When I was eight, my family moved from Oakland, CA to the suburbs of Sacramento, CA. It was a rough transition for me. My older sister and younger sister were enrolled at the same school, but they didn’t have any more spots for a third-grader. So, for the first time in my life, I went to a school on my own, without my sisters.
I didn’t have a uniform yet and I had one large binder. The first day I showed up to class, my teacher, an older white woman, made a big deal about me not wearing the uniform. I told her I was new and didn’t have one yet. She fussed at me as if I had control over the situation and mentioned sending me to the office. I don’t remember what came of the situation, only that I thought she wasn’t being very understanding. Soon enough, I did get new uniforms.
Another new experience was taking the bus. In Oakland, my mother took us to school every day, but this time, I had to take two buses to get to campus. As an eight-year-old in a new environment, this was overwhelming. Our classroom was portable and was located at the very back of the school on the playground, the farthest from the buses. Every day after school I rushed to get all my things together and shove my giant coat in my backpack to get to the bus on time. It seemed as if it was always just about to leave as soon as I got there. There was one occurrence when the bus actually did start to take off and I ran along the side, hitting the bus and yelling for it to wait. It was humiliating as I climbed into the bus and walked down the aisle trying to avoid everyone’s eyes.
The bus driver wasn’t shit. And he knew it. He just acted like he was. When the bus got noisey, (as it often did because, duh we’re kids and we’re social) he would shoot out if his seat, whirl around, dramatically remove his shades, and yell at us to be quiet. My little mouth twisted up in that smile you do when you try not to laugh. He was annoying, but entertaining nonetheless.
Anyways, the catching of the bus was so stressful for me that I would keep forgetting to bring homework items home. Specifically one page that my mother had to sign to confirm I completed assignments. I don’t know how many times I forgot it before my mother started getting angry with me, and to “help me” remember, she would whoop me. Every day I tried my hardest to get all my stuff and get to the bus, just to get home and open my binder and experience sheer terror when I discovered the signature page wasn’t there. I cried but it didn’t matter. I told her about my struggle to get to the bus, but it didn’t matter. I was not keeping up with my responsibilities. So day after day I was led up to my mother’s room where she would have me lay across her king-sized four-post mahogany bed. Then, with the weathered leather belt, void of a buckle, she would wind her arm back and bring it down hard, whipping it across my backside over and over and over. The pain was blinding. When the belt connected it felt like searing heat. The sting was so severe that I screamed bloody murder with each hit. As much as I wanted to stay quiet in a show of defiance, the pain was so great, it was next to impossible. The average whooping was at least 8 hits. It never got easier. Year after year, I endured this punishment for any offense my mother deemed appropriate, no matter how small. I came to the conclusion it was her preferred method of punishment. It is how I was controlled, it is how I was trained, and it is how I learned to fear my mother instead of trust her.
The hitting started when I was a toddler. Back then it was a sharp slap to the hand or the leg if I so much as touched something I was told not to. She always looked so angry when she did it. When dad spanked me, though it was rare, it was softer. It was more to make a point than to cause me pain, I thought. When I was older, between the ages of 5 and 8, I remember asking if dad could whoop me instead of mom, thinking that it wouldn’t be so bad. My request was denied. The only sibling my dad ever whooped was my oldest sister who was his daughter but did not share the same mother as me. She was whooped often. I heard she had a lot of trouble in school. One day after she got a whooping I was passing by our bedroom and I saw her sobbing, reaching her arms into her overalls trying to soothe her tender bottom. I felt sad for her and I knew what it felt like. Whenever someone got a whoopin, the whole house knew, because of the screams. Every time one of my sisters was whooped, it was a reminder that the same thing would happen to me if I wasn’t perfect.
Even as a child, I couldn’t help but think that my parents were carrying on the ugly practice of whipping used by slave masters. My heart was heavy with the thought of what my ancestors must have gone through, as it was so much more gruesome and horrifying.
One thing that made this new school harder for me was that in Oakland, we mostly had work packets. We didn’t have several textbooks and workbooks and forms to keep up with. I was adjusting to another level of education, and being punished for it. Eventually, I got the hang of all the assignments. I did very well and excelled, noticing my academic skill level climb above a lot of the other children, especially in math (ironic). One source of motivation was to achieve student of the month, but I was never awarded the honor.
Luckily, there was a new elementary school being built right around the corner from our house. So, the next year, me, Ann, and Nicole, would all be at the brand new school together.