Author Topic: Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir -- Word Count: 2,154  (Read 572 times)

Offline Thair

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Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir -- Word Count: 2,154
« on: September 23, 2018, 10:25:21 AM »
Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir
Word Count: 2,154


It’s been thirty years at least since I’ve seen my father. I only think about him on Father’s Day, around the holidays, especially Thanksgiving because of the Feed the Homeless Walk, and during extremes temperatures because I often wonder if he’s safe.

It gets cold in the city and I’m always thinking about the less fortunate. Growing up homeless people were everywhere.

Once when my sister and brother were walking home we passed a group of drunks. And I don’t know what they said to get my sister to give them her scarf, but she did. It’s funny thinking back on it. My mother always adds how she went back to the liquor store on the corner where they were and snatched her scarf from the drunk’s head. My mother was gangster. She had no problem standing up for herself.

My children haven’t met my father. They don’t understand and the conversation always start off with, “Can we go see him? Can you call him? How does he look? Is he Indian? Do you look like him? Where is he?

And I always say, “No, because I don’t know where he lives. Last I heard, he lived uptown. He used to live on Pennsylvania Avenue. And I’d see him years ago when I went to H Street. He’s an addict.

They’d ask, “Can you call your Aunt, maybe she knows where he is.”

“I don’t talk to her either. Last I heard, she lost her house and she’s doesn’t keep in touch. I saw my cousin Tasha and she changed her number soon after giving it to me at the Giant.”

“What you mean she changed her number.”

“She changed her number. I saw her on a Saturday. A week later I reached out and the number wasn’t working. I don’t think she wanted to keep in touch. Maybe she felt some kinda way because they weren’t in the house anymore.

“What you mean?”

“When people go through things and they’re accustomed to living one way and then they’re living in their opinion, below their standards, they don’t want anyone to come around.”

I really want to see my dad thought. I want to see how he looks. I want to look in his eyes and see what he has grown to be. I want to be proud, so I picture him well-groomed, with a smile from the inside out. He’d be the man my mother fell in love with—my oldest brother’s reflection. I try to remember his eyes, which thirty years removed never looked down.

Wishing away my father’s story used to be something I daydreamed about, but not so much now. I am open to accepting him as smelly. A poster-child for Washington, D.C.’s homeless population and mentally ill.

A part of me is curious to know what he eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Does he sleep in a comfortable bed or in one of those tents the city donates? Is his blankets clean? Does he speak about his life, even though I know that his memories will not resemble my own? Am I a worthwhile character in his stories to his friends or strangers? 

I hope he screams out my name if he is like the rambling mentally ill I’ve encountered on the city streets. Or like the subway preacher who in her mind preaches to her congregation. I want my father to be radical for me. Whooping and hollering my name like how the subway preacher calls on Jesus. 


I saw him the eyes of every homeless person that asked me for money. He always stared back at me with apologetic eyes, begging me for something I didn’t have—love, money, forgiveness, and understanding. Hope is what I had to offer, one day you’ll get better. I can’t recall how I envisioned my life to look with him in it. If I had to guess, my father would do the things my grandfather did like go to work and return home in the evening to the biggest piece of chicken and retire to bed behind the pocket doors until tomorrow.

I prayed for my father to get better and by better I meant, he wouldn’t smell and his mind didn’t regurgitate what he’d read in the bible. Instead, he’d have real conversations about loving me and my sister Vonetta, swinging us across puddles so that the rain didn’t soak our socks and he’d make us a snowman complete with a cigar.

At night after reciting the Lord is my shepherd, I added my father’s name to the list of people I wanted God to give special attention to. It’s this ritual that taught me that the matters of the heart are complicated. I wanted the whole time for him to want more for himself, for us, but my wanting didn’t save us in the end—it wasn’t enough. I settled for giving up on the belief that he’d get better.

As I grew older, my thoughts grew less forgiving. It wasn’t my fault you’re a druggy. So through self-inquiry, I chose a less diluted reality. You made a choice that didn’t include me; to use drugs and beg your way through life. I rehearsed: drug addicts can’t be trusted, and for every time they said, he will get better, my affirmations grew stronger, my father cannot be trusted. Vonetta begged me to give him money. I guess she wanted to save him too. All he wants is a dollar, she’d say, but a dollar wasn’t all he wanted, and didn’t she see that— he wanted us to buy into the story he’d created about getting better and that God was going to do all – this – stuff.

He was never a great storyteller, even with the help of the red scripted passages that were supposed to be God’s very words. His clothes reeked as he stood there preaching to Vonetta and me sitting on the steps in the front yard of my childhood memory. I wonder how many times in my six year old mind I saw him–really saw him for what he was. I accepted all those years ago that he wouldn’t get better and in time, I hated him for this.

*** CHAPTER 3—Grandma

“It happened before you were born. It was during the time when mommy was an alcoholic.” My mother said.

The Alcohol Anonymous books make sense now. They were on the same shelf as the encyclopedias. I never knew grandma the alcoholic. I knew the women with no filter. The one that made kick-ass sweet potatoes.

“She kicked her habit after...”

It was incident that scared the crap out of her. My cousin, could’ve died.

“It was on a Saturday. I remember because we were cleaning up. And we only cleaned the house on Saturdays.”
Your aunt was upstairs in her room.

“Daddy brought home some industrialized cleaner. It was a power cleaner. You had to add water to it. When you added the water it turned a milky white. Do you remember that?”
I didn’t.

“Well, your aunt had it on the floor in a mayonnaise jar. And he was, you know, young so he picked it up and drunk some of it.
Mommy and I were outside when he came through the front door. He started walking around drunk. When I smelled his breath I knew right away that he had ingested the disinfectant. I screamed when he starting acting crazy. Mommy was right there and daddy wasn’t home at the time.”

I imagine my grandmother tipsy, but then suddenly jarred to the reality of things. No one knowing what to do.

“We were in the kitchen fussing about, I can’t remember, but mommy was tipsy. She stood there at the stove cooking black eyed peas. I remember Lloyd warning her not to lift those beans off the stove. You remember that big pot mommy had with wire handle?”

I did remember, the chili pot. She loved to cook and I never understood why I never learned. The smell was always inviting. When she cooked big meals like chili we knew that there was no way around getting a new meal for the rest of the week. I did everything to reinvent the chili, I put cheese on it, hot sauce, and sugar. My last resort was to stuff my mouth and excuse myself to the bathroom where I flushed it down the toilet. 

“Next thing I know your grandmother picked up the pot and her feet came under her. She landed on her back on the floor on top of the beans. I didn’t think it was as horrible as it was until years later when I saw her naked. I saw the burns and bruises that covered her body from that incident. We never talked about it.”

I knew the scars on her back, buttocks, and legs. I thought it was the abuse that my mother and aunts spoke about that she suffered at the hands of my grandfather.  The man that I saw as reserved was the same man that punched and curse my grandmother. And it is his temper, I was told, that brought him north for fear that he’d be killed down south.
He may not have kicked and punch anybody more than he kicked and punched my grandmother. My mother shared how my uncle Lloyd was fed up with him hitting her. One evening he stood up to him and they fought man to man while my mother and aunt Nita listened from upstairs. She told me how it seemed to go on for hours before she heard my grandfather storm out the door.

“I ran down stairs to see what was going on and daddy stood there on the porch with his shot gun. Lloyd had ran from the house and daddy went looking for him in the streets. I begged Nita to go with me to see where daddy was going because I didn’t want him to kill Lloyd.

That morning daddy had to take me and Nita to the store and it took everything I had not to laugh because daddy lip was busted. While him and Lloyd were fighting the night before he hit his mouth on the radiator. It looked horrible.” She’d laughed so hard she cried.


The sight of my father was debilitating. For all the things I wanted my father to be: a fireman, a police officer, normal, he remained the same—a stinky excuse for a father. I couldn’t control the emotions that came and went, love and hate. I could love him more if he stayed away. It would have been easier to create a story so different from the one he fed us that included John, Luke, and Jonah. I realized no matter how much I prayed, he would not get better, so I stopped. I never blamed myself for this, I always believed the blame should be shared between him and my mother.

I held that scratch and sniff picture of him for years standing in front of us. The smell of piss and alcohol reeking from the motionless picture. Vonetta and I sat on the front porch staring at him, encased by this grim reality of what we shared without any hope that we could exchange him for another father. We were stuck with him. Did he expect us to believe in something that hasn’t already saved him?”

I can’t imagine now, him using words like thou art, thine, and begotten. Did I believe in him those days in my childhood or did I know deep down inside that he was full of shit? The thread that strung all those stories together, unraveled starting with my father, then Santa and the tooth fairy. They became part of a story collection that included Where The Wild Things Are.
That’s when the dreams started and the deep questioning about life and death began. A lot of things seemed symbolic then. Like rainbows on the ground. A four leaf clover lost in a sea of pennywort. A dandelion making a wish come true. And chant’s that stopped the rain, rain-rain go away, please come back another day.

How could I explain things like that to a family of baptized Christians running around praying over bills and beans? My mind couldn’t make sense of these things. I knew that prayer didn’t carry much weight when it came to saving drug addicts and wishing away the boogie-man. How could I believe in the God my father read about from the gold trimmed pages? I screamed I love the devil. Why would I love a God that never answered my prayers? How could I believe in anything that my father believed in?  I waited a long time for results, he’ll get better, but nothing ever happened.

Offline jkalman

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Re: Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir -- Word Count: 2,154
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2018, 05:49:25 PM »
Hi. I read chapter one and can offer my impressions.

I like your first sentence a lot. I don't buy the second sentence (I only think of him on....), because you go on to talk about nothing else but him in the chapter one.

Is your main character really always thinking about less fortunate people! It's hard to trust people when they talk with exaggerations. Tell it like it is.

Growing up homeless people were everywhere.
A comma is needed after "growing up". I read it the first time that the speaker grew up homeless and that people were everywhere  ;D

In the section that starts with "They don’t understand and the conversation always start off with ...", I don't believe that you always tell them that you saw your aunt on Saturday!

I really want to see my dad thought.

Can you find a way to end chapter one on some kind of suspenseful note ... a reason to go to chapter 2? Can you take the reader to the inciting action/decision that will take the main character through a one-way door and onto the path of the story. At the end of chapter one I know that your main thinks about their dad, wants to see him, but there is nothing to pull me in yet.

You've done a great job in setting a mood though. Well done.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2018, 05:56:08 PM by jkalman »

Offline Thair

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Re: Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir -- Word Count: 2,154
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2018, 04:50:13 PM »
Thank you jkalman,

I agree, especially with my need to use definite, specific, and concrete language. And yes, commas are necessary, lol. I will keep at it and thanks again.

Offline Jennie

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Re: Title: Cavern Girl, a memoir -- Word Count: 2,154
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2018, 11:03:15 AM »
In my opinion, (take it or leave it) the story begins at the point where you say: I see him in the eyes of every homeless person who asks me for money.