I used to think the man curse began with my mother in Trenton, New Jersey. She had been seven or eight years old; she remembered feigning sleep, her eyes squeezed tightly closed. And a man, his face a disfigured blur, pushed open the door to her bedroom. He pulled back the covers and rubbed his dry, ashy hands over her calves, knees, thighs, and eventually settled on her vagina. He pushed her panties to the side, petting her virgin softness, then grabbing it as if he were a toddler manhandling a cat—
“Wait,” Meredith cried, cutting off my story in midsentence. With the concern of a best friend, she asked, “Your mother told you this?”
“Yeah,” I replied. Like it was normal. Like most mothers would talk to their kids about sexual assault. Meredith had been my best friend since middle school. But I’d never told this story to her. I’d never shared what I’d written about it. Not till I realized I might be cursed, too.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be cutting you off,” she said, pulling out a cigarette and flicking her lighter. “Okay. Go ahead . . .”
I reopened my notebook.
My mother says the next few minutes or hours are missing in her mind. She knows he rammed his penis into her purity. She remembers intense pain and how she held in her need to yelp cries of shock by squeezing her eyes closed and biting the bottom of her lip. She remembers the taste of blood dripping from her mouth, how it carried a subtle taste of salty sweat that dripped from the chest of the man flopping atop her. She recalls feeling a wet stickiness on her inner thigh as he began ramming harder and harder, faster and faster. She held in desperate breaths of suffocating pain. But still, she couldn’t resist letting out a whimper as the tears rolled down her face.
“If you say anything,” he said, panting in her ear, “I’ll kill you . . . and your mother.”
Thrusting like a horny teenage boy, he stabbed inside her, holding himself still before the final push. Steady. His body convulsing. Trembling. Twisting. Pleasurable movements that ended by releasing a drawn-out moan . . .
She remembers the bedcovers muffling his slapping sounds. The room suddenly smelled of tuna and peppermint toothpaste. And when it was done, he remained motionless, lying on top of her weak, skinny body for minutes that, my mother says, felt like years of life lost. When he finally pulled out and stood up, she kept her eyes tightly closed. She felt a tissue swiping at her inner left thigh. His pants belt clicked. His pocket change jingled as he slipped on a pair of pants. She felt him leaning over, his face centimeters away, hot breath melting her ear as he said, “Remember. I will kill you and your mother. Don’t say shit.” When she heard the door close and sensed an empty room, she opened her eyes.
She never saw that man—outside of daydreams, nightmares, and reminders—again.
“So . . .” Meredith jumped in, massaging her temples, disturbed, as if her ears had been raped. “She just blurted this story out while you were watching 60 Minutes?”
“Yeah,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “They were doing this report on child predators. I remember she was making some muffins for dinner. And this all just came out.”
“And you were how old?”
“Thirteen, I think. I can’t really remember.”
“Yeah, because hearing that was traumatic. What the fuck?”
I remember thinking the same thing when I heard the story. I had stared in disbelief. Eyes stretched wide in horror. Silence saturated the room and the sound of my loud swallowing was like a vibrational echo that bounced from one living room corner to another.
“Wh-what . . . ?” I’d blurted out, stammering. I’d mainly mastered the stuttering that had haunted me since kindergarten. But in moments of discomfort, the difficulty always returned. “Wh-what happened?”
She told her story, detail by nasty detail. She wondered whether he’d done the same to Aunt Connie, who was sleeping in the next room. Her voice quivered, elevating to a suspenseful crescendo as she reached the end of the assault scene.
“I don’t remember his name,” she’d said. “I remember his voice . . . and the sound of those keys jingling.”
“Girl . . .” Meredith shook her head, angrily stabbing a cigarette into the ashtray. “I’m sorry. You were way too young to hear something like that. Thirteen is a teenager. I mean, that’s what a grown-up tells a therapist, not her damn kid. You might as well have been raped, too.”
Meredith Benjamin had always been my protector. The one who always had my back. If I needed to escape a fight with Mom, Meredith was there, either on the phone or, lately, speeding around the corner in her beat-up brown hand-me-down family van. Rusty fender and all, wheels squeaking to a halt, about to fall off as they reached my driveway. She played both best friend and psychologist, using the degree she’d gotten from Johns Hopkins to practice her listening and feedback skills on me.
“Where was your grandmother during all of this?” she asked. “Does she know?”
Not at all. Grandma Fey was rarely around when Mom was a young child. She was often in New York, working several jobs, whatever she could find, saving the necessary funds to bring two daughters to live with her. She’d leave my mother wherever she had a friend or fellow church member. But usually they’d spend summers with Ms. Adelle, Grandma’s girlfriend from childhood days in South Carolina.
Bethany Adelle had a quaint home, where Mom and Connie each got their own bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. While Bethany worked her usual twelve-hours-plus overnight nursing shift, Mom and Connie were allowed to stay up late and leave food on their plates. They could sit on the front porch and play with the neighborhood kids after the sun descended and streetlights illuminated. There were no curfews, rules, or lost TV privileges. All was carefree; that is, until he moved in.
His voice was deep, like Barry White’s, a baritone bass. My mother recalled romantic vocal cords, actions disguised with tender hugs, and talks on laps quickly morphing into hideous form—flirtatious comments, “accidental” touching, and a traumatic after-midnight visit.
Even decades later, Grandma Fey knew nothing about this attack. And Mom didn’t know whether the same was done to Aunt Connie. Yet whenever talk of a sexual assault would arise—via a news report, TV topic, or magazine article—my mother would turn to me and divulge her story once again, and I’d squirm inside behind a face frozen in confusion.
“And now,” Meredith asked, “because of that ass Dexter, you think you’re cursed, too?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes,” I said, staring down the empty road. “But if I am, I’m breaking this damn thing. And at the moment, Dexter is my personal curse.”
The Man Curse
Meena has heard whispers of the family curse since childhood. Seated around tables at the yearly reunion, relatives always shared stories of the Man Curse’s origins. It began with Great Grandma Anna Mae’s affair with the church pastor. After finding them in bed together, his wife hexed Anna Mae to prevent the women of her family from ever marrying, and the results are said to have lasted generations. Anna Mae and her sisters died without being wed. Grandma Fey never married. Aunt Connie has given up on men. And Meena’s mother, Deena, continually runs into dead-end relationships.
Vowing not to follow in their tracks, Meena is undeterred from achieving her dream of matrimony. After dating a string of wrong men and catching her college boyfriend Dexter cheating, she heads to New York, where she has an exciting new job at Buzz, the hottest music magazine in the business. On a professional upward track, Meena happily ignores Dexter’s pleading calls for forgiveness. Instead, she meets the popular intellectual writer, Sean. Physical attraction and common interests fuel a love affair that seems destined for marriage. But when a chance meeting with another woman ignites lingering insecurities that Sean is hiding something, Meena’s trust is shattered. With her relationship on the rocks and her confidence in the gutter, Meena’s journey toward emotional healing forces her to face the truth and wonder if she really does have the Man Curse. Or is it all in her head?
- Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing |
- 288 pages |
- ISBN 9781476792941 |
- November 2015