A note from the author:
*There are black themes to our lives at times, dark places no one wishes to go, yet so many of us find we are lost there. The Black Trilogy is a journey that sheds light on some of those hidden tales that most can’t or won’t speak of. If you have suffered from another s hand or from your own, don’t hide it. Tell someone. This trilogy is one of those stories, and it explores the tragedy and hope of living.
Fade to Black
I don’t know why, but my mother, who had never shown an interest in my life before, collected me from my grandparents’ home the day I saw my dad lowered into the earth. She had come and gone out of my life since I was born, but never before had I lived with her, as she did not stay long in one place. Nana said she lived “pillar to post,” and my dad often referred to her as “not well,” which was being kind.
I had no choice once my dad died. I went with my mother, as she now had the right to take me and my brother wherever she wanted. Kissing Nana and Papaw through our mixed tears, I was frog marched to the car where I sat in quiet wonder at how my life had changed in such a short amount of time.
It didn’t take long to be introduced to silence and hunger. I was ordered to speak only when spoken to and ate when my mother remembered Nathan and I were in the home. If I complained, I was swatted with whatever was in my mother’s reach.
Sometimes when she dressed for work, in a short denim skirt and snugged T-shirt, I could see the beauty my dad must have fallen for years ago. She was not a modern kind of attractive, more that she was curvy and seductive with sultry eyes and full lips. An unpolished Jayne Mansfield or Sharon Tate.
I watched admiringly and unseen as my mother would line her eyes with precision and apply mascara with counted strokes. She left for work one woman and returned another. Drunk, haggard and worn she stumbled in with makeup and clean uniform smudged and spotted by the end of her shift.
There were times, when my mother had just a little to drink, she didn’t hate me as much as when sober, yet it was always obvious to me that she preferred Nathan over me for company. He never got to experience being hit with a hair brush on the side of the head or being kicked when simply in the way. My brother got whatever good our mother had. She saved all the mean for me.
Mother might have been lovely at one time, but now she drank heavily and complained about having children.
“They might give a government check, but it costs a woman her figure. Never have kids, Piper. They’ll be just as ugly and dirty as you,” she told me straight faced, meaning every word.
I did try to not be ugly or rotten. I kept the house tidy and the laundry clean, but nothing I ever did pleased her. My brother, Nathan, entertained himself with girls and his band. He was far too busy to worry about a kid sister. I tried not to bother him. I knew he was working hard, writing and singing. Each passing day I would quietly grieve over the loss of my father, the absence of my grandparents, and the inevitable goodbye from Nathan.
A few days after my brother left me, our phone was disconnected. I had not seen my grandparents since the burial of my dad . My grandparents were simply shut out of my life. One of the last times our phone was used I heard my mother telling Papaw to “mind your own goddamned business!”
No matter how much I begged, my mother ignored my pleas and sank deeper into a darkness of drunkenness and self-destruction that had been hidden from me by my father. He had kept all the ugliness from me, and I had no idea this type of sickness was inside her. A shell of a woman, there was nothing to stop her from becoming what her mother had been before her.
All of my mother’s family are drug addicts, and most of them spend time in prisons across the South for various offenses. They’re the kind of people who bring trouble with them everywhere they go. When my dad met my mother she was on the edge of being just another statistic. I was never allowed to know her family, yet the name Akins was infamous in the South. From what little I heard from family gossip, I didn’t want to know them. It was as if she never had a family. She never mentioned them. Not even once during the short visits we had at truck stop diners or a park bench we sat on, barely speaking. My dad insisted we see her. It was important we knew her. Even though she was not in our lives, she was still our mother.
We are simple people in a simple town. Average, I would call it. At least we were until my dad died in a car accident on his way home from work one night. One day, he was there. Then he wasn’t. No more kisses and bear hugs. I had my last that morning. We were given a few days of crying and casket colors and Nathan shutting himself off from the world.
The nights became days, and soon it all ran together. Shortly after our once simple life had been interrupted by death, I lost my brother when he left me behind to chase down his dreams. I know he had to feel as lost without our dad as I did. I also knew he smoked pot and occasionally popped pills to deal with everything. I wasn’t supposed to know this, but I had learned how to be invisible and observe things from the shadows, adapting quickly on how to silently move from room to room so not to be seen or heard.
left me, October brought us cooler weather, and my mother, a new man. Whereas my dad was the very essence of man, Daniel was childlike. He was a sometime mechanic and had taken an interest in my mother one night at the bar where she worked part time.
My mother never seemed to have money, and she stayed too drunk to do much working. Strange men began coming and going, but Daniel came around more often than the others. I often heard him and my mother in discussions that always seemed to involve money.
He stayed over one night, not long after he started coming to the house, and I found him naked, standing in front of the bathroom mirror the next morning, using my brother’s razor. I stared all of two seconds and then ran back to my room, horrified, before he knew I had seen him. I didn’t leave my room until I knew for certain he was out of the house.
Not long after that, my mother and I moved to Daniel’s two-bedroom trailer, deep in woods I did not recognize. Lonesome took on a whole new meaning for me. I spent my days alone, eating whatever we had, straight out of the can.
Mice and spiders were my roommates. It did very little good to clean, as the trailer was rundown and old, with a threadbare carpet and plywood floors. I was not allowed to return to school, or to even speak of it.
I remained unseen, as my mother made it clear the sight of me disgusted her. Every time she saw me, she would rant about how ugly I was and how I’d never get a husband because I was so tall. No one would want me. Sometimes, I was allowed to go to Daniel’s shop as long as I stayed out of sight. I was given the job of cleaning carburetors, using cut-up old T-shirts and gasoline.
Daniel was not unkind to me. In fact, he was almost my friend. My mother forbade me to speak to my grandparents, but on occasion, Daniel would let me call them, as long as I didn’t say where I was or give any hints. He didn’t have to make me promise. I had no clue where I was, nor the chance to tell them. Daniel stood over, ready to snatch the phone from my hand if I said the wrong thing. I assured Nana I was okay, even though I was hungry and in need of someone to care about me. Nana always cried when I spoke to her. She missed me and my brother, and by the way she sounded, losing my dad had aged her greatly in a few short months.
Normal people do not see evil coming into their lives, especially eleven-year-old children. I did as I was told, fearful that if I put a toe out of place, I’d be punished. I often went hungry—my punishment for just being in the room at the wrong time.
My mother no longer sipped her drinks throughout the day, but drank thirstily starting as soon as she woke and not stopping until she was snoring. Daniel acted as if he didn’t notice. He was not a smart man, but at times I sensed deep, distant thoughts when I caught him staring at me.
He did exactly as my mother instructed, to the letter, and if he didn’t, she’d slap him across the face and scream at him for hours. Daniel cowered at her raised voice and did everything he could to keep her from being upset. He would struggle with his speech as he shuddered, “I’m s-s-s-sorry. I’m so-r-r-r-ry,” and run to correct whatever displeased her. I was scared for Daniel, afraid my mother would hurt him when this happened.
I guess Daniel and I got along so well because he pretty much thought like an eleven-year-old kid most of the time. Maybe even younger, although I can’t say I ever saw him without some kind of beer or whiskey bottle in his hand. Other than that, he did try to make my life a little easier. He always asked about my dreams and favorite things.
I got acquainted with my new surroundings, and once counted 485 giant steps from the mailbox to the front door. It was a good mile and a half through the cornfield out back to the nearest neighbor. The trailer was black as coal if the lights were out, and our water came from a sour-smelling well. I had an old black and white TV in my room with six channels.
After we ate dinner, Daniel and I would go into my room and stretch out on a mattress on the floor to watch old movies till I fell asleep. It was nice having someone around, with my dad gone and Nathan away. I didn’t know if my brother could find me if he ever tried. Daniel was the only person I had that cared about me.
When I took the chance to ask my mother about Nathan she would tell me, “Never you mind about that good-for-nothing brother of yours. He better not darken my doorstep!”
My mother was a total stranger to me. Her words were constantly slurred, her dark eyes unfocused. When she took the time to notice me, she’d only yell at me or hit me. My mother hated me. For whatever reason, my existence caused her great discomfort. I watched as she slowly turned into a monster. Her hair was seldom clean, and her heavy makeup was so smudged she looked possessed.
She terrified me. The more she was asleep, or out of the trailer, the safer I was. Her beatings were beginning to break my skin open, and bits of my scalp were going bald from her yanking out my hair.
When Christmas came that year, Daniel took me to a strange town to watch a movie for a treat. I know he wanted to avoid being seen with me in Cosby, fearing someone would recognize me. After the movie I had hot chocolate, as Daniel sipped from a flask and watched me.
When we were back in the trailer, he gave me a white box with a pretty red bow on top. I was thrilled to have a gift. I carefully untied the ribbon and lifted the lid of the box feeling my heart beat with excitement. A gold locket lay on white cotton inside.
“It’s so pretty.” I said gently tugging at the clasp.
“O-o-o-open it.” Daniel instructed me.
There inside the little window was a picture of my dad and me, taken when I was about four. Like a monkey, I was draped over his broad back. We were both smiling. Tears began to flow freely as I touched the photo.
“Y-y-y-you can’t let your mom see it. It would m-m-m-make her m-m-mad,” Daniel warned me.
I nodded, still looking at my handsome dad. I missed him so much my body hurt from it.
“Now you’ll alw-w-w-w-ways have your dad with y-y-y-you,” he said with his stutter a little worse after he’d been drinking.
I continued to cry and hugged his neck. When I pulled away from him, tears flowing now, Daniel held my face with his rough hands and rubbed my cheeks with his thumbs. A smile stretched broad on his scruffy face.
I thought nothing of it, wrapped up in the moment of my wonderful gift. I had a split second of warning in my head, just before Daniel leaned forward and kissed me full on the mouth. He was holding my face, not allowing me to pull away. My eyes went wide, and I jumped off the couch as if he’d pinched me.
Breathing heavily, I said, “Thank you for my gift, Daniel. I need to go to bed now,” and sprinted to my room.
I sank to my mattress, confused and scared. My heart pounded in my chest, and my cheeks were on fire. My mother constantly called Daniel retarded. I lay in my cold room that night wondering if this were true.
He was at least forty-five. Why would he kiss me? After my heart slowed to a normal rhythm, I began to talk myself into believing it was harmless. Just a kiss. My first, yes, but still harmless. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself.
I tossed and turned most of the night, dreaming awful dreams of running in place, with my feet on fire. Thankfully, Daniel never came to my room. Around three in the morning, I heard my mother stumbling in the front door, cussing. I covered my head, trying to drown out any noises that came from her.
In the days that followed, Daniel acted like his normal self. We again watched TV together after dinner each night, laughing together at Mr. Ed and Wilber. I felt awkward with him at first, but the kiss was never repeated or mentioned, which was a relief to me.
I did notice he stared at me a lot and began to pull me closer to him while we watched TV. I was more than a little uncomfortable, but at the same time, he was my only friend. He did not hurt me. He was just lonely too, right? My thoughts ran wild most of the time now.
I would find peace in hot showers. This was the one thing I truly enjoyed. Hot water, and the time to think and dream as I watched the water drain away my sorrows. One night as I always did, I stayed in the shower until my skin wrinkled. I turned off the water and opened the curtain to find Daniel holding my towel. I screamed and jerked the curtain so hard it ripped from its plastic hooks. I held it shut, as if I could keep him from opening it.
“D-d-d-don’t be scared, Piper. I j-j-just want to look at you. That’s all!” He stuttered out the words. I felt my face flush as his words sank in.
“No!” I shouted back at him. Look at me? My head was spinning. I begged him to leave. More than once. I began to shiver, both cold and scared, as he tried to get the curtain from my clutched hands. Stopping just short of force, he began to stutter again.
“I-I-I just want to look at you,” he begged.
I felt heat rise to my head, and my eleven-year-old self answered, “But why?” Truly confused. I did not understand his meaning. I knew nudity was a no-no, and Nana always told me that good girls kept themselves covered. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t know what to do. “Why?” I asked again. Why would anyone want to see me naked? That was just gross. I sure didn’t want to see anyone naked.
He didn’t answer right away, but when he did his voice came out clear. “Because you’re s-s-soft and sweet. I’d never hurt you. I just want to l-l-l-look at you. That’s all, I s-s-s-swear.”
I thought he was crazy. What was I supposed to do? It was so gross! I could run, but he was between me and the door. Daniel could easily block my path. Oh God, what am I supposed to do?
“P-p-piper? C-c-come on n-n-n-now.
If I just do this and get it over with then I can go to bed. I felt sick at my stomach and more than a little ashamed. Then again, there was that spark of excitement that thought of someone wanting to just look at me, which made me feel somewhat wanted.
If looking was all, I could live with it, and Daniel was always nice to me. I trusted him. We had spent many hours together, and he had never harmed me ever. I sucked in my breath, numb with cold now.
It was the second week of January, and we had a wood furnace that barely heated one room. With great reluctance, I gathered myself, and finally I said, “Okay,” through clenched teeth.
Slowly, with my eyes shut, I opened the curtain. I stood naked for at least a minute. When I did finally open my eyes, Daniel was just looking at me.
Pitiful and pathetic as he was, I was unafraid and unashamed. After another minute of taking me in, he came toward me. I stood stock-still as he wrapped me in my towel. I tensed when he put his arms around me, rubbing my back, up then down, up then down in long slow strokes.
“Shh, shh, shh, beautiful girl,” he whispered and kissed my forehead.
He insisted I allow him to dry my hair. I just wanted to be left alone, but then again, this made me feel pretty. Cared for. Something I hadn’t had in a long time. I thirsted for attention and was in the same breath afraid I was going to hell.
I gave in and allowed him to dry my hair, as long as I was covered with my towel. What was wrong with him just drying my hair? When he had finished, I felt him pick up a strand and smell it. It was creepy. He touched my hair from crown to end, then turned and left the bathroom.
I breathed deep and dressed at warp speed in my too-small pajamas. My lips were blue with cold, or maybe shock. I don’t know. I went to bed feeling excited but dirty, as if soap had never touched my skin. Never had I wished for my Nana more than that night. Scared, lonely, and confused, I said a small prayer, and went to sleep watching Who’s the Boss? on my black and white TV.
The next day I woke up to my mother vacuuming the bare rugs in the living room. A cigarette and the cord in one hand, and the handle in the other, she pushed and pulled in one spot, long enough for me to realize that it was early and she was drunk. She had probably not been to bed at all the night before.
Every few days she would go into these crazed cleaning fits. Wiping everything. Vacuuming. The woman slept in her own vomit most nights, yet when these urges hit, you had better stay out of the way, or you would pay dearly. I wiped the sleep from my eyes, and went to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth.
I felt nauseated at the sight of the torn shower curtain. When I reentered my room I noticed an old movie playing. Gregory Peck. One of my favorites. The volume was turned down as usual, because I left it on day and night. I knew the film by heart and knew the words without hearing them. The movie was Behold a Pale Horse, one of Papaw’s favorites, as well as mine.
Absently, I began to change. I had my shirt over my head with my vision blocked when the first blow landed, knocking me to the floor. I knew instantly my mother was upon me.
“Get up, you whore!” she screamed as she jerked my shirt the rest of the way off me.
“What, Mother?” I screamed back and tried to grab at the shirt to cover myself. She threw something at me, and I ducked just in time. Whatever it was it barely missed my head and smashed into the wall just behind me.
She was definitely still drunk from the night before. Her clothes were splattered with bits of this and that. Her hair was tangled, and her makeup, once so precise, was smudged under her bloodshot eyes.
She stood before me, a wild animal—mean and belligerent. Daniel came in. I didn’t turn to look at him. I held my arms to cover my bare chest. Mother raised her manic eyes and looked at him. A wicked smile slowly crept across her face. Slowly, she raised her left hand. Hanging from it was my locket. She cocked her head sideways, still smiling.
“What do ya get for gifts like this, Danny boy?” she said mockingly. She took a long puff of her cigarette and looked down at me. “What did ya do for this, you filthy whore?” she asked, blowing smoke in my face.
I said nothing. For one, I didn’t know what she meant, and two, I knew it would be worse if I said anything in return.
“D-d-d-deb? Let’s g-g-go to bed, Honey,” Daniel began.
“Shut up!” she spat at him.
I wanted Daniel to grab her and get her out of there, but he was an idiot, and at that moment, I hated him. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was for something awful. Didn’t Nathan always tell me to trust my gut? My gut was screaming danger from both Daniel and my mother at this moment.
My mother turned her back to me and reached into my closet, and I wanted desperately to find something to cover myself, but I didn’t dare move. It was freezing, and I stood statue-still in just my panties. When she turned back to me I thought I was about to be whipped with a wire hanger, but instead she was holding the tie my dad had worn every other Sunday to church, a gift from Nathan and me the Father’s Day before last.
I’d watched him countless times, tying that tie with such care and accuracy. When he had finished, he’d admire it in the mirror.
“That would put those Oxford boys to shame,” he would brag with a wink.
I began to tie it for him a couple of weeks later. Every Sunday I couldn’t wait to get myself ready, so I could stand on the toilet lid and tie his tie for him. When I had finished, he would look in the mirror, then at me out of the corner of his eyes.
“Not bad for a prissy little princess. Not bad at all,” he would tease me, knowing I hated being called that.
Now my mother had it. She was twisting it, in and out of her hands. I reached for it, afraid she would tear it. She slapped me hard across the cheek. Laughing, she then twisted the tie around my neck, and, with strength I had no idea she possessed, she wrestled me to the mattress.
I felt the blood vessels in my eyes begin to protest at the pressure around my neck.
“Come on, Danny,” she crooned in a mocking, baby voice. “Let’s see what you two have been up to!”
I was fighting, literally for my life. I heard Daniel asking her to stop.
“This is what you wanted? Take it! I’m offering it to you!” she told him.
She loosened the tie enough to give me a gulp of precious air. I sucked it in, and then it was gone again. I looked to Daniel, begging him to stop her.
“Grab her,” my mother demanded.
I kicked wildly. Daniel placed his hands on my ankles, and when he looked down at me on the mattress, I knew in that instant he would not help me. In that moment, I saw what he was. It had been hidden from me, maybe by my own need for a caring person in my life. I had somehow convinced myself that at least he cared what happened to me, when everyone else had left me. My dad, my brother, and my own mother.
Daniel was my friend, my father figure, a person who asked about my day, and sat with me watching TV—simple little things I so needed in my young, secluded life. Cut off from school and my grandparents, Daniel was the only person I had.
“Please!” I screamed, and my throat felt clawed on the inside. “Daniel, please don’t! Mother, I’m sorry! Mother, please!”
But she was lost to me. I begged and began to shake with sobs. A fist fell hard on my mouth, and blood began to gather at the back of my throat. I had to turn my head sideways to cough it up. Words were spoken, but by whom, I didn’t know. What was said made no sense to me.
Daniel released my legs, and he left my line of vision. Tears were running into my ears now, and blood ran from my lips. Mother continued to squeeze the tie around my neck, but would let up just enough to allow me to breathe before passing out.
I smelled the alcohol and cigarette smoke so strong on her, it gagged me. She bent low to my ear, and said, “This is what life is about, Piper. Best you learn that now and just accept it. You should thank me. It’s not like you don’t want it.”
I felt the weight of Daniel climb on top of me. I fought, kicking, and scratching the best I could, but he held me down with little effort.
“Mother! Please!” I begged her. I felt my panties rip, as they were pulled off me.
I tried to fight. I pleaded, but neither listened. When Daniel entered me, the pain rendered me silent. The shock of it took what little breath I had. His breath was hot on my face. His odor, I knew, I would never forget. I jerked and twitched in misery as he pushed deeper into me.
I screamed out, and my mother’s closed fist came down hard on my face. Once, twice, three times. Blood pooled to the back of my throat again. I kept my head sideways to allow it to run out freely so I wouldn’t drown in it.
I coughed, but my mother pulled the tie tighter every time I did anything but lie there. Daniel reached my mother’s mouth, and they began kissing above me. Frantic, I looked around my room, which was now blurry to me, as I was running out of air.
I was leaving my body. I had to, or I would surely die from this. I went still and silent. My effort left me. I wished to die. My last memory of that day is Gregory Peck’s face on my black and white TV. I was murdered. Even though my heart continued to beat, I was very much deceased. All faded to black.