Donna Bryant Sikes
I guess we all have something about our lives that causes us grief that hangs in there with us until the day we die. Deep-rooted pain is sometimes hard to keep at bay. Just a touch of a sad moment can bring it all down on you again and your emotions spiral out of control. The person you are with thinks wow; you got that upset over this? You can’t tell them; you can’t go into it. They don’t know and they don’t understand.
I am twenty-four years old and this year is 2018, but I am going to take you back to where it all began for me. My life story, or at least the first I remember of it, started when I lived with Gramps. He took me in to live with him when I was a baby. He never talked about it much but I was born in the Central Youth Detention. His only child, Raven, my momma, was in there when I was born. I think Gramps said she was 16. Anyway, they called Gramps to pick me up if he wanted me. I couldn’t have been over three. I don’t think they were supposed to let me even stay there, I don’t know. There was something about an arrangement. My grandmother died a long time ago and Gramps just never remarried, so he told people he took me since momma promised to come get me when she got out. I don’t know who he thought he was fooling. He would have taken me anyway. I used to watch the old winding road for my momma to appear, but I think she just forgot she had me and rode into the sunset.
The people in the detention center played a joke on her. They named me Cyd and went on about how pretty a name it was. My momma told them it was a very pretty name and she felt special that they would think so much of her as to pick out a name for her baby. My birth certificate actually reads ‘Cyd Bunker’ with no father listed. They didn’t tell her they named me for the letters that began the words ‘Central Youth Detention’. They told Gramps one day though, after he called to find out if my momma was still there. I could hear them laughing on the line as he slowly placed the phone back on the receiver. He turned to his buddy, Ralph, and told him that momma had left. They talked a little bit about the arrangement, which I never quite understood, and how bitter the people there were toward my momma because of her special treatment. He told Ralph about how I got my name. Ralph hung his head. “That’s pitiful. That’s just pitiful.”
We lived on the Flint River in Saltlick, Georgia. I loved it. I didn’t worry about dressing up or combing my long, straight hair. I always wore overalls or cutoffs, depending on the weather. You never know in central Georgia when you get up at the change of seasons if you’ll get frostbite or sunburn. Sometimes you get both in the same day. When I was old enough to start school, the principal, Miss Pruitt, thought Gramps was handsome so she was always calling on us to give him advice on how to dress me and to help him with what she called a routine. I remember her putting a calendar made out of poster paper on the wall one evening in our kitchen. I stood behind Gramps and peeped around while she showed him the time to bathe me and brush my teeth, the time to put me to bed, the time to get me up, what I should wear, and the days my lunch money was to be paid. She peeped around at me. “And always say your prayers young lady.”
I was so not excited about the adventure of school, but I didn’t realize how tough it would be for me. I missed following Gramps around while he sold worms and scrap metal. I missed sitting on the stool in the pool hall eating those mouth-watering scrambled hamburgers. If I ever craved an ice cream, I just had to plead a headache and we took off to the drug store. I had the river for a back yard and a tire on a rope swinging from a tree, all I needed in my perfect world. I had a lot of laughter. Gramps said I was Raven’s smile, the only thing she gave him that wasn’t misery.
The morning that bus pulled up and honked that horn, I thought my life had ended. It looked like a yellow space ship with a million lights flashing on it. The old lady that drove it wasn’t too nice either. “Find a seat and stay seated. Don’t talk and don’t move until I tell you to get off.” When I didn’t say anything she yelled, “Did you hear me”? I was too little to choke her so I just yelled back, “Yes sir!” I was implying she looked like a man and was daring her to do something about it. I had already heard about suspension from David that lived down the road. He was always telling Gramps he got another three days for doing something horrible. I figured if I tried it, maybe I could get those three days at least once a week until I graduated high school. I had only twelve years to go. David had told me enough that my old dreams of adventures at school had faded a long time ago.
The driver turned toward me in her seat. “I am a m’am not a sir!” I just stared at her as if I was sorry but didn’t know what she wanted me to do about it. “Did you hear me?”
Oh great, she not only thinks I’m stupid but deaf too. “Sir?”
She threw that gear in first and grinded on down the road. I was on that bus an hour before she stopped at my school. I was the last one off so I thought I’d try for that three days again. “How old are you?”
Her mouth flew wide open and you’d have thought I was a snake that bit her. “That is none of your business!”
I turned to walk down the steps of the bus when she caught my arm and jerked me around. “Why did you ask me how old I am?”
“I just wondered if you would be retiring soon.”
“Oh! Well I never!”
I turned and walked off the bus. “You probably won’t never either.”
I was six years old. I had missed kindergarten. I never was around kids that much so Gramps and his buddies were about all I had known up to that point. They tried to watch how they acted, what they said, and what they did around me. Gramps always had to remind them, so I was usually a big kink in their plans, but they didn’t let on to me about it. They didn’t let on to Gramps either. He told them one day that he had to start helping me with some schoolwork so I wouldn’t be behind when I started. Their evenings together consisted, at some point, of going over ABC’s and 123’s with me. I knew even then that if I acted real pitiful and pretend I didn’t catch on, they would play along and I could stay up longer. Ralph would have that concerned look on his face. “I think she may need a tutor. She seems a little slow.”
I walked into that first grade class to girls in dresses with hair bows. They looked like Easter Sunday when the girls down the road hopped in their daddy’s car to go to church. My teacher was Mrs. Waters. She was about the sweetest person I had ever met. She put me in the back at the table with a boy that was crying his heart out. It was obvious he was a lap baby, and not too happy with the turn of events. We had to draw a picture that morning. I have always been somewhat of an artist so I drew a baby’s face with tears flying out of his eyes and showed it to him. He just cried that much harder. He cried clear up to time for lunch. By then, I just wanted to cry with him.
Before we went home, Mrs. Waters put us in the corner of the room where the kitchen was. She told us to play and bake something. I was used to cooking with real food so it seemed a waste of good energy for me to use plastic pans and food. Besides, there were too many kids in that little kitchen, so I sat at the window and looked off into the woods. My mind drifted to a sunny day when I caught my last bass. I could still see the water glistening in the sun and the size of that bass hanging on the pole as Gramps helped me get it to the bank. Mrs. Waters interrupted my daydreaming when she knelt beside me. “Hey sweetie, how are you doing your first day?”
“I’m fine. How much longer before we take the bus home?”
She laughed. “We have another hour. I am going to sit you all in a circle in a few minutes and tell you a story. Do you like stories?”
“I guess so.”
“What is your favorite story?”
“I like the stories Gramps tells his buddies after we’ve been fishing. They’re always funny stories and the fish aren’t ever as big as he says they are.”
“Would you like to tell one of those stories today?”
I thought a minute then shrugged. “Sure.”
She called everybody into the reading circle. “Boys and girls, we are going to sit criss-cross applesauce and listen to Cyd tell us a story.”
It seemed like a good idea until everybody sat and stared at me. I cleared my throat and tried to think of how the stories went. “I go fishing with Gramps a lot. We live on the riverbank. We never know what will be on the line when we reel it in. Sometimes it’s a big fish and sometimes it’s a snake.”
The mention of that word set the girls off. They squealed so loud I got nervous and forgot what I was going to say. Mrs. Waters told me to take my seat. She picked up a book and began to read. It was a story about the alphabet, which I had known since I was four. By the time the bell rang, I was the first to get in line. I had fought boredom long enough.
I knew Gramps wasn’t home because our neighbor, Minnie, stood at the mailbox to greet the driver so she would let me off. She and the driver got into a discussion about my attitude. The ride had been so long that half the first graders wet their pants. I almost did, but as soon as that bus stopped, I ran behind a big bush in the back yard and let her rip. I didn’t stop until that bus was clean out of site.
Minnie was half way back to her house when I found my key. She turned and waved before I went inside. I don’t know what the driver told her but Minnie was cracking up.
There was a can of beanie weanies, a tomato, and some bread and butter on the table with a note ‘eat’. Gramps was always glad when I had supper done and he didn’t have to cook it. When he got home, he made over what he called a feast. There weren’t any leftovers either. My favorite part was doing the dishes. I pulled my stool up to the sink to see how high I could make suds, and I sang. Gramps always said I sounded like a songbird.
“You got any homework?”
“I did it on the bus. They are teaching us alphabet and easy words.”
“Were you bored today?”
“Yes sir. David said if I let them know I already know what they are teaching they might make me go to a higher grade where I have to study real hard.”
“He’s got a point there.”
I wiggled my nose and sneezed three times. My nose automatically twitches before I sneeze, something Gramps always thought was funny. “Okay there twitch. Don’t come down with a cold.”
That was his name for me from then on, Twitch. I thought at one point it was the cause of all my problems, but it was just another excuse to bully me. I think Gramps had just been looking for something else to call me since he heard how I got my real name. He didn’t realize others would use it against me.
I hung the dry cloth over the cabinet door just as he walked by and pulled my hair. “Let’s grab a fishing pole before it gets dark.”
We had a routine. Grandpa grabbed the poles and I grabbed the tackle box. We sat a few yards away from each other because he said he had his sweet spot at the water and I had mine. He taught me a long time ago to be quiet and watch the bobber. I sat on the bank that particular evening for what seemed like an eternity before something grabbed my line. My pent up energy from the day sent me jumping up and grabbing the pole in a frenzy. I jerked back but the fish swam toward me. I rushed backward to take the slack out of the line when I tripped over an old tree root. I lost my grip on the pole and fell backward to the ground. I heard Gramps advice, as always, as I hurried to get a grip on the pole again. The line had become so loose it wrapped around my ankle. When I stood and tried to get back to the edge of the water, the fish jumped high into the air and swam away from me. I heard Gramps yelling what a big one it was. Trying to hold the line taught and walk too became impossible. I stumbled and fell into the water. Gramps reached me but he wasn’t in time to get a firm grip. The line around my ankle caught on something in the flow of the water and took me with it like a lead weight. The panic that swelled inside me caused me to lose my sense of direction and the murky water kept me from seeing. I remember the swirl of the water around me as it took me deeper. It was obvious I was in trouble. Even if the line had unwrapped itself, the swirling suction would have kept me under. It felt like I had fought for hours. The fight continued inside but my arms and legs went limp. My mind accepted what was. “I’m done for.”
My spirit left the water and flew over Gramps. I went to the most beautiful place. An older, very beautiful woman stood before me in a robe that flowed with the wind. Her hair was long and dark with golden highlights and her eyes were amber colored, just like mine. Her face glowed with a light, but I couldn’t tell from where the light came. “Are you me all grown up?” I asked.
The sweetest chuckle came from her throat. “I am your grandmother. I watch over you. You are strong like the ones before you.” She had a very kind smile and I felt love when I looked at her. I was safe wherever I was, that much I knew. I had always heard what it was like to feel love from a mother or a grandmother but I had never known it before. She gently placed a beautiful white flower in my hand.
I smelled the sweet fragrance. “Thank you. What is it?”
“The flower is as beautiful as you, but you will grow to be more beautiful than the flower. You will carry its name, Jasmine.”
“I won’t be called Cyd anymore?”
“Not unless you want to be. You must go now but I will always be with you.”
“Will I see you anymore?”
“One day you will.”
A hand pulled me away from her, and I didn’t like it. I tried so hard to break free but I was no match for that strong hold. I hit the hard dry ground and stared up at Gramps. The frightened look on his face was nothing like my experience in the water had been. I had come back. My body felt heavy as he lifted me from the ground and carried me. I looked toward the sky just as darkness enfolded me.
By the time I woke, I was in my bed. My eyelids fluttered to adjust to the light. I looked at the pajamas I was wearing then I looked up. I had come back, but I had come back with friends. Gramps sat on the side of my bed, our doctor friend stood at the foot of my bed, and there were several people lining the walls.
I saw the fear in Gramps’ eyes when he kissed my forehead. “How do you feel?”
“I feel tired. Did you pull me out?”
“No, you just popped up and floated to me at the bank.”
“Somebody pulled me out.”
Gramps and the doctor shared a skeptical look. The doctor walked to my other side and took his stethoscope from around his neck. “Just try to be quiet and rest.”
“Can I just ask you who all these people are?”
Dr. Simmons took the stethoscope off my chest and backed away. “What people?”
“All these people standing against the walls are . . . dressed funny.”
Gramps chuckled nervously. “She’s just got to get her head straight doc. She’s probably been dreaming.”
I didn’t comment anymore, but if they didn’t see all the people then I didn’t know who they were and who was going to make them leave. They looked very comfortable in my opinion. After Dr. Simmons finished checking me out, he told me that if I didn’t want the people around to just tell them to leave so I could get some sleep.
I waited until Gramps closed my bedroom door. “Leave so I can get some sleep.” I pulled the covers over my head. I didn’t hear anything so I slowly lowered the covers from my face. The room was empty.
There for a while, I had somebody following me around or sitting across a room staring at me. I learned real fast to pay attention to how the person looked or acted before I started trying to carry on a conversation or ask a question. If a girl had on a long dress with bows all over it and bows all over her head, then she probably wasn’t amongst the living. I just knew it was different from this day and time so I left it alone. If people stood stiff without moving, I tried to avoid them.
One day I held a ball on the school playground, waiting for a boy to move so I could throw it. “Will you please move?”
“You can see me?”
Mrs. Waters had been watching. “Cyd, who are you talking to?”
My classmates continued to chant. “Throw the ball!”
I knew then I had made my first mistake. Lord bless a betsy bug, I thought. I threw the ball and it went right through that little boy. “If you can see me, I need to talk to you.”
I couldn’t answer him because Mrs. Waters was still watching and she wouldn’t give up. “Cyd, I asked you who you were talking to.”
I shrugged and ran to the swings. The boy followed so I swung real high and hummed so loud I couldn’t hear him anymore. He didn’t give up. He walked closer so that when I swung forward I swung right through him. “You have to go now.”
He stayed. He stayed for school. He stayed for dinner. He stood in the corner when I tried to go to sleep. My frustration level was at a breaking point. “The others left when I told them to, why didn’t you?”
“I need you to tell my parents something.”
“I don’t know your parents.”
“You will see them soon and I need you to tell them something.”
“Will you go away until I see them? Please?”
When he faded away, I realized I didn’t feel as safe. He gave me a sense of peace. I called him an angel. It’s about the best a six-year-old mind could do. After that little boy left, I think I finally just fell asleep from exhaustion. He did what I asked though. I didn’t see him again until I was at the grocery store with Gramps that next Saturday.
David and his mom stood at the freezer section looking for pizza. David’s mom, Elizabeth, asked Gramps if he was going to the chamber’s annual fishing tournament. While they were talking, a couple pushed a buggy past us. I gasped when I saw little angel boy follow them.
Mrs. Elizabeth addressed the couple. “Hey, are ya’ll going to the tournament?”
The couple didn’t have much to say. In fact, I couldn’t even tell what they mumbled back. The little boy’s voice came into my head. “Tell them to stop fighting over what happened to me and stop blaming each other. It makes me very sad.”
I didn’t answer. How could I do what he asked? They soon moved on but the boy stayed. I knew he was not going to leave until I did what he asked.
When they left the isle, Mrs. Elizabeth held her hand to her heart. “They are so sad. Their little boy, Dale, passed and they have done nothing but fight ever since. You should see what they do to each other on Facebook. It just makes me hurt for them. It’s so hard to watch.”
David’s eyes creased causing his freckles to run together. “Momma, if it hurts you so bad why do you log on before you pour your coffee every morning? You go straight to their pages.”
She nudged David. “Oh hush, I just want to pray for them.” She glanced at Gramps. “They are definitely in need of prayer you know?”
Gramps placed a box in the buggy and nodded. “Uh huh.”
She waved a hand to slap the air. “You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. This morning she put up a video of him snoring with his mouth open. Sounded like a freight train coming through my speakers. He had put up one of her yesterday trying to get up on the trampoline with her swimsuit on. He took the video from the rear. You know she . . .”
Gramps held his hands up. “Stop!” Gramps hates nothing worse than malicious gossip so he was having trouble processing all this. “I need to get that image out of my head. I can’t see why they do that.”
“Well, with her video yesterday we knew there would be something equally bad from her this morning, if not worse. They try to humiliate each other. It’s the war of the Branford’s. He has 700 friends and she has 800. They each take on a few every day as the fight goes on.”
“I couldn’t watch a Facebook reality show,” Gramps said.
“Yeah, I guess you could call it that. Some of the videos are ridiculous.”
Gramps tried to escape as he mumbled under his breath. “I don’t see how a husband and wife can do that and still live with each other.”
David’s attempts to pull his momma away were useless. She followed closer and talked louder. “She did one of those photo shop things of his head on a tall, fat lady’s body. The caption read ‘does my butt make this girdle look big’. The next sentence read, ‘no dummy, this is not a question’.”
Gramps was at a loss for words at this point. The faster he walked, the faster she walked. “I can’t stand to hear anymore.”
“I know what you mean. They won’t divorce. They are one of those couples that aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. You know how misery loves company. They never get any likes for what they do though. My friends and I private message each other on Facebook to talk about it, but we don’t hit like or comment. You know I wouldn’t participate in such.”
Gramps looked like a frog when his eyes bulged open. “That’s just crazy. You participate by just . . .”
“Yeah, sad too. It’s been a couple years since the boy passed, but that seems to be when it all started. Each one blames the other.”
“I hate they lost their son. I need to get . . .”
“They were going out of town on vacation. He didn’t want their son, Matt, to go. She insisted on taking him along anyway. Well, he let Matt get out of his seatbelt to get his toy; you know one of those big, metal trucks. While she was telling him to let him wait until they stopped, a truck hit them head on. So now he blames her for taking him and she blames him for letting him out of the seatbelt.”
Gramps rubbed his temple with his right hand. “I remember that when it happened. The mother almost died too. I need to run along.”
“It was touch and go for awhile. She would stop breathing, and then she would start back. Some people say he just kept unplugging her machine and it would make her heart stop. I don’t think he would do that though, but you never know people. Do you think he would do that?”
I couldn’t help but watch Matt’s face while Gramps and Mrs. Elizabeth talked about the sad situation. No wonder he was hurting so bad. I ran from Gramps until I found the isle where the boy’s parents were. I breathlessly stood before them. “Your son Matt won’t leave me alone until I tell you to stop fighting and to stop blaming each other. It is making him very sad. He is very happy until he sees you fighting, and he said the red truck you keep looking for is under the house. He wants you to put it on a shelf so every time you see it, it will remind you how happy he is when you’re happy.”
I turned to run when I ran smack dab into Gramps. “You know not to leave my side when we go somewhere.” He looked up at the Brandsford’s stunned faces and back to me. “What did you do Cyd?”
Mr. Brandsford asked, “How old is she anyway?”
Gramps gave me a stern look. “Six, why, what did she do?”
Mrs. Brandsford suddenly let out a wail that had store clerks scrambling down the aisle. Gramps left the loaded buggy and ushered me by my arm out to the parking lot. He drove home without a word, parked the truck, and turned in his seat. “You wanna tell me what just happened back there?”
“You might wanna get a strong cup of coffee. You aren’t going to believe it.”
I was so nervous I stuttered half my words. “Ever since that day at the creek I’ve been seeing people that aren’t living. You know those people back there whose boy died, well, he kept bothering me to tell them to stop fighting about him being gone. The fighting makes him very sad, and I knew he would not leave until I did what he asked. He was so sad when they walked away from us in there. I felt real bad for him.”
“Why haven’t you told me about this before now?”
“I told you and Doc.”
Gramps combed his hands through his hair in frustration. “Okay. I don’t know just how to put this.” He thought for a minute before he began his words slowly. “You know I trust you, but I’m not sure about what’s going on with you. I do believe you think you see something. I don’t know whether you really do or not. By that I mean, you had a lot of trauma and sometimes trauma does things to people.”
“I promise I do Gramps. I don’t want this if you can figure out how to make it go away.”
“Well, let’s go back to the store and pay for that buggy full if they haven’t put it up. We need supper.”
I followed Gramps back into the store with my head hung low. He found the buggy still in the same spot. David ran up and grabbed my arm. “They left. You just missed them.”
I jerked my arm away. “I don’t wanna talk about it David.”
“But they were hugging and excited. They believed you.”
“Yeah, everybody did.”
I gasped and for a minute, no words would leave my mouth. “Who’s everybody?”
“They told everybody in the store.”
I don’t know how long I stood there in shock before Gramps took hold of my arm and ushered me out the door with his buggy in a rush for the second time that day. He said the cashier couldn’t check him out for asking questions about me. My life was forever changed. I had never realized just how much I liked being unnoticed, and I wasn’t at all prepared for what I got at school. I didn’t know news could travel so fast in a small town. I just hoped in my heart that the little boy angel was happy because he sure took my happiness and contentment with him when he left.