“Don’t get me wrong Eunice, we all struggle with stereotypes. Even our own. A culture that seems to oppose your very existence can wear you down. I realized my own prejudice after we got together. I often wondered if I had backed myself into a corner,” Martha said. She was pensive with her eyes turned downward.
Eunice gave her mother undivided attention. For once she didn’t have anywhere to rush off to.
“We realized we’d been hiding our individual race perspectives for fear of hurting each other. I was raised it was rude to point out differences. It kept me from acknowledging some things I should have been more open about. I couldn’t tell him, ‘these poor black men look at me like they despise me,’ or the like. I understand what it’s like to be the only white girl in the room. It made me tougher. Upstanding white women didn’t respect me, said I couldn’t find a man of my own kind. I disgusted some of them for letting him touch me but I’m sure some envied my boldness. They called me a slut or said I had a fetish. A fetish! Eunice can you imagine your mother with a fetish?” Martha said, in a shrill laugh.
“Where did you get such nerve Mother?” Eunice asked.
Martha looked at her daughter incredulous. She took a sip of water, cleared her throat and began her story in an almost audiobook narration.
That Saturday November 1959 was one of those occasions I got the gumption. My mother was hard on me but she herself didn’t take shit from anyone, so was my protector. I had seen a lot I guess. Especially when those men tried to take me down. I never wanted to be put in that situation again, so I’d fight off anyone to make up for what my brother did for me.
Back home, I was attacked once. Two men came into my bedroom, “What a pretty velvet dress you have Martha,” Ralf said. His eyes on me as I sat at my makeup vanity mirror. He stood behind me and put his fingers on the nape of my neck.
That was Ralf. Always the charming man, “Where are you off to tonight?” He was eastern European with a Dracula accent, which made everything he said sound soothing and exotic.
I didn’t take notice but Ralf’s friend Gus had closed the door behind him, drowning out the party out in the living room. Top 40 music blared from the turntable. Your grandparents had guests, or whatever cronies they could dredge from the tavern. I remember it was intermission on a hockey game night.
Pa was often a hog for attention so would play big spender treating his buddies to a night of food and drink. This was much to Ma’s dismay but she was too far into the sauced to effectively protest.
“You know you’re Ma is very concerned about you Martha. Going with that darkie. She needs you to be a good girl. Make good grades in school and stay put like a lady,” Ralf said. His fingers sunk deeper into my skin sending my alarm bells off. How he knew about Curtis I didn’t know! I wondered if mother told them my business.
“I’m not sure what you mean Ralf,” I said. I went to stand up but his caress turned into a grip on my shoulder. His hand slid swiftly down to my wrist. His trouser belt came unloose as quick as anything. He pulled me up from the chair. His bricklayer arms were iron strong and he was stealth. I yelped but he clamped my mouth shut with his other hand.
Gus had duct tape. I remember the sound of it ripping off the roll. He taped my mouth, suffocating me until I adjusted to breathing through my nose. Another strip ripped. I clued in, that they were prepared with readily available tools and this was pre-planned! I thought of my mother immediately.
“Sit tight you schwarzer-loving bitch,” Ralf threw me on the bed.
I tried to scream from behind my taped mouth.
“You let that animal touch you. Rip open your top like this? Suckle your titties!” He was rough as he tore at my chest exposing my camisole and bra.
His hand let go of my wrist, for a second so I swat at him. I knew no one would hear my muffled screams, through the jangle of music and drunks out front.
Ralf slapped me with his open hand as I heard the sound of more tape ripping off the roll. Gus fastened my wrist to the bedpost. Then the other wrist.
I tried to kick at Ralf but his massive stalky legs were quickly on either side of my waist, with him sitting on me. I hung half off the bed trying my best not to cooperate. A bed spring or something pinched into my back.
I was dizzy from the acrid sweat of Gus’ street odor, mixed with Ralf’s sweet after-shave.
There was another scent, like a pot burning on the stove. I looked up backwards over my left shoulder, to see my bedside lamp. I had laid a scarf over the lamp to give the room a moody red glow. Teresa had said, “you can make any dump look enchanting with the right lighting.”
I prayed the scarf would touch down on the hot light bulb and burst into flames, so I could wriggle free. Ralf pulled the bottom of my dress up.
Hot wetness moving down my face from a cut. I kept my eyes on the lamplight praying for a miracle.
My prayers were answered when the bedroom door opened and I made out the top of my brother Russell’s wavy hair.
Ralf still struggled with my dress. “You should have taken my dress off before tying my hands you fucking piece of shit!” I remember thinking.
My brother dove towards Ralf’s back but I could tell he hadn’t seen Gus crouched behind the door. Gus grabbed Russell from the ankles and pulled hard so he crashed to the floor. Gus’s face was a rabid animal drooling and foaming at the mouth.
Ralf’s hands were off me as he turned his attention to Russell, the real threat who looked like a grown man with brawn and muscle.
“He he, Ralf we got a live one. This is the shithead who got his first knockout boxing me!” Gus said.
“Why don’t you teach him a lesson then,” Ralf turned all his power, holding Russell’s upper body down.
“I been looking for you. You fucking cunt,” Gus said to Russell.
All I could do was watch them overpower my little brother.
I left for Montreal soon after the incident. My father tried to stop me but quickly gave up, preferring his drink instead.
The pain and guilt of leaving Russell was so intense I focused only on my new life with your father and getting myself to New York. I didn’t have a choice.
Eunice was still as she took in the story. She cupped her hands over her mother’s hands. Martha smiled back looking sleepy but also relieved. Eunice suspected she appreciated being heard.