"ACTING WOMANISH”

 

“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my
brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain't safe in
a family of men. But I never thought I'd have to fight in my own house.
She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I'll kill
him dead before I let him beat me.” —Alice Walker

It's the summer before I go away to college. It is a Saturday. My parents are no longer married, but they continue their romantic shenanigans despite the reasons for the divorce and despite the fact that my father is married to another woman. The sky is blue and the weather is fine. The flowers are in bloom. They want me to go away. My brother goes to work. My grandmother remains in the back room of the house where Caribbean grandmothers belong. She minds her business about my divorced parents’ relationship. My father gave me the keys to his new car. It was a two-toned, navy-and-sky-blue 1984 LTD. He said I could go around the corner and I did. I went around the corner and picked my boyfriend up.

My boyfriend was a teenaged radio personality from the other side of the tracks whom my parents hated. He went to public school, I went to private school. He lived in Turley. I was from North Tulsa, Suburban Acres. We met at Central High School. I rode the bus home and his big cousin picked him up in a really cool car. My boyfriend is funny and sweet. He makes me laugh. He makes me feel safe until he doesn’t make me feel safe. He holds the best parties in North Tulsa. It’s at his parties that I learn the chant by Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.

We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn.

When his mother, who is a single mother, dresses like a man, and owns her own businesses, makes an effort to meet my mother, my mother turns up her nose. My mother threatens to tell his mother that her son, my boyfriend, should keep his penis in his pants. I tell my mother what I knew his mother has every right to say. I should keep my legs closed. I should stay off my knees. My mother slaps me with the back of her hand. I am sure they heard the backslap my mother gave me as far away as the West Indies. We love one another. We walk one another home until the night lamp comes on. He buys me candy at the corner store. When he plays Pac-Man, he always wins and he puts our initials in as the winner. C&G. He has a scar on his forehead and the letter “C” tattooed on his back. I have a Jheri Curl and upturned breasts. Things were always good with us, until things started to go bad. Sometimes he locks me in the closet. Some days he won’t let me go. His sisters are always kind to me. They always come to my rescue. They always set me free.

Today is not a bad day for us. I drive around the corner and swoop my boyfriend up. We go joyriding in my father's car. I am gone for hours. We take an excursion through Turley, but really it is Indian land. Osage. We pass lakes and ponds and large hills. Red dirt, always red dirt everywhere. We don't have to worry about the police coming. It’s the country. Lots of curves. Lots of roads and alleys. My younger brother says that when he returned home from lunch four hours into an eight-hour shift, I was still not there. I was still gone with my father’s car.

When the tornado alarm blasts, I remember the alto of my father's drunken saxophone. I have my father’s car. I need to go home. I drop my boyfriend off. I drive down my street. I park my father's car in front of my mother’s house. My mother storms out of the front door. We pass one another at the fence. As she passes me, she says in her dulcet, British West-Indian lilt, “Your father is going to kick your ass and I am going to let him.” I watch her as she gets in the car and drives away. It never occurred to me to flee. It was as natural as the air I breathe. It is my turn to fight my father. Growing up, I thought everybody had to fight their father. I thought it was a rite of passage. It's my turn now. All my life I have watched my father fight. I watch my father fight my mother. I watch my father fight my grandmother. I watch my father fight my godmothers. Nobody ever fights back. They all run. Not even a West-Indian head butt. It's my turn. I deserve to fight my father.

I pass gently through the storm door. I wait for my father to approach. He charges. The brass candlesticks in my hands are now lethal weapons. I blunt his fucking temple. I kick him in his goddayum balls. Broken glass and bloodied candlesticks. My grandmother pulls me off my father's body. My father calls me a “motherfucker” and he heads for the door. My father, who is also a storyteller, tells everyone that he “whipped my ass.” He also says, “Don’t fuck with that bitch. She crazy.”