“Naomi, you sure you want to do this?”
I was beyond sure. This house was a recurring nightmare that I needed to wake up from.
“Yes Zuri, I’m sure. Besides, it’s too late now. The realtor has several potential buyers and is showing the house this weekend”
“I know, but there are so many memories here?”
“Yeah, I know. That’s the very reason why we need to sell it”
“But why? You know some White couple or housing group is gonna buy it right?”
“Probably. What’s your point?”
“Gentrification is my point. Why not keep it in the family? Give it to Demetria or Aaron as an inheritance?”
“Well Zuri, right now I have to think about the kids’ tuition. While my professor gig pays well, it’s not enough to get two kids through college”
“Wouldn’t they be able to go to your university for free? Or at least at a discount?”
“Trust me girl, I tried to get them both to consider Johnson. Even gave them the speech of how it was better to go to a historically Black college. Demetria took heed, but chose to go to A&T instead. And Aaron? Sheesh! That boy is hell bent on attending Clemson because his daddy went there. And seeing that his daddy ain’t nowhere around to help with this tuition, we gotta sell the house! So if you don’t mind, can we get the last of mom’s things and be on our way?”
I could feel my cousin’s eyes trying to penetrate my soul, hoping to change my mind. However, the deal was done. I picked up one of the remaining boxes and started my trek to the car.
The late afternoon sun warmed my face as I lumbered my way down the stairs. After I put the package away, I found myself staring at the kids who were running up and down the street. Not a care in the world! It took me back to when I was thirteen. Me and Zuri would ride our bikes any and everywhere!
“You remember how we used to go to Sunray’s after school?”
“Uh huh! You would tell Aunt Carol that you were taking me to get some dessert after dinner. But what you really wanted to do was meet up with that boy! What was his name?”
“Girl! His name was Hakeem, but everyone called him ‘Red’. And that boy was fiiiiiiine!”
“Wasn’t he light skinned or something? Red sounds like an old pimp name”
“Everyone in the ‘hood called him ‘Red’ because the top of his fade was that color. Man, that brother was the epitome of cool. He always rocked the newest Nike’s and had the freshest clothes! Every girl in Summerville wanted him back then”
“Hmmmmm. So what made you so special?”
I popped my collar and did my little twirl as if she had to ask.
“One thing’s for sure, you have never lacked confidence”
If she only knew how much of that was an act. I had to be brave and confident all the time. Elijah Brock trained me to be that way.
“But you had that cute thing going on too, Zuri. That’s the real reason I brought you along. One look at you and Mr. Kim would give us anything we wanted!”
“I remember! And you always picked the same thing every time; two Slim Jims and ten lemon cookies! You would be ready to fight over them lemon cookies!”
We shared a laugh as we looked back on the first home I ever knew. Zuri had fond memories of this place. She was the lucky one. My cousin only had to be here until seven when Aunt Vicky got off from work. She wasn’t privileged to see the shop of horrors that I lived through when she went away.
Since I was the oldest, I was groomed to be the protector while my brother, Albert, wasn’t trained to do shit. He was the mischievous one. He didn’t want anyone to correct him outside of Elijah Brock. Albert was a consistent member of the detention squad and was always hanging out with unsavory characters. I remembered mom always pleading with Elijah to stay closer to home so that he can keep an eye on Albert. Elijah would always say that Albert was just “being a boy” whenever he disobeyed. Unfortunately, there was nothing Elijah could say when they found Albert dead at the age of twelve.
According to what I overheard, Albert shot himself in the chest playing with Elijah’s gun at one of his friend’s houses that tragic Friday afternoon. Albert was Elijah Brock’s only son. I had never seen him cry until that day. At Albert’s funeral, Elijah openly wept and was inconsolable. After that, my mom and I were often the targets of Elijah Brock’s despair. And that depression never let up.
He would physically abuse my poor mother whenever I wasn’t around. When we got ready to say prayers, I would see the bruises underneath her makeup. After several years, the abuse occurred less frequently. But when it did happen, it was more violent. I would run into the room to save her. Most of the time, Elijah would take his fist and strike her unmercifully, making her entire face bleed. Other times, he would use a belt and try to choke her to death. Each time I rushed in, he would pivot his rage towards me. But that’s what I wanted. I needed his focus on me to give my mother a reprieve.
“You know, we missed you at the funeral”
I didn’t realize it, but tears were falling down my face. I quickly wiped them away and nodded. But it was too late. I could see Pastor Zuri transforming into counselor mode. I started to walk back into the house, pretending that I had left something. Cousin Reverend followed.
“It’s okay Zuri, I got it. I’ll be back in a minute”
No matter. Zuri followed in and closed the door behind her.
“No cuz. We’re going to talk about this now. One on one”
“Well what if I don’t want to talk about it right now? You do know that there is more than one way to get out of this house right?”
“Naomi, I understand that, but you haven’t talked to me since Uncle Elijah died last year. You didn’t even show up at the funeral. I understand how you felt about him, but to not show up at all? At least you could have been there for auntie?”
I shook my head in disbelief.
“Zuri, you have no idea how bad Elijah Brock was to me, do you?”
“Help me understand? Because whatever he did, Ms. Carol still stayed through it all”
“Do you really want to do this today?”
“It’s just you and me. No kids around. Your mom’s not here so she won’t get upset. I just want an honest conversation. We got nothing but time”
“Well I do want to get back to Charlotte. It is an eight hour drive you know”
“Dammit Naomi! Stop making everything a joke!”
I refused to look at her. I wanted to just walk away, but my feet felt as if they were stapled to the floor.
“I didn’t come because there was no need for me to come. I hated him!”
“You don’t mean that do you?”
“I mean every bit of it! As far as I’m concerned, I’m glad he’s dead! After Albert died, he made my life a living hell! It seemed that nothing I did was good enough! If I made the honor roll, I should have made all A’s! If I made all A’s, I should have made A ’s. When I played basketball in high school, he never came to my games. He never gave me encouragement, just constant criticism! He beat me down verbally every fucking day! Fuck Elijah Brock! Fuck him!”
Zuri was stunned by the revelation while I stood there trying to be strong, but I couldn’t stop crying.
“Naomi, I didn’t know”
I pulled myself together as I could feel Zuri handing me a handkerchief. She grabbed me in her arms and held me.
“I’m so sorry Naomi. So is that the reason why you came to live with us?”
I caught my breath and prepared to tell the rest of the story.
“Maybe the fact that I stabbed him had something to do with that”
Written by The Wednesday Gentleman