredible sense of calm, which remains even after the image fades. I put down the brush and close my eyes. The atmosphere is still, silent. I don’t move for another quarter hour.
‘Well, that was different,’ I think. I try to recapture the vision, to make sense of it, nothing comes. It had vanished as it had arrived, only peacefulness remains. Susan comes down the hall, stands watching my stillness. I sense her at the door, she doesn’t move. She starts to speak, doesn’t, turns and leaves. She knew I would explain later if I wanted to. I keep little from Sis; one reason she didn’t interrupt my reverie. A more important reason is that Susan feels no right to intrude on my thoughts. She refuses to let her curiosity, any need for her own psychological comfort, run rampant over my privacy in an artificial rationale of a mother’s concern.
I sit for another few minutes, my body refusing to move. There is a comfortable captivation in what I experienced, it felt warm. Finally, I get up and go to find mom. Susan is stirring a cup of coffee in the kitchen. I sit down at the table. Susan asks me if I want anything.
“I just had the strangest sensation.”
She sips, waits.
“I was brushing my hair, zoned out, and there was a picture in my head of something white. It came in pieces, like little strips or strands at first then completely white, not a ball or the moon or anything. It was like something hanging, swaying just a little. Then it began to disappear, ending with only a few delicate strings, then it went away.”
I am quiet for a moment, then, “I felt, I felt….alive. And unbelievably calm. I couldn’t move, I didn’t want to, I wanted to stay with it.”
I stare off into the distance.
She asks gently, “Are you feeling okay? Do you feel warm, like a fever?”
She feels my head, cool to the touch, answering the question herself.
I am back in my normal high gear, “I feel wonderful, energized. If I’m losing my mind, I can’t say it’s a bad way to go."
Chapter Seven I
During our visits, Ms. Alva asks all about my classes, school and martial arts, sometimes I show her the forms we practice in Taekwondo.
Susan recalls Alva’s comment, “Got-amn, that girl is fast, can’t follow her hands or feet. Susan, that baby’s not just quick, she’s sudden. She like that all the time?”
Sis explained that it baffled both her and Master Kim, “I have quick reflexes, Daphne makes me look positively slo mo. It’s partly because she practices all the time and she seems to have an innate ability to let her body do the thinking. She’s active, but she never tenses up. She is totally relaxed and the motion just happens.”
Alva beams, “That’s it! That’s the secret. She don’t let her head get in the way of the action, that’s what. She gonna do something, she just do it, don’t think it to death. Just like her cooking, she got the rules down, got it all organized, time to quit thinking, just cook.”
“Ms. Alva, you summarized it beautifully. She practices and practices. When she’s absorbed the moves, she says she doesn’t think about them anymore.”
“If a ball player had to think about hitting a ninety five mile an hour fastball, they would still be thinking while the ball sitting in the catcher’s mitt. My Daphne just naturally know not to get all muddied up in thinking when it’s time to act. Look at Michael Jordan. He lets his body tell his story. I seen Willie Mays get to a ball no human supposed to get to and make catches no human supposed to make. I been watching great athletes all my life. I always loved sports. Mark my words, that girl is different. She got the gift. I’m not just saying it because she’s my precious baby. I know what I know.”
Susan thinks, ‘Alva is pressing ninety and doesn’t miss anything. Maybe she’s on to something about Daphne; she sure hasn’t been wrong about much else.’
Ms. Alva held me an extra long time that day.
That night, back in the condo, I say, “Ms. Alva’s not well.”
Chris looks to Susan, “You didn’t say anything,” she asks me, “What’s the problem?”
Susan’s brow knits, “What are you talking about?”
“She doesn’t smell like Ms. Alva, she has a scent that’s not right.”
“Ms. Alva’s the cleanest woman I know, what do you mean?’
“It’s not a clean problem, Sis. It’s an illness, something’s not right with her.”
“You’re telling us you can smell sickness?”
“Sure. When people have a cold, or a fever. One lady in your class has something more serious.”
Chris, “Who? What are you talking about?”
“Mrs. Dennison, the red belt. Something’s wrong with her, not just a cold or flu.”
Susan, “And you can tell from the way they smell?”
“Yes, it’s bitter. Like smoke, like sour smoke, not strong, just there. Ms. Alva too. They’re both sick, their bodies are not happy.”
Later, as Susan and Chris are lying in bed, Chris asks, “What do we do with this?”
“There isn’t much to do. We can’t go tell people that our daughter thinks you smell sick. On top of all that, Daphne is having some kind of vision.”
She reiterates my vision story.
Chris, “What in hell’s going on with her? I mean, she seems like the same Daphne to me. Did I miss something?”
“I don’t know how to explain. I’m trying to piece things together. First, I don’t know if the one thing has anything to do with the other. Then, the other morning we were just talking like usual…”
“I found myself looking into those dark eyes of hers. Something…something in her eyes was different.”
“They weren’t a child’s eyes.”
Chapter Eight I
We live, then we die. That’s what happens.
Six months later, I am in the hospital room with Ms. Alva. She was Ms. Alva. She had no intention of enduring chemo and radiation treatment for her cancer, repeated trips to the hospital, only to prolong the inevitable..
She says in her own direct way, "I been here near eighty-seven years, don't need to make it to eighty-seven and a half, full of pain and sickness."
I understand, it is how she wants it. I decide to talk about something else. I tell her I’d seen the vision again, the silken white strands, sometimes with deep blue hues. How it would come and go.
I tell Ms. Alva how good it feels, that I don’t understand what it is. It feels of something coming, developing. It seems to be getting clearer, I’m not sure.
“Raise me up, child,” I press the button, the bed rises to put Alva in a sitting position.
“I been thinking on it. Something or someone is out there, looking for you. You’re picking up on it. I had an aunt once, back down south, she had the sight. These days nobody believe that stuff, to many people passin’ off bullshit for ability. My aunt could tell you the damnedest things, what some fool be up to, then the next day, damned if he ain’t got caught doin’ it. See, you got to understand child, there’s things we don’t know, lots of things. What we know ain’t a thimble full of water in the whole ocean of what we don’t.”
“What do I do with it Ms. Alva?”
“Don’t make up your mind about nothin’. If it is or if it ain’t. You can’t know what you can’t know ‘til you do. You understand?”
“When it’s ready I’ll know. Don’t say yes it is, or no it isn’t.”
“That’s it baby, you goin’ to find out in time. You got the sight. You can’t force it. Be here when it gets here.”
I put my arm around the old lady, “You got to get well Ms. Alva so you can be with me when it happens. I want you there to share it with me.”
“Isn’t for us to say, honey. I’ll tell you this though, when I go, I’ll go happier knowing you got something good coming to you. I couldn’t ask for nothing better in my final days. I’m ready to take my trip, baby. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life for meeting you and your mom.”
“Sis says you’re coming home with us soon. We have everything ready for you.”
“Your mom and Chris are so good to do that. I tried and tried to talk her out of it. Your momma is the most determined woman on God’s blue planet. She finally wore me down. You know I’m coming there to die, you gonna to be able to put up with all that? Likely be out of it most of the time. Does it trouble you?’
“I don’t want anything to happen to you. If it’s going to, I want to be with you. You’re our family.”
“Bless you child, and your beautiful momma. Got Miss Chris to pick up my old ass too. That woman is a brick house, I know your mom is crazy about her. You take care of old Alva and your moms too. You are surely one very important reason your moms get along so well.”
I am quiet. Alva drifts off to sleep. I sit with her another hour, kiss her cheek and head home.
Two weeks later Ms. Alva is set up in the extra room, hospital bed and a morphine drip for the pain. She is mostly asleep, when she is awake, one of the three of us is there with her, usually me. I’d taken off school and went only to taekwondo class every other night. I read the paper to her every day, whether she was awake or not. The television runs the sports channel twenty four hours, which is what Alva did at home. She lasted three more weeks.
She dies while I am reading her the summaries of the weekend football games. For Ms. Alva, it couldn’t have been more perfect. I'm not much for tears, but I cry while I finish reading out loud the details of the Giants game.
I not much for crying, I made an exception for the old woman. I replay her telling me, “Shush girl, don’t be crying over me, I’m in a better place, watching over you all the time.”
I cry again, alone in my room, the vision comes, I feel its silent presence. Motionless on my bed, a soft white shroud hovering over me. Sighing, I there’s a gentle stroke through my hair, down my cheek. I fall into a dreamless sleep.
Susan, “I checked on you last night, you were so out. I covered you and you didn’t move a muscle.”
“The vision came, Sis. It understood everything. It held me and I fell asleep. When I got up, I was calm. I’ll miss Ms. Alva, I’ll miss her forever. When I woke up though, I felt more grateful for the time we had with her.”
Susan is perplexed.
“I know I’m only ten Sis, but it’s real.”
“I won’t pretend to understand. You can’t say until you can say, we’ll have to wait. It’s like Christmas, wondering what’s in the beautiful package.”
“We only have to wait until it unwraps itself.”