Other folks’ drama has just gotten right in my way this past week. I love me some family but that same family has taxed my last nerve. When this happens my mind becomes mush and I can’t write. And this truly pisses me right off. I understand that all families have some degree of drama, at least one member who is drama central, the wealth of all their crap muddying up other folks’ lives. But I swear I have more than my fair share of drama queens blooming on my family tree and I’m about ready to be through with them all because I desperately need to write.
The mechanics of how I write don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense. I have never been able to write an outline for a book or a nice, neat synopsis that details the happenings before I actually write the story. Nor do I have a regular routine of writing a set number of hours everyday. I sometimes envy authors who can.
Stories come to me a page here or a paragraph there. They eventually get melded into some cohesive form that just makes sense. Characters reveal themselves in bits and pieces and sometimes what they have to tell me, what they need me to tell about them, comes at a slow, methodic pace so that I can get to know every nuance and idiosyncrasy they’re bringing to the table. I have actually had characters that have haunted my dreams at night, desperate for their story to be told. And when they’re ready to materialize I need to get them out and unnecessary drama gets right in my damn way.
The following excerpt came to me over a year ago. It was scribbled onto the back of a church bulletin during Sunday service, the character and her story coming as I walked back to my seat from the alter call. I had locked gazes with one of the church mothers, a woman who has since passed and there was something in that brief moment that had hit me as if she herself had reached out a wrinkled hand to slap my face. It was one of those moments I least expected a story to manifest itself.
Angelette had been eight years old the first time a man put his hands on her. Large, dirty hands sneaking beneath the warmth of her covers to press against her skin. She could vividly recall the panic that consumed her, the fight to distance herself from the hands on her body and the final yielding of a child powerless to beat the hands away. She could easily remember the scream she could not yell, “No, please don’t. No,” caught in her throat, her tear-filled voice trapped behind the embarrassment and the shame.
Angelette had only been thirteen when her mama’s fourth husband, Herman Luther, had stolen her most precious gift. Thirteen years, eight months, and six days to be exact. Like a predator on prey he’d ravaged her innocence, leaving an empty shell of a woman in its place. Too often the memory of the moment would steal Angelette’s smile and turn her into someone she could barely recognize.
“You ain’t a girl who’s meant to be loved,” he’d muttered in a drunken stupor. “A girl like you is meant to be fucked. A man would be a fool to love you,” he’d pronounced. The words, spewed between the slur of saliva and the bitter of his breath, had dropped like lead weights against her ears. “A man would be a fool not to fuck you,” he’d spat. And so he did, trapping her on the stairwell of her mama’s home, hemming her into a corner like a caged dog. It had been an ugly act, the assault on her person as vile and as disgusting as one could imagine.
What had hurt Angelette most though was not the bruise between her thighs, but the disregard on her mother’s face. Her mother, who professed to love the monster who had violated her daughter so, had labeled her only child a whore. Her mother had looked at her with indifference, her expression alleging that Angelette had somehow deserved what had been done to her. Angelette had believed the look upon her mother’s face. Her mother’s eyes had been orbs of denial then, unforgiving pools of anger. And though her body had healed, the physical pains fading into oblivion, Angelette still nurtured the scar left by the memory of what she had seen in her mother’s eyes.
It would be many men later, well after Herman Luther, when she would continue to ask what kind of man would shatter the dreams of an eight-year-old with his filthy hands. Angelette was still desperate for sleep that could not be disturbed. She hated the hands that could shatter her dreams in the middle of the night. She begged to know what kind of man, the answers lost somewhere behind a mother’s stare.
For as long as Angelette could remember men had always looked at her with panting eyes. Eyes like those of Herman Luther. Angelette imagined they saw what he had seen, what he’d taken pleasure in showing her mother. In her mind it was not the satiny, butter-toned skin, or the dark intensity of her feline eyes, or the sweet, delicate lines of her full lips that they saw. It was not the intoxicating beauty that had been her birthright that they paid homage to or the elegance that danced the length of her curvaceous frame.
To Angelette, it was her ugly that they saw. It was the ugly of having been birthed in a field full of bitter and hate. It was the ugly of having been bottle fed sonnets of malice and jealousy and never having dined on poetry that rang of love and wanting. It was the ugly of being thought brainless and hopeless and without spirit; of being seen as nothing more than nicely packaged meat to be used, and used again, until there was nothing else left to use. It was the ugly reflected in the panting eyes that told Angelette her only value lay beneath the mound of pubic hair between her legs. It was the ugly that whispered she was not meant to be loved. That was the image that peered back at Angelette when she looked in the mirror. It was the image reinforced on her fifteenth birthday when her mama disappeared with husband number five, another husband who’d looked at Angelette with panting eyes.
Angelette had been just three weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday when Graye had come rushing into her life like a summer rain, much needed moisture after a long period of drought. His pale, brooding eyes had been different from all the others. He’d been different and so Angelette had latched on to Graye like an infant latches on to a pacifier, refusing to let go.
Excerpted from Shades of Graye - All Rights Reserved © Deborah Fletcher Mello
Since then, Angelette and Graye’s story has been slow to reveal itself, but when it has come, it has demanded my full attention. This past week both of them had much that needed to be told and drama was just getting all up in the way. At 4:30 this morning, I was finally able to finish what Angelette had forced me to start. I’m really pleased with the end result. And as I finally laid Angelette and Graye to rest, I think they both were as well.