Just the thought of a step-dad telling my Nicole what to do and ordering her about was enough to make me cringe. And I knew that even if Nicole was wrong in a matter, I still would’ve taken her side. And the moment she stood up and said, “You ain’t nunna my daddy!” I would’ve been right there in the Amen Corner, “You sho ain’t, don’t be talkin’ to my child like that!” And it would’ve been all downhill from there.
I bring this up because about a year ago I reunited with my childhood friend Darren. He and his younger brother Sylvester and I grew up together and went to the same church. Darren’s mom had died in a car crash, and his father had remarried. I never saw much of Darren’s dad. He never came to church, and they didn’t live in our immediate vicinity. But what I did see was the new wife and her very unsavory treatment of her two step-sons.
By the time Darren and Vester were old enough, they left home. I was still too young to know where they’d gone and whom, if anyone, they were living with. But over the next few years, news trickled back that they were both struggling, living on the streets, battling drugs… and had attempted suicide.
By then, the dad and step-mom had had two children of their own, both of whom their mother treated like absolute royalty. The younger of these two new sons was named Maverick. Around this time, I had given birth to Nicole, and she and Rick grew up together much like I and Rick’s older brother Darren had grown up together.
Now, almost 40 years later, I’ve reconnected with Darren. During our conversation, he filled me in on why they’d left home and what had happened afterwards. He also explained the rift that now exists within his family because no one believes his accusations of abuse. We talked, in great detail, about that abuse. I told him of the terror I felt as a young child witnessing what was done to him, and especially to little Vester, at the hands of their step-mom.
“They say I’m trying to destroy the family,” he said. “They won’t let me see my dad unless I admit that my accusations against my step-mom are all lies.”
“What will you do, Darren,” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I guess I won’t see my daddy no more in this life.”
I could hear the sorrow in his voice, and the whole situation made me angry.
“How’s Vester?” I asked.
We were quiet for a moment; then he said, “I can’t believe Sally is gone.”
“You and me both, brother,” I said.
So we loved on each other for a while, and I tried to give him whatever encouragement I could. We promised to keep in touch.
Some months later, the situation with Darren’s family had reached fever pitch, and apparently Darren’s son told the family that before they started calling his father a liar, they needed to check with that girl named Nancy that they’d grown up with because she knows all about the abuse.
My, my, my! How has all of this ended up in my lap? And so, right as rain, I received an email from Rick:
Nancy, I just want you to know that your name is being libeled. And that Darren is trying to rip our family apart with his lies about my mom. Darren’s son, my nephew, said that you said awful things about my mom, and I know that’s a lie because you know us, and you know my mom would never hurt anyone, especially defenseless children, and if you did say those things, it’s only because Darren has filled your head with lies, but you would never say those things, would you? I know that you wouldn't, and I’m only writing you to let you know that your good name is being libeled.
His plea sounded very much as if he were trying to convince not me but himself that the abuse was a lie. I chose my words carefully when I responded:
“Maverick, you need to sit down because I’m going to tell you some things you don’t want to hear. These are not things that someone told me or things that I heard about; these are things I witnessed with my own two eyes.”
And so it went. I detailed two of the more visious incidents that have been forever etched in my brain. I also told him that these things happened in the ‘70s before he was even born, and back then people looked the other way; they didn’t get involved in other people’s family affairs. "They looked the other way when your mom beat Darren and Vester… and they looked the other way when she herself came to church beaten up." I apologized that their family was in flux, but I assured him that Darren was not lying, and that I was grieved that at nearly 50 years old, he was still suffering and trying to find peace from what was done to him and his little brother.
“I could’ve gone my whole life without hearing any of that. I’m sorry I contacted you. You will not hear from me again.”
I was a bit crestfallen at his response because I am friends with both sides of this fractured family. So now I’m left with my own thoughts, wondering what lies ahead if this matter should call upon me once again. Ultimately, I hope that my friend and his brother can find a smidgen of peace before they leave this life.
I admit, sometimes I wonder what life would’ve been like if I’d married and raised my daughter in a two-parent household, but my thoughts always return to Miss Sophia in The Color Purple: “I loves Harpo, God knows I do, but I’ll KILL HIM DEAD…” before I let him lay a hand on my child!