Once Rosemary believed she was off CPS’s radar, with the help from the friends she’d made on Capitol Hill, she applied to another housing project across town, the one where Father Divine promised her a place with their family.
Although a unit closer to the Family wasn’t available, as members had filled every inch of available space secured by Father Divine, there was a vacant single, free standing, unit next to the community center.
It was the summer of 69’. Rosemary was excited to move in with her children. The small unit sat across the street on the south of the community center and kitty corner from the mom and pop grocery and laundromat, a prime location for sure.
Soon after we’d settled in to our new home was a day I’ll never forget. Up early, Maggie and I ventured outside and sat on the curb of the driveway to take in our new surroundings.
There was a slight breeze and the morning sun was hot. It was quiet except for the conversations between neighbors and the maintenance workers lawn mowers.
After we watched the owner of the small store and the Laundromat unlock them for business, we ran to the backyard to play.
The grass was brown and sharp on my bare feet. There was a clothesline with two steel metal poles close to the house, and I climbed to the top of one and sat victoriously in the center of the “T”.
Assuring a good grip, I looked up at the house to see if Mommy was watching, but she wasn’t. Straddling the pole, holding on with one hand, I waved towards the living room window where I saw her talking on the phone, but she didn’t see me.
I wanted her to see what I could do, and I called for her two or three times more, but she still didn’t hear me.
I told Maggie to toss me her plastic duck and then I threw it as hard as I could at the window hoping to get her attention, and boy did it.
Of the twelve window pane squares, one shattered upon impact from the duck. I had her attention all right, but not the way I wanted.
Before I knew it, Mommy’s hands were around the scrap of my neck, yanking me off the pole. I landed with a thud to the ground; she grabbed a handful of my hair and dragged me towards the house.
“I’m sorry Mommy!” I cried in terror; I’d never seen her so mad before.
Her eyes about bulged out of their sockets as she shook me and screamed into my face.
“Why do you hate me so much?”
Once inside the kitchen, switching the firm grip of my hair to that of my neck again, she grabbed a nearby broom close at hand, and reined its blue wooden handle down upon my head.
The pain of her fingernails gouging deep into my neck met with the thudding ache of the broom as it collided with my skull.
Over and over again, she pummeled my head until I fell asleep. I awoke on the couch sometime later.
“Goddammit Lissie, see what you made me do,” she whispered while she wiped the blood from my aching forehead. “Mommy’s sorry baby, I won’t do it again.”
And she never did, I made sure of that, and remained out of her arms reach, just in case. I have a one-inch crevice in my skull from the part in my hairline to just above my right eye.
Then, not long after, I awoke one night to the smell of smoke; it wasn’t the usual smell of Mommy’s cigarettes but a putrid choking smoky smell.
I climbed out of bed and walked to Mommy’s room, but she wasn’t there. A green ashtray sat in the middle of her bed and a lit cigarette lay next to it. I watched in horror as the covers burst into flames.
I ran to my bedroom, shook my sister awake, and yelled for her to go outside. Maggie grabbed her dolly and toddled half-awake towards the front door.
The smoke was getting thicker, and I couldn’t see anything around me. I heard Mommy throwing up in the bathroom and followed the sounds. I burst open the door and shouted for her to get up.
“Mommy there’s a fire!”
Mommy waved me away and continued heaving over the toilet.
“Throw up outside Mommy we have to go!” I persisted.
Tugging and pulling on her arm I urged her to stand. Irritated, she stood and stumbled for the door.
“I gotta get my purse and glasses,” she mumbled as she walked back into her bedroom, now about engulfed in flames.
“No, Mommy!” I screamed and lunged for her legs, “We got to go outside!”
“Goddammit Lissie! Let go!” she protested, shaking me off, and disappearing into the smoky room.
“Mommy!” I hollered in counter protest and went in after her, but I lost her again.
“Mommy, where are you?” I yelled as I felt around the room.
I tripped over her lifeless body; she’d fallen asleep on the floor. I tugged her arms with all my four-year-old might.
Once in the hallway, she woke up again, got to her hands and knees and crawled towards the front door.
But she wasn’t going fast enough, so I pushed her from behind, she cursed at me all the way. Once we’d made it to the front door, we found Maggie waiting for us on the porch.
Mommy stood, gasped a breath of fresh air, and proceeded towards the curb at the end of the driveway. I helped Maggie down the stairs.
By the time the firemen arrived, there was nothing left, the house and everything in it, all gone. One fireman dropped a single charred and smoky chair abruptly on the lawn in front of Mommy.
She pulled me and Maggie into her arms and cried, squeezing me tighter and shaking, she slurred into my ear, “What are we gonna do now Lissie?”