As a child of the sixties, I believe in standing up for myself even if it calls for shaking things up. When I was six my mother abandoned me on a subtropical island without saying goodbye. Consequently, I was traumatized and suffered from recurring nightmares of attending Mamma’s funeral. One night during one of those nightmares, as I was about to face the casket woman again (my Mamma), I experienced a strange sensation. Like Jonah in the whale, I was feeling taken over by a large body of something, being beaten while asleep.
Opening my eyes, I spied a lady recently introduced as my Aunt Prim. Like a silhouette of the Wicked Witch of the West, lording over me with a leather belt wrapped tightly around her fist, trying to beat the devil out of me. I guess I was making too much noise during my nightmares and inadvertently awakened her.
Alas, she was not the kind of person to care if I was grieving my Mamma’s unexplained disappearance. Aunt Prim’s favorite motto — “Children are to be seen, not heard” — sums up her crude approach to child-rearing. Then, from a cave-like place, deep within the tunnels of my head, a place where only lonely and abandoned children go to for solace, I thought to myself, “I wish Mamma would just show up and get me out of here.” But next I remembered, my head echoing thoughts of “Mamma is the dead woman in the mahogany casket in your dreams; she can’t help you.”
At once, from the same despairing place, I heard a still, soft voice whispering, “Fight back, little Sharon, fight back.” So, that’s exactly what I did, I fought back.
From somewhere inside my spirit, I found strength to hold that metal belt buckle ripping my innocent flesh. Bloodied, confused, I lashed out blindly with my feisty little fists, flailing wildly, whirling my body against the violent punishment of my executioner, Aunt Prim. Then the beating stopped.
Finally, the sun came up. There was a morbid silence permeating the island house. Aunt Prim had sequestered herself in her front bedroom. Sweet Aunt (Prim’s sister) was nursing my head wounds, sitting glumly on my bedside, attempting to make me feel guilty. Sweet Aunt whispered it was my duty to apologize for defending myself, but I really didn’t feel sorry for protecting myself, still I acquiesced.
As a reward, Sweet Aunt introduced me to a Negro Spiritual. I realize Sweet Aunt was just trying to cheer me up after I got a harsh beating from her authoritarian older sister, but somehow, the song didn’t quite do the job. I admit, defending myself that day felt correct and just. But the distressing void in my heart would not leave. I kept wondering if I would ever see my mother again. However, I learned something important about fighting back. I learned sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe, even if no one else is on your side.
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