Twenty Years Ago
A cold chill invaded her bedroom. The windows were closed and the heat was on, but there was still an unjustified frost that nipped at Rain’s skin as she lay snuggled in her twin-sized bed under her Sesame Street blanket. Living in Detroit, frigid nights could be expected in the dead of winter, but this was different than any other chill she’d experienced; it was eerie. That’s what woke her up. It wasn’t the faint sound of screaming in the near distance or the echo of heavy footsteps pounding the linoleum floors. It was the creepy, cold air that bit at her ears, fingers, and toes. Rain rubbed her eyes and lazily threw the covers off her small body. Her tiny feet dangled from the side of the bed as she sat there for a moment, yawning and wondering how long it would be before it was time to eat her usual Crunch Berries and toast for breakfast. It was dark in her room, and the light from the hallway crept through the crack under the door. She could tell it was still nighttime. She opened her curtains and saw the steel moon staring back at her, confirming her initial thought; it was still the middle of the night. Then she heard it again, thundering footsteps followed by a shrill scream. This time she knew—it was her mother.
Rain jumped out of bed and rushed out to the hallway. The light made her squint as her eyes adjusted. She started running down the hall, but quickly slowed her pace to a slow and careful walk. At five years old, she had the senses of a grown woman. She knew her mother was in danger and that she might be as well. Still, her curiosity compelled her forward to find out what was going on. As she got closer to her mother’s bedroom, the noise became louder and clearer. She heard her mother again, but this time she wasn’t screaming. She was talking desperately. Begging.
“It wasn’t me, baby. It was Rock. He forced me. He got the money. We can go get it, me and you. We can get it right now. Please, just let me get it and this whole thing will be all over.”
Rain heard a smack, then a crash. The brash voice of a man bounced off the thin walls of the small bungalow. “You think I’m stupid don’t you? I told you last Friday if you ain’t have my money, I was comin’ for you. Gimme my money now!” Smack!
To Rain, he sounded like a monster. Like Skeletor, his voice was deep and groggy and sent a cold shiver down her spine. Suddenly, she started to cry. Warm tears staggered down her face, but she managed to remain silent as she kept a slow and steady pace toward her mother’s bedroom.
She heard her mother again, “Rock! Rock got it!”
“Rock dead. You ain’t heard?” The man’s cruel laughter made Rain flinch. “Yup, got himself shot in the head and set on fire.”
“Oh my God! Please! Let me explain. We can straighten this out. I promise. Just let me put some things together fo’ you. I got you!”
Rain finally reached the door to the master bedroom. It was open just a crack, not wide enough for them to see her, but she could see them—the whole scene. A tall, dark man stood over her mother, as tall as the tallest building she’d ever seen. Her mother was on her knees begging for her life while he yanked her auburn-dyed hair. He was dressed in all black—black leather jacket, black shirt, and boots. Rain had seen him before. He had been near the house occasionally, but she didn’t know his name. This was the first time she’d ever seen him actually in the house. Usually when he came around, her mother would call GiGi and tell her to come get Rain because she had to take care of some business. GiGi would get mad at her and fuss about how she was too absent from her child’s life, but Rain didn’t mind it at all. She loved going over her GiGi’s house. It was always so much fun. Most of the time she didn’t want to go back home; sometimes she didn’t for a couple of days. When her mother came back to get her, Rain would ask where she had been, she would always get the same answer, “Working. Mommy had to take care of some things, baby.”
But now, that man was standing in their house, in her mother’s room, and he was hurting her. She was crying. Rain had never seen her mother cry before. It made her own tears come down even faster.
“You know what’s ‘bout to happen next don’t you? You know what happens when people fuck with my money,” he growled.
Rain’s mother shook her head, “Please. We got history. You know me. You know I’m good for it.”
“Shut up!” He pulled a big, black gun from the back of his pants and pointed it at her forehead, right between her eyes. Now Rain hadn’t been on this earth more than five years and a couple of months, but she had seen plenty of guns. Her mother had lots of friends who were “strapped”, as they boasted. When they came over, they would pull the deadly weapons out of their pants and place them on the coffee table before plopping down on the abused couch in the living room. Her mother would always tell her to go to her room and shut the door until she was called. Most of the time, Rain followed orders, popping in a Sesame Street tape and gluing her eyes to the TV, but sometimes she didn’t listen. Sometimes, she would pretend like she was going to her room, but she wouldn’t really go. She would hide on the other side of the wall, so her mother and her friends couldn’t see, and she’d watch them and listen to what they were saying. She learned enough to know that guns killed people and this man was about to kill her mother. She couldn’t let him do it. She had to do something to stop him—to protect her. The only problem was, she didn’t know what to do. Her mind went blank, and panic took control.
Pushing the door open and running into the room, Rain quickly surveyed her surroundings. It was a mess. Clothes and shoes were sprawled all over the floor. Broken glass from the dresser mirror was scattered throughout the dingy carpet and covered the unkempt bed. The dresser drawers were pulled out and the TV lay broken on the floor.
“Mommy!” she screamed. Both her mother and her tormentor jolted their heads in her direction. He dropped the gun to his side as Rain ran to her mother and wrapped her short arms tightly around her mother’s neck. She had to protect her.
“Rain, baby, please go back to your room, sweetie. Everything is going to be alright. We’re just playing a game right now, okay?”
Rain may have been young, but she was no fool. This was no game. It was frighteningly real. “No, Mommy. I’m not leaving you. He needs to leave you alone!” she pointed a short, stubby finger at the man.
“Baby, listen. Nothing bad is going to happen. Go to your room and count to a hundred, and I’ll come in there and check on you. Everything will be fine.”
“Yeah, Rain. Listen to yo’ mama. Go to your room,” he snarled.
Rain shot the gunman the meanest, nastiest look she could manage with her chubby, little face. She looked back at her mother, “Do you promise? You promise you’ll come get me after a hundred?”
“Yes, baby. I’ll be there.”
She looked into her mother’s eyes in search of some indication of certainty. She couldn’t tell whether she was lying or not, but she wanted to believe her. She wanted desperately for her mother’s words to be the truth, but something in her gut told her otherwise. Everything was not going to be okay. Rain knew that.
Her mother sensed her hesitation and further encouraged her, “Go ahead, baby.” She begged her daughter with her eyes. “Do this for Mommy. Do this one thing for me. I promise when we wake up in the morning, it will be like none of this ever happened. Just like a bad dream.”
Rain could feel her heart breaking with every word her mother spoke through quivering lips. She didn’t want to let her go, but there was nothing else for her to do. She forced herself to believe what her mother was saying. She told herself that her mommy wouldn’t promise her that everything would be fine if it really wasn’t going to be. She made believe that her mother had never lied to her before and that all the bad things she’d overheard her GiGi saying about her mother being a good-for-nothing drug dealer didn’t exist. Reluctantly, Rain released her mother’s neck and slowly backed away from both of them. Her eyes were fixed on the man’s cold stare as she headed backward toward the door. She was afraid of him, but somehow she thought that if she kept eye contact, he couldn’t do anything bad to either one of them. She was right. For as long as she was inside the small bedroom, he remained frozen with the gun still in his hand, resting by his side. His breathing was heavy. So was her mother’s, and their forceful inhales and exhales punctuated the thick silence in the room. They silently waited for Rain to exit and close the door behind her. She did.
She started to walk back to her room with teardrops pouring onto her feet beneath her. She’d only made it a third of the way down the hall, when the sounds of another bump, scream, and crash made her jump. Immediately, the feeling of panic was resurrected inside her. Her heart jumped to her throat and she momentarily stopped breathing. When she heard a second scream, Rain turned quickly on her heels and sprinted back down the hall to her mother’s bedroom. He was going to kill her. She knew he was going to kill her mommy.
Rain barged through the door, just as she had done before. This time the man had the gun lodged in her mother’s mouth. Rain arrived just in time to see him pull the trigger. Just in time to see her mother’s eyes roll backward as blood sprayed the wall behind her and her body dropped heavily, lifelessly, to the floor.
Rain heard herself screaming hysterically and felt herself dropping to her knees. She didn’t know what he was going to do next. She didn’t know if he was going to kill her too or take her with him. All she knew was that her mother was dead and that she couldn’t move. She could only scream. Her eyes wouldn’t stop staring at her mother’s motionless body. She screamed over and over again. She knew he was going to kill her, and he had done it.
The man walked slowly toward the child. He looked like a robot, a machine with no expression or emotion. Rain’s screams stopped abruptly as she held her breath in trepidation. Eyes wide and body shaking, she watched in horror as he knelt down in front of her. He was so close she could smell the sour stench of his cologne, the liquor on his breath, and the smoke in his hair.
“Now, I know that was your momma, Rain, but there’s somethin’ you need to understand.” He paused as if he expected her to respond. When she didn’t, he continued. “Your momma was a bad woman. She did very bad things, and sometimes bad people deserve to die.” He stopped again and moved his face in closer to hers. “You’re not a bad girl are you, Rain?”
She slowly shook her head ‘no.’
“I know. That’s why nothing bad is going to happen to you, as long as you don’t say nothin’ about what you just saw. Do you understand?”
He reached out with a large leathery hand and patted her head. She let him, too scared to move.
“As long as you stay quiet, no one is going to hurt you, okay?”
“Now when I leave, call your GiGi. You know her number, right?”
She nodded again. GiGi made sure her granddaughter knew her phone number by heart. It was drilled into Rain’s memory at the age of four. She knew to call immediately if anything was wrong.
“Good. You wait ‘til I leave, and you call her.” He stood up and took a moment to look back at the crime he had committed. His eyes lingered for a few seconds longer than necessary, before he finally turned around and walked toward the front door.
When Rain heard the front door open and close again, she jumped up and ran to the kitchen, snatching the phone from the wall and calling her GiGi. When GiGi answered, Rain’s mouth couldn’t form any words. Her mind was flooded with confusion and horror. All she could do was hold the phone and cry an ear-piercing soprano. GiGi showed up at the house ten minutes later.
He had told her not to say a word. He had told her that if she was a good girl and didn’t say anything, nothing bad would happen to her. Rain didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. She didn’t want to end up like her mother, murdered mercilessly after begging for her life. Rain was a good girl; she wouldn’t say a word.
GiGi took Rain home to live with her, but Rain could never really feel safe. Keeping her promise to her mother’s murderer, she remained silent. Rain went mute. Two years passed before anyone heard her speak another word. It wasn’t until Carmen and Danny came to live with them that she finally regained her voice.