An except and reading from TheB.O.M. Betting On Me
I could hear a lot of noise and carrying-on in the living room. My mother, my uncle and some friends were having a good time talking, catching up and enjoying each other’s company. I was in the back room with my brother and sister. We lived in Motown, and the sounds of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and the Temptations drifted throughout the house. I heard laughter. I went into the kitchen to get something to drink. In the kitchen, there was a strange odor, it smelled like gas, but I wasn’t sure.
There was a gas leak somewhere, so I went to tell my mom.
“Ma! I smell gas!” I said, timidly walking into the living room. I knew that I wasn’t allowed to be around “grown-folks’” conversations. My mom would not be pleased with me interrupting!
“What are you doing here? You know you’re not supposed to be in the room when adults are talking.” My mother turned back to her guests. I left and went back into the kitchen to be sure. It was definitely gas! I looked down and walked back
into the living room. I knew I was right. My mom went into the kitchen, opened the oven door, then went back into the living room saying that she didn’t smell gas. I guessed it was not important enough for me to say anything else and I did not want my mother to yell at me again, or to embarrass her in front of everyone, so I turned around and left.
I walk into the kitchen, where food was cooking in the oven. I clearly smelled gas, and opened the oven door to prove it! Instantly I felt a stream of heat on my face and smelled hair burning. My face was burning, and my hair was on fire.
“Oh my God!” my mother shouted as she and my uncle ran into the kitchen. Somebody turned off the oven, while my mom was beside me and my uncle put the fire out in my hair. But it was still stinging, and I could feel the heat on my face and smell the unmistakable scent of burning hair and human flesh.
“Am I going to die?” I said, my whole face stinging from the pain as my uncle finally got the flames out. I could not see through my damaged eyelids. They rushed me out, terrified, not knowing what to expect, to the car. There Tharmond was sitting with the engine running. While my mom consoled me, he drove faster than I have ever seen him drive.
“It burns!” I cried, horrified. I had never had anything this bad happen to me. I was in shock. My hands were cold. My face still pulsed with pain, and I was afraid to touch it.
“Everything’s going to be alright. They’ll take care of you. Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine.” My mother struggled to sound calm, but she was clearly as scared as I was.
“Don’t worry. She is going to be okay,” the doctor put his hand on my mother’s shoulder. A look in his eyes suggested that he knew her and that we had been treated differently because of that fact. I was not very aware of what was going on. I was also in shock and unable to think clearly, and they had given me some strong pain medication. “What about her face?” my mother asked.
“The damage is significant, and she’ll probably need plastic surgery. We won’t be able to determine to what extent for about six months,” the doctor said. “I’ll have several prescriptions for you, ointment and antibiotics. The rest is just time that she needs to heal.”
“Thank you, doctor,” my mother said.
“You’re welcome,” the doctor said, turning his head as he pulled the door open. “She’s very fortunate that you knew what to do and acted fast. You should be proud of that.” My entire head was covered with bandages. I felt like a mummy. I don’t remember much of anything else that day, but we went through the checkout paperwork, and I had a wheelchair ride to the car. When I got home, I was very tired and went to bed.
After a few days, I was feeling more alert. We were able to remove some of the bandages, and I could see a little. I got up out of bed and went into the bathroom. My mother had covered the mirror by taping the newspaper in front of it so that I could not see myself. I moved part of the newspaper, and carefully, out of the side of my eye, glanced at my face, still half-scared to look.
I was horrified. I had never seen burns like that. My face was covered in mutilated skin and scabs. I felt so bad that I cried, and the tears stung the raw wounds on my face. I looked like a monster.
We always had dogs when I was growing up, and I loved them. My favorite was Black Panther, Panther as we called him. He was a beautiful, jet-black Labrador retriever. He roamed freely in the house, and I would often play with him, tease him and pet him. He was the best.
One day I saw Panther asleep on the floor in the dining room of our house. His legs were twitching like he was having a bad dream. I sat on the floor next to him. I was petting him, and trying to tease and wake him a little too. I must have teased him a little too much. He came out of his sleep all of a sudden and snapped at me. I had no time to move and he sunk his teeth into my chin and upper lip.
My mother took me in for another visit to the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital and stayed with me as the doctor put 43 stitches on my face. Panther had torn a muscle in my lip. My lip hangs slightly on the right side to this day.
I healed from all my injuries, with only minor permanent damage, but it took many months. Tharmond wanted to have Panther put to sleep for biting me, but I cried and fought to keep my dog. I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me. From that day he was extremely protective of me. I was tucked away at home doing my assignments remotely.
When I was twelve years old, Mom was injured seriously in a car accident. She had surgery on her leg and needed several months to heal. She had a metal rod put into her leg and had difficulty relearning to walk and get around. During this time, she also started to gain some weight. Tharmond would often call her derogatory names, demean her, and cheat on her; this would often result in their arguments where time and time again, he would leave, come back, “confess” to having another woman and return.
“Where were you last night?” my mom would ask.
“Where do you think?” Tharmond said smugly. Tears filled my mother’s eyes.
“Can’t you see what this does to me? Why do you keep humiliating me?”
“Look, you’re old, fat, and ugly. I can have better, and I do. If you can’t handle that, I’ll just go.” Tharmond began to pack his belongings yet again. I saw my mom becoming very different from how she had been before Tharmond. My mother just sat and cried.
The next morning, Mom would either be in a bad mood or be vowing never to let him come back. Then he would come back. The more he left, cheated or they argued, the more my mom began to demean and body-shame me. Mostly in the way
I walked, how I dressed or what I wore. If I was wearing a pair of jeans that I really liked, a style that was very popular at the time, she would start it on me.
“What’s that you’re wearing?” My mom would ask. “My new jeans,” I smiled, posing. “Do you like them?”
“Like them? You look like a whore!” The smile left my face. I can’t wear them?” I asked. My mom would look away.
“You look like a slut out walking the street.” I later found out that Tharmond, who was much younger than my mother – 7 years, would say to her that I looked better to him than she did after she had gained weight and that he could have me. This affected her so much that by the time I was in high school, she only allowed me to wear what she picked for me and a pair of men’s jeans that I altered to fit. I don’t know that it bothered me that I could not wear jeans, but it did bother me the way my mother treated me and how I began to feel about me and my body.
When it was time, my mother took me to a gynecologist for my first check-up. Her name was Dr. Rebecca Williams. She was very kind and said I was in perfect health. But after the exam, as the doctor was leaving, my mom walked into the hallway, and I heard her speaking to Dr. Williams.
“I want you to write a prescription for birth control pills for her,” she said like she was giving the doctor an order. The doctor smiled.
“Mrs. Bonner, there is really no need for that. She isn’t sexually active and has no problems with her menstrual cycle.
“I don’t care!” my mother said, getting more agitated. “There are side effects, you know—“the doctor started,
looking a bit concerned.
“I want her on birth control pills. I’m not going to tolerate a teen pregnancy!” My mother eventually got her way, and the doctor wrote the prescription. I felt like my mother was treating me like a slut. She had called me that before. It had nothing to do with my actions. I didn’t understand it then, but my mother was reacting to her relationship with Tharmond. But in my adolescent mind, I felt my mother was ashamed of me and didn’t want me around. She was the one I looked to. She was the one I was betting on to help me understand my place in life.
The derision of others and the circumstances surround- ing me left me doubting my self-worth. My early years were wrought with challenges that would continue to affect me in my early adulthood. I did not know at that time that my best bet was me and my ability to take in everything I experience to move me forward to the next phase. I had so much going for me: talent, intelligence, generosity, beauty! But I could not see these things. I saw the reflection of myself in how others around me – namely my mother – treated me. I was betting on family to define my self-worth, self-image and life purpose. I didn’t realize it then, but those things lie within – not outside of me. I only needed to take my life experience, circumstances, and opportunities and stand on them to get to the next level. Betting on my family provided a place to live, food to eat, support through grade school and an appreciation for achievement.
The book, The BOM: Betting On Me is available on Amazon
Listen to our podcast, Inspiration Moments. Season 2, Episode 4: Inspiration Moments – Images is a reading and discussion of Chapter 4: Images.
Lynn F. Austin
Lynn F Austin, MBA is an author and speaker. Her messages reflect her courage and commitment against fear, doubt, and disbelief. She is dedicated to serving causes impacting domestic violence and at-risk youth. Email Lynn Austin speaks for scheduling for your upcoming, event or activity.