The Escape, Chinee and Me Chapter 2
I am compelled to admit that despite unconscionable, unreasonable, and intemperate abuse, both physical and emotional, heaped upon me by the woman, she treated my grandfather with the utmost care and concern. Regardless as to whether her benevolence resulted from a hidden knob of virtue or a highly perceptible fear of my Uncles, I’m grateful to her for her kind treatment of my Papa.
I had flatly refused to return to school following Mother’s funeral. I had simply lost all desire or compunction to attend and neither the threat of nor an actual beating was enough to sway my decision. There had only been about 3 weeks remaining in the school year when Mother died, and nobody really insisted upon my return anyway.
August 1967 was the beginning of the new school year and still I refused to return to school. The melancholy, depression, a sense of hopelessness and the fear of being pitied were just too deeply ingrained for me to ignore. It was not until the “Girl’s” Principal, pushed beyond a reasonable waiting period, decided to leave the school and drive to the farm. She did not sweetly request my return; she did not threaten me, nor did she coddle me. She walked into my home, one hand on her hip, bowed-legs planted firmly and told me without preamble to go and get properly dressed for school and to do so quickly. Mrs. C was the embodiment of morality and held deep concern for the students in her care. Without discussion, I did as I was told and within ten minutes, we were on the road headed to school. For a passing moment, I contemplated confiding in her my plight but thought better of it. She lived in the same county, but her home was about 40 miles away therefore she rented rooms from the woman during school days. Their relationship although built on business was still too close to chance speaking up. It was another decisive life moment.
On the drive to school, she told me of a conversation she’d had with Mother. I had trouble at first following what she was saying because I was shaken by the knowledge that she had spoken with Mother and that thought in turn led me to wondering when that conversation might have taken place. She might have said when the conversation had taken place but ruminating so entirely on her declaration, I would have missed it if indeed she had.
Pulling out of my revelry, I heard her repeat something Mother had often said. I had absolutely no doubt that Mrs. C had spoken with Mother when she said, “Your Mama told me that her last wish was that at least one of her children completes and graduates from school.” She continued by saying, “You’re the youngest, therefore her last wish and hope rest entirely upon your shoulders”.
I fought to control the crushing loneliness and grief which had begun to engulf me again as I remembered Mother saying those very words many times over the years. Those words had never really depended so completely upon me as they did at that moment. If this was, and I knew that it was, so important to Mother that in her final weeks, she sought an ally to help fulfill her dream, then I would have to do my utmost to make her dream a reality. It was little enough to have asked.
My march back into that school, that dear old island of maroon and gold, was accompanied by a dauntless determination and thereby leaving behind the dread which had escorted me and entered her car with me.
A few weeks after I’d returned to school, I had been subjected to a particularly unconscionably, brutish beating with an electrical extension cord. The woman had been careful, or so she’d thought, to do her worse to me out of the range of Papa’s hearing. This was made easier for her to accomplish because Papa’s hearing had been almost totally compromised and because I had become resolute in my refusal to cry out no matter the severity of the attacks. I felt it was my responsibility to not cause Papa additional pain borne because of his inability to protect me by not letting him hear me cry out in pain.
Looking back and considering those thrashing through the lens of time, I suppose I could have limited the length of the beating had I simply cried out and sated her desire to inflict pain. Instead, I endured until her enormous arms grew fatigued and the torture ceased.
That latest lashing ripped open the skin on my back in multiple long strips and left me crumpled on the back porch, almost unconscious. I believe she would have been content to leave me there all night had she not needed me to bring in her damnable and deplorable chamber pot.
After the pain subsided enough to allow me to walk without stumbling, under the secrecy of darkness, I’d made my way the hundred or so yards to my Mother’s cottage and looked for anything to treat my bleeding and throbbing back. Strewn on the floor among a few of her least wanted possessions, of which the vultures had left behind, I had found a box containing several Modess sanitary pads, an almost empty container of Bactine antiseptic spray and an Ace bandage Mother had used on her injured knee. I dribbled the contents of the Bactine down my back as much as the pain allowed, placed the pads on the floor atop the Ace bandage, laid myself on top of them and wrapped my back. The tightness of the bandage and the pads contained the bleeding, just as they had been designed, albeit for different reasons, they worked.
Unfortunately, that one application of antiseptic was not enough to stifle the incident of infection. The severity of my wounds conspired with the overwhelming East Texas August heat and biting flies. The flies having found an easy host upon which to both feed and lay their eggs created a flaming, odorous, oozing infection from which I could find no relief.
For reasons unknown to me, the woman decided to leave me at the farm the second Friday following that vicious beating. Perhaps she didn’t want me soiling her linens, but upon awakening at home that Saturday morning, I found my nightgown solidly glued to my back. I had no way of knowing that maggots had begun to hatch in my wounds, but the incessant, itching and burning pain alerted me that something horrifically unusual was taking place beyond my view.
After tiptoeing in to check on Papa, and before an older female cousin who relieved the woman on most weekends had awakened, I drew and heated water to help loosen the gown from my back. After the water had heated, from sheer desperation and hopes of relieving the itch, I put several overflowing capfuls of bleach into the small basin with the water.
I’d heard a car drive past the house and since it didn’t seem to stop nor did I hear a car door close, I paid no further attention. Taking a small towel, I soaked it in the bleached water and allowed it to run down my back. Contrary to burning me further as I had expected, the water loosened my gown and provided a soothing, drawing affect. Because the itchiness having been somewhat abated by the bleach, I was in the midst of allowing myself a deep relief-filled exhale when I was startled by a movement behind me!
My sister had driven to the farm apparently not expecting to see me. She had parked her car just passed our driveway which had kept me from hearing the closing of the car door. She caught me unaware just as I was stepping out of the blood, pus and bleached stained clothing when she’d walked into the back bedroom. My back was to her as she entered, and I did not have enough time to turn away. I looked at her face and saw the horror in her eyes that her mouth soon revealed. She screamed and asked if I had fallen out of a tree. My back was angry and bruised although I didn’t know how much. My too slow response and the look on my face must have revealed to her that I had not fallen and that I was too afraid to tell her the truth. It was then that Papa called to her, I suspected, to tell her what was going on, as best he knew.
Although the woman had been careful since the first night of her stay not to inflict any torture on me within Papa’s hearing, I knew intuitively, that he knew I was still in peril.
I was both grateful and disappointed when Papa called out to my sister. I was disappointed because I had wanted to ask about the baby she was going to have. I was excited at the prospect of having a baby on whom to dote.
I was grateful because it allowed me time to get dressed and cover up what really must have been a horrible view of my back. It was only after I had completed dressing, when as I was readying to empty the basin and rinse my gown in clean water that I saw white wiggling creatures crawling on and about my gown!
So much had happened in those past few months, I was incapable of working up any level of disgust at the sight. I simply shook my head, gathered the infested gown, washed it and hung it to dry.
Fortunately, in my desperation to find a means in which to stop the ceaseless itching and my snap decision to use bleach, was the best uninformed decision I could have made. The drawing sensation I had felt was the effect of the bleach clearing and killing the maggots in my wounds and hastened me toward healing.
It was several days later, on a Tuesday evening I believe, when Chinee came walking up the road toward the house. He had not been there to my knowledge since the day everyone had left the farm after the funeral. I was so elated that even now, remembering that moment make the hairs of my arms stand on edge. I ran to him and wrapped my legs around his waist as I jumped into his arms. Heaven could have sent no sweeter angel than my brother. I felt him stiffen and I lifted my face from his shoulder and looked into his. He was staring straight ahead with cold hate-filled eyes. I looked over my shoulder to follow his gaze and saw the woman standing on the back porch looking in our direction. I knew I would be in for it now, but It didn’t matter as I would have gladly walked through fire for this wonderful moment. Whatever came next would be worth the price because I had missed my brother sorely. Besides, I hardly felt the beatings anymore and since I no longer cried out or flinched, she was finding less obvious pleasure in the beatings. They hadn’t stopped; however, they had become fewer.
Chinee lowered me to the ground and while she looked on, he turned me away from him, toward her and lifted my dress to reveal my back. He took me by the hand and led me away from her view. As we walked away, Chinee yelled over his shoulder, “One more time Old woman, Hit her one more time and dogs won’t be able to pick up what’s left of your scent!” I looked back in time to see the back door slowly closing. Chinee promised me that he would make sure that I was safe, and he would do it soon. I told him that I was ok and that I just wanted to know how he was doing and where he had been. I gleefully and silently took his promise to mean that we would be living together again soon.
As we visited, sitting on the front porch of Mother’s cottage, he told me that he had been forbidden to come back home since he had been vocal in his disagreement with the arrangements our uncles and sisters had made and because he had demanded everything be returned that the woman had stolen from mother. He told me that it was his job to worry about me and not the other way around. He left me that evening promising change! The next day, she exacted her revenge. Although she did not hit me, I would have much preferred she had.
Moments before the bus arrived, she yelled at me from her perch in the kitchen, to come to the back porch. After I’d reached the porch, she gathered up her girth and followed me out. I began to brace for what was surely to be another thrashing when she quietly, too quietly, told me to walk down the several step from the porch into the back yard. Too late I realized her intentions. Just seconds after my feet touched earth, I looked up at her and was met full force with the contents of her chamber pot! Solids and liquid. She could not have devised a more devious way in which to humiliate me. We had no running water so I would have needed to draw bucketful’s of water from the barrels in the front yard and heated them in order to wash myself, my hair and my clothes thoroughly and would need to do it all before the bus arrived, impossible. She threatened that if I missed the bus when it arrived, she had worse things planned for me during the day ahead. I hurriedly ran to the rain barrel and poured as much water as I could over my head and soiled dress. The smell of her waste caused me to spew my own stomach’s contents. I’d had just enough time to rinse the solids from my body and clothing when I heard the bus rattling up the hill toward the house. Soaking from head to toe and reeking from her waste and my vomit, I ran to my room, grabbed another dress and underwear, being careful not to let them touch any part of me and ran back out to the road just in time to board the bus. As I walked onboard the kids already on the bus placed their hands over their noses, leaned away from me as I passed, erupted in laughter and pointed to me as they made up names to call me. I walked to the back of the bus, not bothering to turn around as I heard window after window opening in my wake, alerting me to their weak attempts to purge the odor from the bus. When we arrived at school, I made sure not to leave the bus until it was emptied. I took shelter in the vacant girl’s restroom, washed myself as best I could, put on the other clothing I’d hastily grabbed and threw everything else in the trash. I had no choice but to continue to wear my urine and feces reeking sneakers and pretended that the smell that arose with the heat of the day was not emanating from me.
Days later as I was sitting in the classroom finishing a math test, I was summoned to the Principal’s office. To my great surprise and relief, my sister was standing there smiling. She told me that she had her husband’s car and had decided to treat me to a hamburger for lunch from the area’s only hamburger stand, a short distance away. This was such a rare treat that I became giddy with offer. The new Principal, (Professor Brailsford had died the day after Mother on the 4th of May) agreed to me leaving the campus and off we headed. What made that afternoon even more wonderful was seeing Chinee waiting behind the steering wheel. I gushed with happiness as we three drove away with me blissfully chatting about the day. I was careful not to mention the last punishment foisted upon me. We got the hamburgers to go but I was the only one eating or talking. It occurred to me that neither my sister or Chinee had said a word to me since I had entered the car. I asked what was wrong, but they just smiled indulgently and rather nervously, I thought. After what seemed an hour of indiscriminate driving, I reminded Chinee that if I didn’t get back to school, I’d be in trouble with both the Principal and the woman once I got home. Chinee looked at me through the rear-view mirror and said, “not anymore, Fae, never again”.
I never went back to that school or to that woman. I had been kidnapped, rather that is what she and my uncles told the Sheriff when I failed to return to school after lunch. My sister and Chinee had driven for hours meanderingly up and down back roads and little traveled highways, killing time and trying desperately not to be seen by anyone who might be persuaded to tell of our location. During that drive, they haltingly told me some of what their plans were and I naturally, was having difficulty assimilating all of it.
We eventually doubled back briefly to my sister’s In-law’s home and there, by happenstance alone, my eldest Uncle reached us by telephone. He demanded that I be put on the telephone and once there, he berated me by telling me how I was killing his father! He accused me of cutting into Papa’s heart just mere months after he’d lost his only daughter! He asked me how I dared to hurt Papa especially since I knew that he favored me above all his grandchildren. He angrily told that he was on his way to bring me back home, over dead bodies if he needed to. I knew his threats were not idle. I heard Papa yelling in the background at my uncle, his son, telling Uncle that his would be the only dead body if he didn’t give him the telephone. When Papa was on the line, I could barely hear him as my sobs had grown loud and bordered on hysteria. To be accused of doing anything to hurt Papa hurt me more than all the months of pain and humiliation I’d suffered. How could anyone accuse me of such an awful thing! None of this had been my idea and I was ready to go home simply to prove my uncle wrong! I heard Papa’s voice finally break through and he was telling me to run! He was telling me to not come back to the farm because my life depended on it! She won’t stop until she kills you, don’t come back here Baby, this is the only way I can help you! He said further to me, “you’ve never disobeyed me, don’t start now”. I knew it was senseless to say anything other than, “Yes Papa”, because he wouldn’t have clearly heard a longer sentence due to his lack of hearing and because I couldn’t have possibly choked out a longer sentence. The last thing I’d heard him say was, “Don’t stop running until you’re safe, I love Sister!” Sister was what he called my Mother. It was not a slip of the tongue that he called me by his love name for her. In his way, he was telling me that he hadn’t been able to save Mother, he was therefore saving me. As the phone was being taken from him, I pressed the receiver harder against my ear trying to hold onto the connection as long as I could. It would be almost a year before I’d hear his voice again.
As I held the receiver for just a heartbeat or two longer, I heard Papa tell my Uncle, “go after her and you will never come back here and continue to draw breath”.
To hear my Papa defending me against his son was overwhelming. Someone had taken the phone from me and invisible hands were suddenly and hurriedly pushing me outside toward the car. My sister had borrowed, permanently, a dress from her sister-in-law, who was similar in size to me and put it in a brown paper sack. It was all I had in the world beyond the clothes on my back and the .32 cents, the change from the hamburgers we’d bought a decade ago, that had been tied in the corner of a handkerchief and pressed into my hand.
Once again driving on backroads, Chinee and my sister drove the sixty or so miles to Beaumont and purchased one, one-way train ticket to Los Angeles. When Chinee finally finished telling me all of what was to become of me, I cried unconsolably. I clung to him and begged him to allow me to remain with him. I tried everything in every way I could to tell him I did not want to be anywhere that he wasn’t. I told him that I was sorry for making the woman beat me and that I would try harder not to make her angry again. “Please Chinee, don’t send me away from you!” I begged. I was deep in the midst of my histrionics and therefore had not noticed the small crowd which had gathered around us, some in the crowd demanded to know if all was well.
I had screamed and begged, kicked and pleaded, all to no avail. I was being sent away, disposed of, by Chinee, of all people! Dejected, I sat down on that train platform, clinging to my brown paper sack and prayed to die. I looked up into Chinee’s eyes expecting to see firm determination but instead I saw only abject misery. I saw a heart breaking; a broken heart whose unsteady heartbeat matched that of my own. With stunning clarity, it suddenly occurred to me that every important moment in my life began and ended in those eyes and yet I had just accused him of sending me away when in actuality the only thing he was doing was saving me, saving me yet again and for that he would suffer.
Ever my protector, Chinee walked up and down that platform accessing each person holding a ticket. I watched him as he approached a late 60’ish lady and spoke to her while pointing toward me. She smiled, nodded and reassuringly patted his left arm. He turned from her and returned to me. “Fae, that lady over there is going to look after you while you’re on the train; she’s going almost all the way to Los Angeles, so if you need anything she’ll help, ok”? “Can she help me stay here Chinee”, I thought to myself. I didn’t want to see the pain in his eyes anymore, so I just simply looked down at the platform floor and nodded.
As the conductor gave the final boarding call, I had a brief moment of panic and clung to Chinee yet again. He held me so tightly and for the first time since mother died, Chinee cried. He was losing both Mother and me, her mini-mirror image and I was losing my counterbalance in life. I did not know how to live in a world without Chinee. I didn’t want to know how to do so.
Quite a few years passed before I discovered that Chinee had been arrested and placed in jail for his part in “kidnapping” me. He did not plead his case nor ask for forgiveness. He had stood steadfast in his determination that as my only brother, it was his responsibility to care for me and needed no one’s permission to do so. In the face of his resoluteness and sound argument, the High Sheriff Humphrey eventually released him, to the objections of both the woman and my uncles who had wanted to teach him a lesson in obedience and obstinacy. Whew!
Now, for the first time in my life I was to breathe air that was not scented by my brother; surrounded by light that had not touched him first. I was to walk on ground that his footsteps had not yet broken and therefore I had no trail to follow. I had always known that in Chinee, my safety rested but I had no idea or ever thought that my being safe would be coupled with leaving the only safety I had ever known. That locomotive and over eighteen hundred miles of train tracks took me further and further away from Chinee but at the same time, it took me back to him. Back to learning football, back to his last dime, back to our Spring, to Fernell and Mrs. Brown and the first limo ride of my short life. That train took my mind back to days which I refused to let pass from my remembrance no matter how far I traveled. My memories of Chinee are as plentiful as there are particles of dust. They are more brilliant than the many shades of greens after a spring rain. The physical scars the woman created upon my arms and back would fade in time and the severity of the pain would lessen with the years. But the deep emotional scars she created by causing my separation from Chinee makes my breath catch to this very day and it frustrates my attempts of total forgiveness.
May God rest her tortured soul for she very clearly had so little peace while she lived. Her daughter, the very same one who had pinched me so unmercifully during Mother’s funeral, told me years later that doing lucid moments, from her nursing home hospital bed, her mother would ask of me. She also told me of the terror filled screams which erupted unbidden from her mother night after night, unnerving other patients and driving the overnight nurses to distraction, until exhaustion and a pill or two, would finally offer her sleep. She wondered aloud to me what things in her mother’s life haunted her even when the lights were on. I didn’t bother to offer an opinion.
Each clickety clack of the trains progress along that metal track took me in two decidedly different directions, one physically, took me further away from Chinee than I’d ever been and the other emotionally, took me closer to him than I could have ever hoped. Physically away so that now there would be no more day to day interaction with him, no more spur of the moment memories to make, no more seeing the light of his smile before I saw his face. Emotionally closer to him because I had to be, closer. As I sat in that seat next to the lady who’d promised Chinee to watch over me, I made yet another vow; I was determined never to forget. I promised myself to cultivate my memories just as carefully as a horticulturist cares for his plants; to nurture my memories as a mother nurtures her child.
There is nothing as valuable as that which is sacrificed with no expectations of receiving value in return. That is true love and was certainly too mature a lesson for my tender age but an extremely appropriate one. I pressed my cheek against the train car’s window and strained for a last glimpse of Chinee. That last look created the only memory I wish I could erase. He was kneeling alone on the platform, arms wrapped around himself, weeping. I fell asleep, sitting upright that first night of three, remembering his tears on my cheek and wondering and worrying…
…Worrying and wondering…Did I show you that I loved you enough for you to know that I did?
Right now, as I write the final words of this chapter Chinee, I have assumed the same position of which you were in as I caught the last glimpse of you on that fateful day…
…I L O V E Y O U C H I N E E B A B Y from Earth to Heaven and every star in between, let my love of you bounce throughout the universe, gathering the light you left behind and leaving enlightened trails for me yet to follow.