I was always a shy girl growing up. I had a lot to say but I never found my voice beyond paper. I was always afraid to speak up and speak out. I kept quiet when my father would beat my mother and this quiet demeanor transcended throughout every facet of my life.
My mother was not deep into astrology by any means but she entertained herself with it now and again. She had a little wooden plaque that was an Ode to Sagittarius hung in a corner of our basement. She and I shared this unique sign. The plaque listed the attributes of the Sagittarian but there was one word that I wasn’t familiar with – candid. I quickly grabbed my children’s dictionary and looked it up as I always would when I came across a word I didn’t know. When I read the meaning: frank, blunt, outspoken, I said to myself, ‘This is not me.’ So like any inquisitive 10 year old child, I asked my mother, “How come the plaque says Sagittarians are supposed to be candid and I’m not?” My mother smiled at me and said, as you get older, you will grow into your Sagittarian self. So from that moment I looked forward to being more outstpoken, blunt, frank, candid. It would take a few years after my mom died before I found a voice and started to ‘grow into my Sagittarian self’. This transition came about as a result of being pushed to the limit though.
Living with my grandmother was a blessing and disaster. I was so very grateful that my siblings and I were not put in foster care and we were able to stay together as a family. But on the other side, my grandmother’s house was where my siblings and I learned what full on adversity felt like. My grandmother was 64 years old and living in her four bedroom home with her husband and relatives who were tenants in the basement. I guess all the space prompted the Child Welfare Services to back off and the State of New York to award my grandmother as our legal guardian. Like I said, I was very grateful for my grandmother, after all, she took us in even when my father’s family, with the exception of one, wanted nothing to do with us. I was very grateful, so much so, I stomached a lot of the ill treatment.
My sister, brother and I were like pets left in a will by a deceased owner to people who were allergic to us. I say people because my mother’s two sisters and five brothers were in our lives just as much as our grandmother was. We really tried to be as quiet and helpful and out of sight as children who have just lost their mother to the hands of their father could be, but that was not good enough. Our grandmother always found something about us to complain about. When she would complain, it would revolve around my sister and I not helping her out with house work. When we would try to pick up a broom or a mop, we would get the same comments; “Put that down. You don’t know what you’re doing.” Or “I just cleaned that, what are you doing?” I think my grandmother just needed something to complain about. We were like her sounding board and why not, her child, her first daughter was murdered by our father and we were a constant reminder of that. Worst yet, my little sister resembled my father and she would always be reminded of how much she looked like him and acted like him. I was very close to my father growing up so my grandmother would always tell me how I loved my father more than I loved my mother. She even told me that I’m the reason why my mother died because instead of calling the police that night, I called her. I blamed myself for my mom’s death for years to come because of my grandmother’s statements.
My grandmother’s husband or step-grandfather, when he wasn’t taking his daily walk to the local OTB, he spent most of his time sitting in front of a tiny black and white television in one corner of the kitchen, watching us and sucking his teeth at us every time we passed by. He would throw his little discouraging comments at us now and then. Once I tried my inexperienced hand at cooking and my step-grandfather got up from his chair that imprinted his gluteus maximus and slid his slippered feet towards me as if to throw something in the garbage just so he could see what I was doing. He looked into my boiling pot, looked at me and laughed this condescending laugh. I asked him what was wrong. He told me smiling, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Why don’t you get out of the kitchen.”
This is how it was on a regular basis but everyday was worst than the one before. I used to privately call my grandmother the first World-wide web or the prototype to the World-wide web because no one could contact as many people in so short a time as my grandmother’s speedy fingers would as she dialed numbers when she had a piece of juicy gossip. Her complaints reached the far ends of the earth. Then my sister and I, being the eldest, would hear about it from our aunts and uncles and elders in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses that we attended. The aunts and uncles would come on the phone without question, yelling at me. They seemed to be the Borg from Star Trek as they all had the same things to say in order -“Why are you treating my mother like this?! You guys are so ungrateful! You could be living on the streets if it wasn’t for my mother…!” I would stay quiet as they spewed their spiel. My sister on the other hand was always outspoken. From the beginning when we would be attacked, she would be ready for war, equaling and surpassing their boisterousness with her loud voice. She seemed to have no fear and she was my sibling by 8 years. I always admired this fearlessness about her.
The calls would usually come back to back and I would usually sit there quietly listening, guilty for just existing. Then one day at the age of 17 I couldn’t take it anymore. My grandmother called me to the phone in the kitchen where she and her husband sat at either end of the table to speak to one of my uncles. She had this accomplished smile on her face as usual and my step-grandfather was one second away from pulling out virtual popcorn for the show. Of course I knew what kind of call this was. I took the rotary phone receiver from her and before I could say ‘hello’ properly, the yelling and the accusations started flying towards me. I surprised myself when I raised my voice slightly and authoritatively and said, “I’m seventeen years old. I’m not a child anymore. When you can learn to respect me and lower your voice when speaking to me, then we can talk. Other than that, this conversation is over.” Then I hung up the rotary phone and walked away. My audience was dumbfounded. They were fortunate enough to witness the moment I grew into my Sagittarian self.